What do Afrikaners in khaki shorts have to do with urban lifestyle? Well, about six decades ago they invented the concept of a bakkie with the creature comfort of a car. In South Africa. 60 years later GQ motoring ed Dieter Losskarn experienced the newest star bakkie in Chile.
Who would have ever thought that Afrikaans speaking farmers from the Free State could spark an urban lifestyle trend? In the 1950s they loved their Mercedes Ponton saloon cars so much, that they wished those vehicles would come in a pickup version as well. Mercedes-Benz Germany listened. And the bakkies were delivered. In two different body styles. One was assembled in South Africa, with a separate load bin, dubbed the ‘Stanley Porter’ after the Mercedes-Benz importer at the time. The other one was much more beautiful. It had an uninterrupted body flow, shaped by Binz, a coachbuilder who did and still does convert Mercs into hearses and ambulances in the South of Stuttgart. Altogether about 500 of those vehicles came to South Africa, where they are rare and sought-after classic cars today.
Forward about 60 years and I am sitting in neighbouring Chile in the highest spec Power version of the X 250d. Inside it is this comfortable, leathery Mercedes SUV style and feel. A steering wheel borrowed from the C-Class, the touchpad middle console, LED headlights, rear view camera and 8inch multimedia display. All familiar sights. Not pickup-like at all. Premium flair in a rustic segment of the market. Star prestige.
Due to the fact that Mercedes shared the architecture of ladder frame and rigid rear axle with Nissan/Renault, taunters immediately described the car as a ‘Navara in Mascara’, without having seen it in the flesh or experienced it. In fact there is not a single Nissan body part on the Merc. Despite it being produced on the same assembly line in the Navara factory in Barcelona. From 2019 the X will be made in Argentina as well.
So this is not just badge-engineering and definitely more Daimler than Nissan. Much more. The front view is full-on Mercedes SUV. The silhouette is obviously looking more similar to the bakkie competition and the rear end is, well, slightly disappointing. It looks like the chief designer had enough and left for lunch early. Driving behind an X, you wouldn’t think that it is a Mercedes-Benz.
So the Merc bakkie looks best from a three-quarter front view – and in yellow. A colour that wasn’t originally planned for production but gained enormous popularity after having been applied to the first concept car. Facing the X one can clearly see that the Mercedes is 7cm wider in body and 6cm wider in track width than Nissan Navara and Renault Alaskan. For the lifestyle client it is important to look good.
Together with a heavily modified suspension/chassis and comprehensive sound proofing the drive comfort is surprising. Just like one of the Mercedes SUVs, no bakkie feeling at all. The 4-cylinder diesel is borrowed from Nissan and tweaked a bit. It does its job with the six-speed manual and 7-speed auto, but uphill on a windy road, you wish for a bit more power.
Rear diff lock, low-gear and selective all-wheel drive make the new X a formidable 4×4 as well. Impressively demonstrated on a prepared off road course. Fulfilling the promise of Mercedes van division CEO Volker Mornhinweg, who wanted to combine wild nature with urban lifestyle. Just like South African farmers more than sixty years ago.
Mercedes X 250d
Engine 2.3-l. 4cyl. turbo diesel
Power 140kW and 450Nm
Top Speed 175 km/h
0-100km/h 11.8 seconds
Price From R642 103 (X220d 4×2 progressive, manual) to R791 315 (X250d 4×4 power manual)