As a species, we have become totally obsessed with the concept of a rugged lifestyle.

Or pretending we have one, at least.

This is something Mercedes knows all about, having spent the last 40 years successfully evolving their utilitarian G-Wagon into a luxury bauble.

Now the company is hoping to have a similar effect on the pick-up market with the arrival of the new Mercedes-Benz X-Class.  They’re even calling it the first ‘premium’ pick-up.

Rather than engineer the whole thing from scratch, Mercedes has instead capitalised on their relationship with the Renault-Nissan alliance and borrowed a few bits from the Navara and Alaskan – chiefly the chassis, engines and some of the body structure.

That last one is evident in the shape of the rear doors and the high bonnet line, although compared to the Navara the X-Class appears noticeably chunkier.

Mercedes’ engineers claim to have comprehensively examined every shared part and revised where necessary, which is reassuring because the Navara does not have the best reputation when it comes to corrosion resistance or structural rigidity.

While from the front the X-Class is unquestionably a Mercedes, the load bed itself is largely unchanged.  It’s good to see features such as the securing rails and load bay lighting, but given the premium aspirations it’s curious that niceties such as central locking and a tailgate damper aren’t available, even as options.

However, the cabin is clearly where Mercedes have spent most of their time, and it’s certainly quite attractive, with its hooded dials and high-resolution displays.

There are some less impressive areas, however – the air vents look great and respond well to an inquisitive twiddle but their surrounds feel cheap and crunchy, while the plastics on the lower parts of the doors and dash offer a poor contrast with the more successful upper trim panels.

Still, anyone who’s driven a Mercedes recently will feel at home with the multifunction touchpad controller.  Personally, I still feel it requires too much hand/eye co-ordination to use reliably while on the move, so it’s good to see the X-Class still has dedicated temperature controls.  The display isn’t touch sensitive, so it’s the touchpad or nothing, and we should mention that even with the optional COMAND Online system you still don’t get Apple CarPlay.

The front seats offer plenty of support and a good range of adjustment, but it’s a shame the steering wheel has only minimal height adjustment and doesn’t telescope at all.  Comfort for rear passengers is fine, although legroom isn’t fabulous.  The electric sliding rear window is a bit of fun, even if it’s not immediately obvious what practical purpose it serves.

While a more chunky X350d V6 will arrive later, for now the X-Class borrows the 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel from the Navara, and is offered in two guises – the 163hp X220d and the 190hp X250d.

While it could never be described as a particularly tuneful powerplant, Mercedes have clearly worked hard to isolate the cabin from the worst of it.

In the X220d, it’s mated to a six-speed manual transmission, while the more powerful X250d drives a seven-speed automatic.  0-62mph figures are 12.9 and 11.8 seconds respectively.

The auto offers closely stacked ratios that felt somewhat on the low side – by the time 34mph rolls around, it’ll already be in fifth with only two ratios to go – and while that can be good for towing, the unlocked torque converter robs the X-Class of some useful acceleration.

For now, all X-Class models use a part-time four-wheel-drive system that offers a 2WD mode for use on tarmac, plus 4H and 4L modes, the latter with a 2.7:1 reduction.  There’s no centre differential so, with a pure 50:50 front-to-rear split, it’s strictly for off-road use, but 4H can be engaged at speeds of up to 62mph – double the 31mph of the Toyota Hilux.

A locking rear differential is available as an option, too, as is a three-piece skid plate set and 20mm raised suspension.

In fact, if the X-Class has a stand-out feature it’s the suspension; although it inherits the Navara’s all coil set-up (no ancient leaf springs here), Mercedes’ engineers have created a set-up all of their own.

For a start, the X-Class uses a wider track than the Nissan (1632mm at the front, versus 1570mm of the Navara), together with unique springs, dampers, and other bits.

The result is a pick-up that actually handles.  And not just “well for a pick-up” either.

the X-Class really handles – and not just “well for a pick-up” either

That means there’s surprisingly little body roll, and none of that sensation of a rear-end intent on overtaking the front.  You might even call it tenacious.

The ride’s good, too, with very little of the longitudinal pitching and bouncing you’d expect from a leaf-spring set-up.  It can still shudder over rough surfaces, though – almost inevitable when you’re dealing with a solid axle and a ladder-frame chassis – but not so much as to make the interior break out into a series of sympathetic rattles.

It does lose some of this composure once loaded, however; there’s just no getting away from the fact leaf-springs are better at carrying loads.

The steering is direct and quicker than the average pick-up, and although it feels well-weighted on the move, at parking speeds it remains quite heavy – far heavier than that in the Ford Ranger, for example.

All of this makes the X-Class one of the more accomplished pick-ups for tackling long distances, despite what we felt were slightly disappointing levels of wind noise from around the door mirrors and a surprising amount of road-roar from our truck’s 19-inch wheels.

Given the weight of the thing (2,234kg in X250d form – technically enough to limit it to 60mph on dual-carriageways), we were expecting to struggle to achieve a respectable economy figure.

at 35mpg it’s one of the most economical pick-ups we’ve tested

But here the X-Class had one final surprise in store for us: after a week’s testing across a mix of conditions, we averaged just shy of 35mpg, making it one of the most economical pick-ups we’ve tested.  What’s more, with a little extra effort, we wouldn’t be surprised if more were possible.

If you’re a pick-up virgin, the X-Class will undoubtedly deliver a friendlier experience than some of the more agricultural offerings.  But given Mercedes’ claims at having created the “world’s first premium pick-up” we felt there are too many omissions to fully award it this title; even a Ford Ranger has adaptive cruise control – an X-Class doesn’t.

However, the main event is yet to come – the X350d V6 with full-time 4WD will arrive later this year and, with any luck, will present an opportunity for Mercedes to up the spec and claim the title they’re so clearly aiming for.

Tester’s Notes

  • Rolls very little for a pickup, ride less bouncy thanks to coil springs; still some shudder over bad surfaces, though
  • Steering not as light as Ranger’s at parking speeds
  • Steering wheel has minimal height adjustment, no reach adjustment
  • Still not a fan of Mercedes’ media controller
  • Air vents look great, but surrounds feel cheap
  • Much sun glare from dashboard onto windscreen
  • Plenty of wind noise around door mirrors, road noise from 19-inch wheels
  • 7-speed auto seems reluctant to change up at times, low gearing means by 34mph you’re in 5th already; can lurch somewhat during up-shifts
  • Like the load-bay lighting and cargo rails
  • No tailgate central locking, have to slide hidden key out of remote fob; no tailgate damper; sliding roll cover still a fiddly aftermarket affair
  • Given premium aspirations, too many features missing that are available on other pick-ups
  • An impressive near-35mpg on test
Entry-level Price£27,910+VATPrice as tested£40,055+VAT
Engine2298cc 4-cyl turbodieselTransmission7-speed auto
Power190hp @ 3,750rpmTorque450Nm @ 1,500-3,750rpm
0-6011.8 secsTop speed109 mph
Economy35.8 mpgCO2207 g/km
Dimensions5340 x 2113 x 1819 (LxWxH)Kerb Weight2234 kg