Road Tests

Drive Review: Mad Merc is the (2019) X350d

It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to detect that the four-cylinder Mercedes X-Class models haven’t exactly flown off the showroom floors and the evidence is there for all to see in the form of incentives just seven months after launch.

“Too much money for too many Nissan bits” is the common cry, so the question is: “Does the X350d with its German drivetrain redress the balance?” The answer is that “Rheinheitsgebot” purity laws are not breached to the same extent, but the issue now is whether the lesser breach justifies a price tag that can soar above the million rand mark.  

Instead of a 2.3 Nissan four-cylinder motor attached to a self-stirred manual or auto box from Japan, buyers now get a modern 3.0 V6 turbo diesel and a 7G-Tronic jam-packed with genuine Mercedes-Benz genes.

Good as those Teutonic bits are, there’s a nagging anomaly: why is the asking price so high, particularly when compared with closest rival, the Amarok V6 TDI?

The X350d comes in Progressive and Power trim levels and it was the latter we drove over a diverse route in the Western Cape.

As on the more testing launch of the four-cylinder models, the X350d reaffirmed that the fancy drivetrain and respectable clearance make mincemeat of the toughest terrain. Permanent 4WD – finessed by comfort, eco, manual, off-road and sport driving modes – and a controlled inter-axle differential lock (0–100%), rear-axle locking differential and reduction gear together with other electronic nannies, see to that.

Out in the open, the Merc gallops along rather nicely thanks to the smooth-spinning and aurally appealing V6 diesel that delivers effortless low-end pull and convincing top end thrust while allowing for relaxed high-gearing.

The familiar 7G-Tronic auto isn’t known for rapid changes but its mildly lazy nature complements the engine’s characteristics very nicely as does its smooth-shifting disposition. Compared with the four-cylinder versions, this V6 rarely needs to be pushed so refinement levels, as measured in lack of mechanical commotion, are much improved.

Anyone with just a modicum of bakkie knowledge will know that unladen ride is a bugbear of the genre. Chassis donor, Nissan, went to some lengths to ameliorate the nasties by employing coil springs and a rigid axle mated to five links and Merc’s boffins went further by widening the track, strengthening the ladder frame and shoving kilos of sound deadening where space allowed.

The end result is a detectable improvement in terms of quelling excessive vertical movement, and at speed the rear end feels acceptably planted but that typical bakkie shuffle is ever-present.  Oddly, the steering around the straight-ahead position is vaguer than an SAA recovery plan, but once a bit of lock is applied, the degree of effort is well-judged.

Inside, there are a number of Mercedes-inspired improvements such as the steering wheel (not reach adjustable), the infotainment system, the instrument cluster and soft-touch panelling of the dash and upper doors, but tap the vertical face of the dashboard and you’re greeted by an unexpected, hollow twang. Even the neatly-tailored seats are covered in artificial leather and lots of hard, scratchy plastic lurks in the lower regions.

In summary, the Mercedes X350d offers a lovely drivetrain and excellent off-road competence, but at this price level you have the right to expect more in terms of the overall package. After all, a competitor down the autobahn also offers V6 power in a Rheinheitsgebot-compliant bakkie and can throw in a decent hatchback as well – for the same outlay. RICHARD WILEY

  • SPECIFICATION                                                 5/10
  • 2987cc, V6 turbo diesel, 4WD, 190kW, 550Nm
  • 9.0l/100km, 237g/km CO2
  • 0-100km/h in 7.9secs, 205km/h
  • 2389kg
  • VERDICT:  The price guarantees exclusivity while other brands sell big volume
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