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.
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.