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First Drive: Mercedes-Benz X350d

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While on the recent Slovenian launch of the new Mercedes X-Class 350d 4Matic, I had ample opportunity to put the vehicle through its paces in the scenic surrounds of the capital city, Ljubljana, and test the new V6 offering on- and off-road.

The X350d is the premier vehicle in the X-Class line-up. It is powered by a long-standing 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel in the Benz range, and offers a lot more grunt than the 2.3-litre four-pots in the X220d and X250d. In the lower models, torque is increased from the mid 400s to 550Nm − the benefit of which can be felt both on and off-road. Power delivery is immediate and responsive when you put your foot on the gas. The output increase to 190kW is a significant jump from the 140kW found in the X250d − and this, of course, gives the 350d an emphatic sense of power.

Did I hear murmurings of the vehicle being too hard on the road? Well, that certainly did not impact on me in any way. I found the drive to be firm, both off- and on-road, just how it should be for a vehicle that will be used as a workhorse to carry loads on occasion. The suspension offers a fine balance between comfort (soaking up big road hits) and driving agility, when pushed towards its ample limits. Much has been made of the rear coil spring suspension, with its five-link setup locating a live axle which is allied to a double-wishbone front end, and this, plus the Merc’s wide track, makes for a very stable ‘feel’ across different terrain. Double cabs are designed to take a load as well as tow, so the firm, stable drive of the X-Class seems perfectly judged. Nobody wants a spongy limo-like ride that bottoms-out easily at the first hint of the rough stuff.

The interior is suitably premium on these range-topping models. The leather seating is very comfortable and well-bolstered; and, when I eventually worked out how to turn off the hot seat, I could fully enjoy the cool air delivered by the air conditioner without having a sweaty behind. After all, it’s mid-summer and hot in Slovenia at this time of year! Interior appointments, such as the navigation system and audio functions of the infotainment system displayed on a large touch screen, are easily accessible. The multi-function steering wheel allows you to operate a variety of functions on the move without having to take your eyes off the road.

The X350d performed well on the 4×4 track designed specifically for the Slovenia launch. The vehicle’s 4Matic permanent all-wheel-drive system features a two-stage (low-range) transfer case with a multi-disc centre clutch, coupled to Merc’s very smooth-shifting 7G-Tronic Plus transmission. This all ensured good traction on the country’s gravel roads, and on the mild obstacle course we tackled. For those avid 4×4 enthusiasts wanting added grip, there is an option to fit a rear diff lock prior to purchase.

There are three all-wheel drive modes to choose from. 4MAT is a high-range setting for improved driving dynamics on-road, 4H adds traction in off-road conditions, and 4L mode (low-range) works the step-down gear ratio for more-challenging off-road terrain. I used all three modes during the launch drive, and engaged the DSR (downhill speed regulator) to great effect on the very steep gravel descents on the 4×4 course.

The angle of approach is 30° at the front and 25° at the rear: good figures, typical of the double-cab format. I know shiny running boards make the vehicle look good, and help to get the kids and your favourite mother-in-law in and out of the vehicle, but fitting these encumbrances on a launch vehicle simply reduces the ground clearance and increases its penchant of clunking the underside of the machine – particularly if the 4×4 course is a bit of a butt-scratcher. Wading depth is to a maximum of 600mm, which (of course) I did not get the opportunity to test. I also would have liked to find out how the vehicle performed in thick sand, but the carefully scripted off-road course presented no such challenge.

Unlike the lower models, the X350d is equipped with a Dynamic Select Drive mode which allows the driver to choose which of the five driving modes is most suited to the terrain. I used the Sport mode when negotiating the winding dust roads which led us through the picturesque forests of Slovenia. The Comfort option for tar-road driving gives a smoother accelerator response, and ultimately improved on-road comfort.  The Eco mode changes gears at particularly low engine speeds, and (for those who want a more dynamic driving experience) the Manual mode allows gear-changing from the paddles on the steering wheel.  The Off-road mode is best for driving in difficult terrain, as it offers higher shift points and more muted accelerator response.

Active Brake Assist helps to prevent rear-end collisions by giving an audible warning signal, and provides adaptive braking support. Safety equipment in the vehicle is comprehensive, and includes the usual ABS, seven airbags and the Euro-spec i-Size child-restraint system. With large ventilated disc brakes back and front, shorter stopping distances are assured; this Merc does haul down fast with accuracy. Adding to the comprehensive list of standard features found in this vehicle is Lane Keeping Assist, a 360° camera (great for tight parking lots and gnarly off-road trails), a reversing camera, Trailer Stability Assist, Hill Start Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, and a Tyre Pressure Monitor. All told, your journey is sure to be as safe as houses.

Compared to the Navara antecedents, Mercedes has devoted much time and attention, and deployed much sound-proofing and special chassis-cab bushing material, to reducing ride-harshness and cabin noise. The results are superb. In addition, the high seating position and decent glass area mean that the driver’s peripheral vision is good, although I must say that it took me a while to get used to driving on the right-hand side of the road. Luckily, I clipped the pavement only once, and without any tyre damage − I checked.

Suggested manufacturer consumption is between 9 and 10 litres/100km, although the true test will come with long-term usage and increased kilometres on and off the tar.

The new X350d has a lot to offer in terms of build quality, power and spec levels. I can’t wait to do a proper shake-down trip to an exotic destination (the X350d should reach SA shores by the first quarter of 2019) so that I can put it through its paces in more challenging off-road conditions.

Having said that, although I know this new addition to the Mercedes double-cab range comes from good breeding, it’s up against stiff competition. If it is increased power you’re after, the V6 Mercedes X350d pips its nearest rival, the V6 Amarok, by a healthy 25kW for now – at least until the 190kW Amarok is released to this market at about the same time. Pricing will also be a determining factor, and given speculation that the final SA sticker will nudge the R1 million mark, it begs the question: Will this new offering from Mercedes be able to make a visible dent in the sales-figures paintwork of Amarok, Hilux and Ranger?
By Stuart Reichardt

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