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Leader of the Class

Leader of the Class

When Mercedes-Benz announced that it would build a luxury pick-up truck called the X-Class, the German company attracted the sort of questioning glances that make Roger Moore’s famous raised eyebrow look nonchalant. But although the words ‘luxury’, ‘pick-up’ and ‘truck’ may mingle as awkwardly as ‘excellent’, ‘German’ and ‘cuisine’, the idea is backed up by sound logic.

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You see, SUVs are seriously popular. If you wander down the streets of Alderley  Edge, Hale Barns or any other affluent town you care to mention, you’ll find the kerbs peppered with posh 4x4s. Standing out from the crowd, therefore, is difficult. You  need something more imposing and more rugged than a Range Rover, but no less luxurious.

That’s where the X-Class comes in. It’s loosely based on the Nissan Navara, which is widely regarded as one of the best pick-up trucks on the market, but it’s been heavily redesigned to ensure it’s both more luxurious and more capable than the Japanese vehicle.

It certainly scores well on the luxury front. Sitting in most pick-up trucks is a bit like being a cookie in a Christmas selection box: it’s dark, it’s uncomfortable, and thin, shiny plastic surrounds you. In the X-Class, though, it’s much more like sitting behind the wheel of a premium SUV.

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Okay, a few of the fixtures aren’t quite what you’d expect from a Mercedes (mainly because they came from a Nissan) and there’s no obvious reason for the big, blank gap between the CD slot and the climate control switches, but otherwise, it’s very good. The infotainment system is straight from a C-Class saloon and the materials feel as though they belong to a car, not a workhorse. It’s certainly every bit as premium as, say, a Jaguar E-Pace.

And it has much more presence than the Jag, if only by dint of its size. At 5.3 metres long, two metres wide and more than 1.8 metres tall, it’s the sort of vehicle that projects an uncanny sense of imperviousness. If you meet one of these in anything smaller than a 32-tonne truck, you’ll get out of its way.

Of course, plenty of pick-up trucks are similarly enormous, but the X-Class styling somehow gives it that little extra something. It’s difficult to put your finger on, but the suave Mercedes image seems to make the X-Class even more intimidating than its Nissan-badged cousin.

The X-Class backs that image up with monstrous off-road capability. There is a selectable four-wheel-drive system, a low-range gearbox and about 22cm of ground clearance, so it’ll tackle terrain that would leave most SUVs floundering.  It can wade through 60cm of water, too, and it’ll tow a trailer weighing up to 3.5 tonnes.

It’s the way the X-Class behaves on the road that really impresses, though. Because their suspension is designed to carry a payload of up to one tonne, pick-ups often bounce around the road like Zebedee on speed, but the Mercedes doesn’t. Of course, the big Mercedes is nowhere near as smooth or as balanced as, say, a Porsche Cayenne, and it still leans a lot on bends, but it’s more comfortable and more stable than any other pick-up.

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There are issues, however, including the lack of a proper boot. You can buy covers for the rear-load bed, which is usefully enormous, but you will miss the convenience of an SUV’s integrated luggage bay.

Another weak spot is the engine. It’s a 2.3-litre Nissan diesel that’s offered in 158bhp 220d and 187bhp 250d guises. Unsurprisingly, considering the X-Class weighs more than two tonnes, neither version is especially quick, and both are noisy whenever you try to use the modest performance. Happily, though, Mercedes will soon introduce its own 3.0-litre V6 diesel that promises to be both more powerful and more refined.

The price is a sticking point, too. If you want the luxurious 250d Power automatic version we tested — and you do, because the basic 220d Pure model comes with the less potent engine, a manual gearbox and little else — it’ll cost you almost £41,000 before you so much as see the options list. And the forthcoming 3.0-litre? That’s expected to cost around £50,000.

That’s a huge amount of money for a pick-up. But before you dismiss it out of hand, consider this: because the X-Class can carry a one-tonne payload in its flatbed, the taxman considers it a ‘dual-purpose’ vehicle. So if you can convince your company to shell out for a top-of-the-range X-Class, it’ll cost you just £670 a year in company car tax (or double that if you pay 40 per cent income tax). Even a Ford Focus will cost you significantly more than that.

But Mercedes’ mission was not to offer sales reps a cheap alternative to a Ford Focus; it was to provide you and me with a rugged SUV alternative. And in that aim, it’s succeeded. No, it doesn’t quite have the road manners of a Range Rover, but the shortcomings are minor enough to be forgiven by those who fall in love with the image.

James Fossdyke, Drive Editor

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