While the growing popularity of SUVs has been the talk of the automotive town, the humble pick-up truck’s rise from farmer’s favourite to family 4×4 has been less well documented. The British pick-up market grew by more than half in 2016, and many of these new trucks are destined to spend their lives not as workhorses, but as lifestyle off-roaders.
Against such a backdrop, it was only a matter of time before one of the premium brands stepped in to take its place at the pinnacle of the market, and Mercedes, it seems, has been first to muscle its way in.
Developed on the same chassis as the Nissan Navara, the X-Class enters the pick-up fray with some seriously heavy armament. It uses Nissan’s tried-and-tested 2.3-litre diesel engine, as well as a re-tuned version of the Navara’s market-leading rear suspension, but it adds some premium sparkle to the mix with some classy external styling and a plush Mercedes cabin.
All that means that though it may be based on a Navara, you’d struggle to notice. The dashboard is trademark Mercedes, with a wide, pill-shaped expanse of aluminium-effect trim complementing the iPad-style infotainment screen and some snazzy air vents designed to look like jet engines.
Of course, it isn’t perfect. The infotainment system is confusing and controlled by a fiddly rotary knob and touchpad arrangement, for example, but the quality sets a new standard for the segment. Soft-touch materials are almost unheard of in this market, yet the X-Class has come in to bat with plastics that wouldn’t feel out of place in an A-Class.
If the cabin is more car-like than anything else out there, though, it isn’t a patch on the driving experience. Somehow, the X-Class has managed to retain the off-road and load-carrying ability expected from a pick-up while still offering the comfiest ride of any truck on sale.
It feels more stable than its competitors, too, and more refined. The inherited engine is a bit gruff under load, but Mercedes’ soundproofing efforts have paid dividends when it settles into the cruise.
That 2.3-litre powerplant isn’t without its shortcomings, however. In the more powerful X 250d model we tested, its 188bhp might is just about powerful enough to ensure progress isn’t too glacial, but when you put your foot down, the automatic gearbox hunts through its seven forward ratios before choosing the one it needs.
If this sounds a bit too much of a chore and you’re prepared to wait for a few months, though, you can get a 3.0-litre V6 diesel with 255bhp. It’s essentially the same engine you’ll find in an E-Class 350d, and it promises to be smoother than its smaller stablemates, as well as more powerful.
It’s likely to cost a lot, too. Even basic 161bhp X 220d models, with manual gearboxes and steel wheels, cost £32,772 (including VAT), while the most expensive 250d comes with a massive £40,920 price point. Enlarging the engine, then, is only going to cause that number to swell.
But even if the X-Class is pricey, you do get a lot for your money. Top-of-the-range Power models are likely to be among the best sellers, and they come with leather upholstery, big alloy wheels and satellite navigation, as well as Bluetooth, cruise control and heated seats.
All things considered, then, the X-Class has to take its place at the peak of the pick-up truck market. It may not be the cheapest, but it manages to be the most refined, most luxurious and most civilised, without losing any of the ruggedness or capability we need and expect.