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Riding shotgun in the new Mercedes-Benz X-Class pickup

  • Passenger ride in new premium pickup
  • Course covers on- and off-road driving
  • X-Class is clearly impressively capable

We won’t get to drive the new Mercedes-Benz X-Class until October 2017, but as part of the international reveal of the production version in South Africa, we were given a passenger ride.

But just how much can you really tell about this new premium pickup from the passenger seat?

Let’s find out.

Why bother with a passenger ride?

Pre-launch passenger rides always seem like a bit of a strange thing – because really, the proof of any vehicle is in the driving. But Mercedes decided that since it was bringing the world’s press all the way to South Africa for the X-Class, it made sense to let them do a little more than just look at it.

In fact, this is the first time the company has ever combined a static reveal event with a ‘co-driver experience’ like this.

Passenger ride in the Mercedes-Benz X-Class pickup - spectacular scenery in South Africa

Presumably there was a wealth of potential locations for this activity to pick from, given how spectacular South Africa is. But Mercedes chose the L’Ormarins estate in Franschhoek, which happens to have its own race track and motor museum, as well as being surrounded by rugged mountain terrain.

So while we were getting just ‘12-15 minutes’ of shotgun seat time, the combination of racing circuit and off-road trails promised at least some insight into how the X-Class is going to feel in the real world.

First impressions of the Mercedes X-Class

Our steed was an X 250d – the 190hp four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel with 450Nm – in top-spec Power trim, complete with fancy brown leather interior upgrades and the optional seven-speed automatic transmission.

Passenger ride in the Mercedes-Benz X-Class pickup - rear

The cab makes a very strong first impression. The quality is easily the best in the pickup truck sector, and the design cunningly disguises the X-Class’s Nissan Navara origins beneath a gloss of recognisably Mercedes-Benz parts and styling.

Click here for more details on the difference between the Mercedes-Benz X-Class and the Nissan Navara

The ‘silver shadow’ trim pieces, for example, are galvanised with an actual metal surface, the free-standing central display sends all the right premium messages, and the associated touchpad control is more high-tech than anything in any rival.

Passenger ride in the Mercedes-Benz X-Class pickup - interior

And that’s without getting into less obvious features such as the Mercedes Me connected services that allow you to check details such as fuel level and service notifications from your smartphone or smartwatch. You can even lock and unlock the pickup using the app.

No mercy – testing to extremes

Our Mercedes test driver didn’t talk much, but he did say the test loop would take 11 minutes.

Which is notably a minute quicker than others were suggesting.

Which gives you a clue about his driving style.

Mercedes-Benz X-Class passenger ride - swerve test

Mercedes had spoken earlier about testing the X-Class to extremes – now we believe it. With 190 journalists to get through in a single day and just nine vehicles on hand, if there weren’t dampers destroyed by the end of the passenger ride activity that’ll be immense testimony to the build quality.

Mercedes-Benz X-Class passenger ride - 190 people in one day

Much of this will come down to Nissan’s platform, of course. But as well as changing the suspension set-up, Mercedes has also strengthened the Navara chassis in preparation for the hugely powerful 258hp and 550Nm 3.0-litre V6 X 350d that will be available in mid-2018.

This additional strength helps the four-cylinder engines perform better, too.

What’s the X-Class going to be like on the road?

Mercedes is talking up the improved passenger comfort, compared not just to the Navara but all rival pickups as well. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to wait to pass final judgement about that, as the thing about race tracks is that tarmac on them is very, very smooth.

Mercedes-Benz X-Class passenger ride - on track and travelling fast

What the track did allow the X-Class to show off, however, was its considerable cornering speed and stability. Our driver was very measured with his inputs, but he was not hanging about – and even with the tyres squealing there was none of the lateral bouncing or wobbles you get when cornering hard in some other pickups.

High-speed direction changes were also totally lacking in drama, demonstrated by a simulated obstacle avoidance swerve taken flat out. There’s still more body roll than you’d get in a conventional car, but the movement is very controlled, and our driver was adamant the dynamics match a regular Mercedes passenger vehicle.

Mercedes-Benz X-Class passenger ride - swerve test, rear

Finally, a hard stop before the off-road section showed the X-Class’s impressive resistance to diving under braking.

What’s the X-Class going to be like off-road?

The X-Class’s on-road control is clearly generated by firm suspension, and Mercedes acknowledges that it has toughened it up compared with the Navara.

This is perhaps not going to be the best of news for people who regularly travel on broken or otherwise unpaved surfaces. For our off-road ride was certainly rather punishing on the behind.

Mercedes-Benz X-Class passenger ride - off-road

As already pointed out, our driver wasn’t exactly travelling slowly – we’d caught the X-Class that set off before us by this point – so a bit more mechanical sympathy would probably soothe away some of the shocks.

But be in no doubt, this pickup does not appear to cruise across the scenery as serenely as some rivals manage.

Mercedes-Benz X-Class passenger ride - off-road off-set bump test

That is far from saying it’s useless in the rough stuff, though. Equipped with the optional locking rear differential it easily handled an off-set bump test – demonstrating  plenty of rear axle articulation in the process – and our driver unhesitatingly threw it into a pool to demonstrate the 600mm wading depth.

Still more eyebrow-raising was the hill descent control demo, where he simply turned straight onto a steep downhill gradient at speed and let the electronics catch our descent. Which they did, in a remarkably short space of time.

Mercedes-Benz X-Class passenger ride - gradient test

We’re also able to attest to the effectiveness of the hill start assist – from what must have been approaching a 50% slope – and the usefulness of the 360-degree camera system, which allows you a view of off-road obstacles from the comfort of the cab you’d otherwise have to get out and look at.

Mercedes-Benz X-Class passenger ride - surround view camera system off-road

What’s more, for all the lumps and bumps we endured, the X-Class’s structure felt at all times steadfast and sturdy.

So is the X-Class worth waiting for?

If you want a pickup with an unprecedented image and a first-class interior, the X-Class was already a no-brainer.

From this brief passenger ride we’re confident it will deliver an on-road driving experience like no other as well – just remember to rein it in a touch when venturing further from the beaten track.

We can’t wait to try it for ourselves in October.

Also read:

Mercedes-Benz X-Class: official details and pictures of premium pickup

Mercedes-Benz X-Class vs Nissan Navara - what's the difference?

Mercedes-Benz X-Class pickup concepts revealed at last

The Parkers Vans pickup group test – every major model compared

Mercedes-Benz X-Class passenger ride - off-road