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First Drive: 190kW Mercedes X350d is SA’s fastest bakkie

As the market awaits Ford’s Range Raptor, it’s deeply ironic that South Africans have option on only one V6 diesel bakkie: VW’s Amarok.

The Raptor, for all its fabled off-road racing suspension, is powered by a 2-litre diesel, with only four-cylinders and by early next year, there will be a second German V6 double-cab to make the case for Raptor ownership that much more tenuous.

Mercedes-Benz’s X350d has been hugely anticipated. For many, the X250 bakkies are simply too closely related to Navara, powered by Nissan engines and shifting with Japanese gearboxes. If you desire true German mechanical engineering where it has always been most vaunted, up front, X350d can rightly claim to be the only ‘true’ X-Class.

We sampled the range-topping Mercedes-Benz in the scorching European summer heat of the Ljubljana basin, ranging into the mountains which surround Slovenia’s capitol city. In appearance there is trivial difference between four- and six-cylinder X-Class, save for the additional front quarter panel badging.

Inside, too, you’ll hardly distinguish any changes – which is a pity, as the X-Class cabin is perhaps the bakkie’s greatest weakness. There are too many ergonomic compromises in terms of driving position and control touchpoints. Disappointing for a company such as Mercedes, which is steeped in traditional and usually committed to excellence.

Where X-Class most certainly does not lack, is its 3-litre V6 turbodiesel engine. Boosting 190kW and 550Nm, it’s a lot more powerful than the X250’s 140Kw and 450Nm. Amazingly, the V6 X-Class only manages to be a few kilograms heavier than X250D, which means all that power converts to a generous margin of superior performance.

Driving reality reflects the numbers, with X350d feeling every bit as quick as its 0-100kph time of 7.5 seconds and 205kph top speed would suggest. Most impressive is the velvety power delivery. You hardly notice just how quickly X350d is increasing in tempo due to the quality of sound insulation Mercedes-Benz has applied to its cabin.

The more powerful engine has really brought to the benefits of that coil-sprung rear suspension to justice and speed the X350d is reassuringly stable, although its bulk, at nearly 2.3t, does become evident in tighter corners – the kind of which you arrive at with a fair bit more speed than anticipated.

Off-road ability is phenomenal and all South African X350ds will feature the 222mm ground clearance option with a fully lockable rear-differential and sophisticated traction control too, making it effectively as accomplished a double-cab in the rough stuff as you could imagine.

Due for local delivery early in 2019, pricing is unconfirmed but if you track the exchange rate weakness currently being endured by the Rand, the possibility of a seven-figure listing appears very likely. For those double-cab bakkie customers who require the ability to move things about at speed and cannot imagine the status compromise of a VW badge, the premium pricing will be of no issue whatsoever. More so, because this X350d – unlike the X250ds – features a proper German V6 heart and therefore has negligible basis for any brand criticism of being an ‘expensive’ Navara.

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