The reaction from the hardcore motoring media around the Mercedes-Benz X-Class X 220 d and X 250 d models, that were launched locally earlier this year, have been lukewarm to be honest.
It’s no secret that they are based on Nissan’s Navara, a bakkie that is hardly enjoying market success in South Africa.
And the 120kW/403Nm and 140kW/450Nm Nissan engine and gearbox combination is not really befitting in a performance kind of way of what I expected from a premium bakkie that you could easily end up spending R1 million on when you add a few optional extras.
The engines were hardly dynamic and the automatic gearbox even less so. I felt the firm ride of these early models did not suit the nature of the power delivery.
And there was no way, at the price, I could recommend that somebody other than a loyal Mercedes-Benz supporter buy one of these over a Ford Ranger or Toyota Hilux – and most certainly not over the brilliant 165kW VW Amarok.
I always thought if a premium manufacturer was going to bring a bakkie to market they should come out guns blazing and change the market.
And that is why I felt the X 350 d was the model they should have launched first.
There a lot more of the Mercedes-Benz important bits under the skin on the X 350 d. The engine is Merc 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel providing 190kW of power and 550Nm of torque, and the gearbox is a Merc 7G-Tronic Plus automatic unit matched to 4Matic permanent all-wheel drive.
So now you have a bakkie that feels more like you would expect a Mercedes-Benz to move, with a 0-100km/h claimed to be a mere 7.5 sec along with a top speed of 205km/h.
Supporting the better-suited dynamics, you get steering wheel paddle shifters and with the Dynamic Select system, which is fitted as standard, you can change the driving modes by the turn of a dial.
So you can dial in a sporty or comfort ride at will, to go with a manual and off-road option.
These modes modify the engine response, the automatic transmission’s shift points and the Eco start / stop function, but obviously not the suspension settings as this is still a ladder-frame bakkie, albeit with a multilink rear suspension.
The all-wheel-drive system and the suspension with its long spring travel and ground clearance of up to 222mm ensure expected off-road capabilities.
The X-Class can climb gradients of up to 450, go through water up to a depth of 60cm and maintain its poise on inclines of almost 500.
Numbers that will mean something to serious off-roaders are that you get an approach angle of 300 and a departure angle of 250, with a maximum tilt up to 49.80, a ramp breakover angle up to 220 and a maximum gradability up to 100%.
Being a Mercedes-Benz to a large degree, the X-Class features a comprehensive array of comfort and safety features seldom seen in this segment.
For passive safety, the standard equipment includes seven airbags and the i-size attachment system for two child seats.
With active brake assist and traffic sign assist, two driver-assistance systems are at the ready to simultaneously increase active safety and comfort.
Additionally, you also get active lane-keeping assist, ESP trailer stabilisation, a tyre pressure monitoring system, an emergency call system, cruise control and LED headlamps – and a reversing camera or a 3600 camera are available as options.
You also get keyless-go, twozone thermotronic air conditioning, a simulated chrome-plated underride guard in the front bumper, a chrome-plated rear bumper, 18-inch six-spoke light-alloy wheels, dashboard with large trim element in a mattblack pixel look and with upper section in artico man-made leather, seats in artico and dinamica microfibre in optional black or nut brown, electrically adjustable seats and the infotainment system audio 20 CD with a multifunctional touchpad.
And as is the norm with premium manufacturers, you can go as crazy as your wallet will allow when it comes to the extras and extensive range of accessories for this bakkie.
An electrically opening rear window, a sports bar, which can be combined with a roll cover in black or silver, a choice of styling bar, hard cover, hardtop, stowage box, loadbed liner, load securing rails in the load bed and an underguard, to name some.
The people at Mercedes-Benz remember they were the pioneers and brought the world the first premium SUV in their ML many years ago.
They feel the international bakkie market is changing.
The demand for bakkies with typical passenger car characteristics and comfort features has been steadily on the rise for years.
At the same time, the number of bakkies for private use is increasing – and ask any Ford Ranger owner, they are no longer viewed purely as “workhorses”.
Talking of the competition, there is the not-so-small matter of the 190kW VW Amarok that is on the way to counter this offering, and the X-Class is not the cheaper option.
But it was never meant to be and time will tell if Mercedes-Benz have read the market correctly once again.
Local pricing was not available at the international launch drive we attended in Ljubljana, Slovenia, but I doubt I would be far wrong if the X 350 d arrives here at the beginning of 2019 with a base price tag that exceeds the R1-million mark.
The Mercedes-Benz people we spoke to on the launch didn’t deny, nor did they confirm, the idea of an AMG X-Class.
And if any motor manufacturer is just crazy enough to shoehorn in a 4.0-litre V8 Bi-turbo into a bakkie, it would be Mercedes-AMG.