Review: Mercedes-Benz X-Class x350D 4Matic.

Pick-ups: big sellers in much of the world. Used by farmers, builders and anyone needing a light truck for shifting stuff. Outdoor types also like them, so do families. The popular design is a five-seater, four-door passenger cab with a square load bed behind. All-wheel-drive with an additional low-range gearbox gives superior traction.

Land Rover helped set the pace with its long-wheelbase 110, a sturdy carry-all which lasts forever. Passenger comfort was of lower priority and, as with so many consumables, it was the foreigners from over there who combined tolerable refinement in a lighter vehicle, still capable of carrying a ton on the back and getting its feet dirty. Pop on a hardtop and your cargo is dry and safe.

Their one-ton classification allows company car tax and VAT to be reclaimed – making them cheaper to own than an SUV. All of them are offered in a more basic utility specification – probably steel wheels, no frills nor many thrills, ready for many years of earning money. All of them are offered with kit and trim to appeal to the weekender: alloys, leather, chrome, rodeo bars at the back. Extra soundproofing and suspension refinement makes them just about acceptable. Owners absorb, maybe forget, the lumpy ride and waffly handling and thirsty running.

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For what it’s worth my choice is the Nissan Navara because, until the model reviewed here, it felt most like a car. It has independent rear suspension instead of the workplace leaf springs of most rivals. Steering feel is good, too. Nissan also makes a Renault version called the Alaskan, which I am sure is just as good but is not made in right-hand-drive. Both come from a factory in Barcelona. Renault supplies the four-cylinder diesel engines.

Last year Mercedes-Benz launched the X-Class – heralded, accurately, as the first pick-up from a prestige carmaker, albeit sold by its van division. This car establishes a new benchmark. Its foundation is the Nissan Navara, made in the same Spanish factory. The structure is a bit wider, on a broader track. The ladder-chassis has been strengthened and the suspension components are revised. There is added soundproofing. The four-cylinder diesel engines and gearboxes have to cope with the extra weight of the X-Class. Traction is selectable 4x4. Interiors are approaching the standards of a Mercedes car, with a large free-standing screen, familiar dials, control systems, a very classy full-width dashboard. The cabin and particularly the bonnet and face are new with a massive roundel dominating the bold grille. This frontage is a cross between street car and truck. I’d expect to see some further Range Rover-style glitz at some stage.

Ride and steering quality and noise levels are not only better than the rest, they also beat some monocoque SUVs – viz, the Peugeot 5008 which had the misfortune to overlap with the loan. It was impressive over harsh road surfaces, such as concrete motorway, which set up a howl in so many cars tested.

It costs several thousand quid more than an equivalent Navara or its ilk. The media launch was in Chile. Why not? It’s a tempting location for the freewheeling media chaps happy to log up more air miles. It is also a country which embraces pick-ups. However, the altitudes exposed the lack of puff of the Nissan engines for a car carrying such an exalted brand name.

The answer, if you care to spend at least £48,000, is the proper X-Class, the 350d, which has a muscled 3-litre Mercedes V6 diesel engine and a seven-speed Gtronic automatic gearbox. The drive ratio is 40/60 front and rear. It is a large vehicle and the front and rear sensors and parking camera are welcome.

Cabin planning to Mercedes standards is compromised by the Nissan original — meaning a gear selector and handbrake on the central tunnel rather than a column change and an electric or foot-operated parking brake. Consequently, there is a shortage of handy storage space between the seats.

The demo car was fitted with a protective load liner and roller cover for the cargo area. (£250 and £1,477 ex VAT). The load cover locks (using a separate key) but does not make the back fully waterproof. I read the small print too late.

The x350d has a higher trim level called Power, and included LED front and rear lights, heated front seats with power adjustment, a heated screen washer reservoir, folding door mirrors, push-button starter. Options are plentiful, with enhancement packs, an upgrade to leather from Artico, a 360 degree camera, locking rear differential, and 20mm increased ground clearance. Bang goes the £50,000 barrier.

For various reasons I was not able to do any heavy loads with the vehicle. Some (rain sodden) carpet and light furniture were the only loads. I had already realised that this pick-up is calibrated to ride sweetly without needing load weight to moderate heavy duty spring rates.

Verdict: The best, as it should be at these prices.