Almost everybody I know and have spoken to over the past few months just wants to know if the new X-Class bakkie is going to be everything you would expect from a premium manufacturer like Mercedes-Benz.
And now that I have finally driven it at its international media launch in Santiago, Chile, I am expected to give a simple yes or no answer, but it is far from that easy.
Let us get a few things off the table right up front. This was a first drive, and I only drove the 250d 4×4 model in seven-speed automatic guise.
There will be a choice of manual and automatic gearboxes, 4×2 and 4×4 and you can also opt for a 20mm lowered firmer suspension over the basic suspension we are getting in South Africa.
The 140kW 250d, 120kW 220d, and maybe the 122kW 200 petrol will launch in SA in the second quarter of next year, and only after that will we actually get to drive the real deal 190kW V6 350d sometime in the middle of the same year.
So have I experienced the full range? No, and therefore I can’t comment on the full range.
What is also not being made known to us at this is stage is any form of indicative pricing.
Obviously, everybody thinks it will be expensive, but stranger things have happened, and perhaps the pricing could be more competitive than we think.
But I have seen on the internet that you can configure a new X-Class in Germany, and there you get the current top-of-the-range 250d, before any extras, for about the same price as you can get VW V6 Amarok, and this range-topping Amarok is already the most expensive bakkie in SA.
We also all know that the new Mercedes-Benz X-Class shares the Navara chassis, and a few other bits and pieces from Nissan.
And while Nissan fans are jumping up and down in glee about what they think is a crazy move in bringing a more expensive Navara with a Mercedes-Benz badge to market, they are forgetting that Renault, their alliance partner, who they also share technology with, is not far away from bringing their Alaskan bakkie to SA at probably the best price of them all.
Almost every manufacturer shares some or other platform or technology these days.
You just don’t know about it most of the time. At this stage, I am honestly not sure exactly who is going to laugh at who around the braai on the weekend, because you will all be basically driving the same bakkie, but with different badges and price tags.
And the same might apply to the SUV, sedan, or hatch your wife or partner drives every day.
So, what I am going to do is tell you briefly what you can expect in terms of derivatives and then a little bit about what my driving experience was with the one model I drove, and a few words on the very brief high speed passenger flip I had in the V6.
There will be more drives, detailed specs and pricing in the future, and then we will really know what we are dealing with in terms of the world’s first true premium bakkie.
The X-Class range will come in three different spec versions.
PURE basic variant for classic workhorse use, the PROGRESSIVE for higher requirements in terms of quality feel and comfort, and then the POWER as the high-end variant for urban lifestyles.
Interior quality is good for a bakkie, the space is not bad either, and safety is right up there, too.
There is no easy way to say this, but my first driving impression was not that good.
Firstly, the non-350d models use Navara engines and gearboxes, and they are hardly refined or dynamic in the way they deliver their power and gear changes.
And then driving enjoyment is said to be on a par with passenger cars thanks to the Mercedes-Benz engineers tweaking the Nissan derived suspension.
And they say this is the first bakkie that offers not just excellent off-road manners, but also exhilarating onroad performance.
But to deliver on this promise, I feel the Mercedes-Benz engineers have firmed things up too much, and the ride comfort is not exactly nice or soft enough for a bakkie that is never going to be your track car.
Off-road, as in climbing up and down obstacles, it was fine with switchable 4×4 high and low, and optional rear diff-lock.
It was when you went on-road that you felt the lack of suspension damping made for a jittery drive, with every line, mark, or bump being felt through the steering wheel and into the cabin.
I honestly think South African off-road people who drive fast on rutted dirt are going to hate the drive comfort of the X-Class.
Urban warriors might be more forgiving, and notice the shake a little less in the suburbs when they go to work and back on our variable roads.
You want a bakkie to be mostly an easy, soft-type drive.
If you want to go fast, you buy a fast car or SUV, or buy a vehicle with adaptive damping so you can have the best of both worlds.
And Mercedes-Benz says even the top of the range 350d won’t have any adaptive suspension settings, the sport, eco and comfort buttons will only change the response of the throttle and gearbox.
In saying this, as I said earlier, we were given a passenger flip on a very nice twisty, up and down, entry road to the resort where we did the off-road driving, in the still to be launched V6 350d.
And let me tell you, this model showed some serious performance and handling.
After this, I understood their thinking a whole lot better, but I am still not so sure how many owners will ever tackle a twisty road like that in a bakkie.
It’s going to be interesting to see the sales numbers though, because badge envy is very real in this country, and many will overlook a jittery ride for the sake of having the latest Mercedes-Benz parked in their garage.