Silver star, gold standard

by Andy Bryenton

Almost a quarter of all new vehicle registrations in New Zealand in 2018 were for utes. This body style is fast surpassing any other choice, and not just for the farmer or tradesperson looking for a work-day companion.

While Ford’s Ranger continues to smash out sales records and gain accolades, other car makers have been quick to pick up on the popularity of the pick-up. That even includes a marque usually associated more with speed and finesse than mud and gravel, Mercedes Benz.

Their introduction to the ute market, the X Class, caused waves not just because of its distinctive styling and comfy interior, but also a price which makes it one of the most affordable ways to get behind the three-pointed star badge. Not cheap compared to other utes, but certainly more able to tackle tough terrain than an S Class, and less pricey than the army-tough G-Wagon.

The initial model was the X250d, following Mercedes’ time-honoured tradition of giving its vehicles coded numbers instead of names. That translated to an X for ute, 250 for the size of its four-cylinder engine and a d for diesel fuel. The new six-cylinder version is hence called the X350d, and it comes with a big advantage over its smaller sibling, in terms of delivering 258 horsepower and a healthy 550 Newton metres of torque to boost its towing capacity to 3,500kg with a braked trailer. Power delivery is smooth rather than brutal, giving the X Class the unhurried feel of a traditional German four-door rather than a snorting big two-tonne diesel truck. The natural competitor for this upmarket ute is the Volkswagen Amarok, and there’s a lot the two have in common, including, now, a six-pot turbo diesel.

The Benz may just edge out the V-dub when it comes to off-road performance, with its locking hubs and slightly better ground clearance, but it’s price where Mercedes customers may feel a slight sting for extras.

That is still a very inexpensive way to pilot one of Germany’s finest (compare the top of the range AMG G63, an SUV worth as much as a small house), but the options list is enticing, long and potentially irresistible to customise the X350d as your own.