There is an unspoken kinship between owners of working light commercial vehicles (bakkies) in South Africa and when they do meet in town at a stop street or traffic light, a subtle acknowledgement of the other person – irrespective of what brand they drive – confirms ‘la famiia’.
For drivers of pristinely clean luxury bakkies, a sneer is reserved and for the X-Class, a full-on snarl is the likely response, indicating a deep-seated disrespect for pavement prowlers and anyone not using their vehicle to the fullest extent of its capability.
So, it came as a pleasant surprise to me when I pulled up at a traffic light alongside a very well-worn bakkie and the old farmer driving the vehicle looked across, doffed his sweat-stained hat and mouthed ‘respect’ at me.
The X-Class is a commanding presence on the road, although it rarely feels its actual size while driving as the volume of luxury fittings and tech embedded in the behemoth make it as docile as a Jack Russell having its tummy tickled.
The background, rationale and other detail of the X-Class has been previously covered in these pages (https://wordpress.com/post/colinwindell.wordpress.com/1021 : https://wordpress.com/post/colinwindell.wordpress.com/1573 ) so I am going to eschew any of that in this review.
With a six-cylinder engine, 7G-Tronic Plus automatic transmission, and 4Matic permanent all-wheel drive, the new X350d 4MATIC flagship model develops 190 kW and a peak torque of 550 Nm.
Mercedes-Benz claims the sprint from 0 km/h to 100 km/h in 7,9 seconds. I never managed to achieve that with the test vehicle running mostly low eights – in fact, if anything, I found in Eco or Comfort modes it felt a little lethargic getting up to speed.
Admittedly, it does have a GVM of 3 250 kg, but true energy came in manual mode, using the steering-mounted paddle shifts.
The demand for midsize double cabs with typical passenger car characteristics and comfort features has been steadily on the rise for years. At the same time, the number of double cabs for private use is increasing. They are no longer viewed purely as ‘workhorses’.
When it comes to double cabs, the X-Class V6 is aiming straight for executive-level business-owners, families with an affinity for premium products, trend-conscious individuals, as well as sporty and enthusiastic adventurers.
The 3,0-litre six-cylinder diesel engine with common-rail direct injection offers maximum torque of 550 Nm over a wide engine speed range from 1 400 r/min to 3 200 r/min. There is no questioning the ability of the 350 to yank the skin off a rice pudding and it has a braked towing capacity of 3 500 kg – enough for both the boat and the caravan.
The 7G-Tronic Plus automatic transmission has wide gear spacing that allows an individual driving experience via the Dynamic Select system.
With a choice of five driving modes, the engine response can be changed by fingertip control – from relaxed and comfortable to sporty and dynamic. Comfort mode is activated automatically when the engine starts. It provides comfort, emphasising harmonious accelerator characteristics as well as early shift points. In Eco mode gears are shifted at particularly low engine speeds.
In Sport mode, the engine responds more immediately to throttle input and the transmission makes use of the entire engine speed range to change gears, and shifts at higher engine speeds, while Manual gives the driver more control.
The 4Matic permanent all-wheel drive with low-range reduction gear and differential lock on the rear axle ensures excellent performance and traction on a wide range of driving surfaces.
There are three all-wheel-drive modes to choose from: 4MAT for increased vehicle dynamics, 4H for improved traction off-road, and 4L for tough off-road terrain.
With the all-wheel-drive system and the suspension with its long spring travel and ground clearance of 222 millimetres, the X-Class V6 climbs gradients of up to 45 degrees, fords water courses with a depth of up to 600 millimetres and stays upright on inclines of almost 50 degrees.
With 1 632 millimetres at the front and 1 625 millimetres at the rear, the X-Class V6 has a wide track, providing driving stability and allowing higher cornering speeds. At 3 150 millimetres, the wheelbase is also longer than in many midsize double cabs. This reduces vibrations during the journey and makes for smooth and reliable straight-line stability.
With an anti-roll bar to reduce body roll, coils springs fitted to the axle to balance the comfort of suspension, and shock absorbers designed to be flexible in generating counter-balancing forces, the X-Class V6 offers its passengers a high level of refinement.
The X350 stays firmly planted on the road – both on and off the tarmac – and irons out the majority of unpleasant bumps and ripples. Even unladen on dirt the rear end does not hop around trying to shake itself look.
Once up and running, it is quite easy to have the vehicle go well past the speed limit without the driver noticing – fortunately, the brakes (anti-lock with EBD) work well to bring it a rapid standstill with a minimum of ‘squirl’.
Going into a corner a bit too hot and it will understeer quite significantly but a bit of throttle modulation, will resolve this before the anti-skid features kick into play. In general, it is more than happy to sweep majestically through the twisties.
The basis for the high level of occupant protection is provided by a robust body shell with high-strength passenger cell, plus a structure whose front and rear sections are able to absorb energy by specific deformation.
For passive safety, the standard equipment includes seven crash bags and the i-Size attachment system for two child seats. With optional Active Brake Assist and Traffic Sign Assist, two driver assistance systems are at the ready to simultaneously increase active safety and comfort. Additionally the X350d 4MATIC also features Active Lane Keeping Assist as an option.
Standard features include 18-inch 6-spoke light-alloy wheels, air vents in electroplated silver chrome, leather-lined steering wheel and parking brake, the infotainment system Audio 20, and an eight-speaker system.
The Power gains a simulated, chrome-plated underride guard in the front bumper, a chrome-plated rear bumper, LED High Performance headlamps and electrically adjustable seats.