Mercedes X-Class versus VW Amarok twin test review – battle of the most premium pickups

  • Posh pickups compared on the road in the UK
  • 190hp X 250 d Power vs 224hp V6 TDI Highline
  • VW has huge performance, Merc is sharper drive

The Mercedes X-Class pickup truck is now available in the UK – with a press driving event taking place in Wales to mark the occasion. Mercedes claims the X-Class is the first premium pickup on the market, and certainly that three-pointed star is a rung or two above any other badge in this sector.

But to see how the X-Class itself lives up to that claim, we decided to take along a VW Amarok, the reigning poshest pickup champion, in order to carry out a twin-test review.

2018 Mercedes X-Class vs. VW Amarok

Both trucks are only sold as passenger-friendly double cab models in the UK, and both are likely to prove extremely attractive to lifestyle buyers. In the first of what’s likely to be many encounters between the two, these are our initial impressions: which is best?

Amarok vs X-Class: VW gets in early punches with super-strong V6 engine

Having driven the Amarok for nearly three hours getting to the X-Class launch, I was starting to worry we’d jumped the gun a bit, and this particular comparison wasn’t going to be very fair on the Mercedes.

2018 Mercedes X-Class vs. VW Amarok V6

For while every VW pickup now on sale in the UK is fitted with a 3.0-litre V6 TDI diesel engine, the initial X-Class range is limited to 2.3-litre four-cylinder diesels – there will be an X-Class V6, but it doesn’t arrive until mid-2018.

The Amarok on test is a top-spec Highline model, too. Priced from £31,415 excluding VAT, this not only means a stack of standard equipment, but 224hp and a monstrous 550Nm of torque, complete with standard-fit eight-speed automatic gearbox and 4Motion permanent four-wheel drive.

Performance is stupendous for a pickup – its 0-62mph time is quoted at just 8.0 seconds – and what’s more, from the figure-hugging seats to the exceptionally well-sorted leaf-spring rear suspension, comfort levels are outstanding, too.

The journey to RAF Cosford near Telford where we were to pick up (if you’ll pardon the pun) the Mercedes passed with supreme ease, despite the combination of rush-hour traffic and wintry weather conditions.

X-Class vs Amarok: Mercedes immediately fights back

For all that the VW had felt so impressive during that drive, even just moving the X-Class from one side of the car park to the other to collect our camera gear it becomes instantly clear that the Mercedes is a serious piece of work.

The steering is so smooth and direct in comparison to the Amarok, and there’s a heightened degree of composure in the chassis – from the way it feels in the corners to the way it deals with bumps. It’s like the difference between a slouching teenager and a debutant that’s been to finishing school.

2018 Mercedes X-Class rear

As of December 2017, this is also the very best X-Class you can get: an X 250 d in the range-topping Power trim level. This means 190hp and 450Nm, with standard-fit seven-speed automatic gearbox and selectable four-wheel drive (though labelled 4Matic like other Mercedes 4x4 systems).

So, on paper, the four-cylinder Mercedes is some 34hp and 100Nm shy of the V6 VW, and does without the luxury of permanently engaged four-wheel drive; the manufacturers’ quoted unladen weights make the 2,234kg X-Class heavier than the 2,198kg Amarok as well.

So no wonder it takes 11.8 seconds to go 0-62mph. Yet the Mercedes is also more expensive, with a basic ex-VAT price for this model of £34,100.

Amarok vs X-Class: which is best to drive?

Out on the open road – or indeed, the really rather snowy and icy road, as we head into Wales and find the conditions to be – the VW’s on-paper advantages begin to evaporate.

2018 Mercedes X-Class vs. VW Amarok

For while the 190hp X-Class certainly doesn’t feel that fast in isolation – overtaking can be a heart-in-the-mouth affair – the 224hp Amarok doesn’t eke out that much of a performance gap. When the Mercedes is in front the Volkswagen has to work hard to keep up, yet when positions are reversed the Mercedes is never left lagging far behind.

And this is in a straight line. Throw in some corners, and a committed X-Class driver will quite honestly leave those in the Amarok behind wondering which way it went.

2018 Mercedes X-Class vs. VW Amarok

The VW is by no means a terrible truck to drive; in fact, you could argue that it’s more comfortable than the Mercedes – for despite its less sophisticated rear suspension, for the most part the Amarok does a great job of smoothing out bumps and ruts in the road where the tauter set-up of the X-Class has a tendency towards pattery irritability.

But the firmness that causes this in the Mercedes also delivers much better body control in the turns – it leans, but nowhere near as much as the Volkswagen, and its composure remains first rate at all times. Sudden, unexpected mid-corner surface changes are no bother here.

The steering is also far more positive in the X-Class – quick and direct and meaty-feeling without being overly heavy, it gives the driver great confidence, and is curiously un-Mercedes like in the extent to which it seems to encourage your enthusiasm.

Compared to this, the VW feels even more slow-witted than normal. You have to put more effort into steering the Amarok, not only because you have to turn the wheel further to get the same result but also because there is much more body roll to manage and far less precision in the steering itself.

2018 Mercedes X-Class vs. VW Amarok

Driving only moderately quickly, this means you have a lot more to juggle and manage in the VW. As you can see from the pictures, this Amarok does have a hard-top canopy fitted, which won’t help (as it places extra weight both higher and further back). But even considering this, the X-Class is at another level when it comes to handling and cornering.

The best way to describe the difference is that even coming from a car you simply drive the Mercedes, whereas you have to think about driving the Volkswagen.

Both automatic gearboxes have their imperfect moments, and both pickups would benefit from paddleshifters (neither had them fitted). But at least the Amarok’s eight-speed has a Sport mode – something the X-Class would definitely benefit from.

As for refinement, the Volkwsagen is good but the Mercedes is excellent.

X-Class vs Amarok: interior quality

A lot of people complain about the interior you get in the Amarok considering the money it costs. I have to say, it’s never particularly bothered me – I like the way it looks and the degree of functionality.

2017 Volkswagen Amarok interior

But I will concede that if you feel the need to reach out and scratch at the dashboard plastics, they are a little hard and nasty, and perhaps not what you’d expect if you’re familiar with VW’s car range.

Similar accusations are likely to be levelled at the X-Class. If you’re familiar with Mercedes’ cars, then some of the plastics may shock you. But in the world of pickups, this is the new interior quality king – and unlike the VW it still mostly feels as good as it looks inside.

2018 Mercedes X-Class interior

That said, for those searching for damning evidence of the relationship between the Mercedes X-Class and the Nissan Navara the interior is where you will actually find it.

It’s no secret that the X-Class is based on the same fundamental platform as the Navara – and yes, the 2.3-litre engines, the gearboxes and the selectable four-wheel drive are all Nissan parts as well. But such is the level of re-engineering that Mercedes has carried out, it’s a very cheap shot to suggest the X-Class is nothing but a Navara in a fancy ball gown.

I mean, it is that. But it’s also a lot more than that; for the most part, the two vehicles drive, look and feel very different.

However, there is no escaping that the Mercedes uses a Nissan key. And a few pieces of Nissan switchgear.

2018 Mercedes X-Class interior

But overall, the X-Class’s interior is far more stylish than any other pickup, and it does feature proper Mercedes car-grade infotainment. Lifestyle buyers need look no further. This is the Mercedes of pickups, and your passengers will be suitably impressed.

Amarok vs X-Class: pickup practicality, load area and payload

So, it’s not looking good for the Amarok at this stage – but for all that the Mercedes has style and panache, it’s the VW that scores most highly for substance and practicality.

That X-Class interior, for example, may look very flash. But there aren’t very many places to stash things and back seat passengers will find themselves surprisingly close to roof, such is the height of the rear bench.

The Amarok is also well known for having one of the largest load areas in the double cab pickup segment, as well as one of the highest payload capabilities – this one will officially carry 1,097kg, very nearly 1.1 tonnes.

2017 Volkswagen Amarok loadbay

That said, while the Amarok’s load area is 60mm wider, it’s the X-Class that’s 32mm longer in the back, and offers 7mm more space between the rear wheel arches.

And though payload is limited to 1,066kg in this X 250 d Power example (actually an improvement over the original international launch specification), it’s the Mercedes that has the funkier load area accessories, especially the available side and floor-mounted load lashing rails.

2018 Mercedes-Benz X-Class loadbed

For the full load area dimensions see the X-Class and Amarok full individual reviews.

X-Class vs Amarok: which is better for towing?

We haven’t been able to test this yet, but on paper the X-Class may be the better choice – as the Mercedes is rated to tow 3.5 tonnes (3,500kg) whereas the VW is limited to 3.1 tonnes (3,100kg).

That said, if you don’t need to tow more than the Amarok’s 3.1-tonne max, its V6 engine’s vast reserves of torque are going to make life very, very easy for you. The four-cylinder X-Class is slow enough without anything attached to its backside.

Amarok vs X-Class: driving off-road

We’d be surprised if either of these pickups experienced heavy-duty off-road use – they’re surely too expensive – but we found they both cope admirably with muddy green-laning.

2018 Mercedes-Benz X-Class

This X-Class has selectable four-wheel drive, which means you have to activate it via a dial on the centre console, whereas the Amarok’s system is permanently engaged. However, you can do this on the move, and there is the added bonus of a low-range mode in the Mercedes, which the VW lacks.

The forthcoming V6 X-Class will have permanent four-wheel drive, and a different seven-speed automatic gearbox – like the engine, these are all ‘proper’ Mercedes parts, rather than re-engineered Nissan components.

X-Class vs Amarok: mpg

Not a vast difference in the official fuel economy figures – despite the VW having an engine almost 50% larger and two extra cylinders, it returns a claimed 34.9mpg to the Mercedes’ 35.8mpg.

In real life, both seem capable of an indicated 30mpg+ in regular driving, though the Amarok will really start chugging the juice if you need to press on to the engine’s full potential.

Amarok vs X-Class: verdict

2018 Mercedes X-Class vs. VW Amarok

These are both excellent pickups – as they should be for the price. The Amarok’s strengths are its comfort, the accessibility and depth of its performance, and its greater practical functionality. It’s a truck we would happily drive every day.

The X-Class costs more despite its comparatively weak engine, and the firmness of the ride may require careful consideration before you commit. But from the quality of the interior to the near car-like precision of the driving experience, Mercedes has raised the game, albeit in a manner that is laser-targeted to appeal to lifestyle buyers.

And that’s all before we’ve even driven the full-fat V6 version – although given the price of this four-cylinder model, you may need to rob a bank to afford that one.

Also read:

Mercedes-Benz X-Class full review

Volkswagen Amarok full review

The Parkers Vans pickup group test

Mercedes X-Class vs VW Amarok on Parkers Vans