IT’S THE biggest news to hit the commercial pick-up truck market for some time – Mercedes has entered the fray with its X-Class range and has the potential to carve itself a slice at the very top.

Produced in collaboration with Nissan, this first foray is with a choice of two power outputs from the same engine, a four-cylinder 2.3-litre, which uses a single turbocharger in the X 220 d producing 163hp and using a twin-stage turbo tweaked to 190hp with the X 250 d. That engine is also shared with Nissan.

However, the Merc three-litre X 350 d of 258hp which is just about to hit the showrooms now, will give a broader spectrum for potential buyers to choose from. It will also be exclusive to the Merc branded pick-up.

The one tested, the X 250 d, is expected to be the main seller. However, the bigger engine will definitely take a share of the spoils, especially in the ‘lifestyle’ buyers’ market and it could be a better option for towing where the extra grunt in both power and torque will pay off.

The X-Class is squarely aimed at the top end of the market and a starting price of £27,310 ex VAT shows you just where Merc wants to place it. It is a premium brand and that applies just as much to its commercial vehicles as it does to its cars.

What goes a long way to justifying a price – which can easily hit £40k once the extras are included – is the fact that this handles very differently from any other truck on the market. While Nissan might be the partner, Mercedes has a heap of knowledge gleaned over the years from its prodigious collection of commercial vehicles and its high-end 4 x 4 SUVs, such as the G-Wagen.

That means this pick-up has coiled suspension all round and a range of tweaks, both hardware and software, that the Navara won’t have. Does it justify being about £7000 dearer than the Nissan ... the answer is ‘Yes’. Inside, there’s little comparison and Mercedes has done its best to kit out what is essentially still a commercial vehicle (it qualifies for being able to reclaim VAT and special road fund rates) as a luxury motor.

The frills and fripperies aside, though, the way it drives is really the key element for those who have a long working day behind the wheel. And it will do some serious work.

Our test included a trip to the rough bounds of Knoydart, via the Spanish John II landing craft, complete with 800kg of various vittles and fishing gear. The X-Class handled it like a premium SUV, with the all-round coil suspension and its standard double wishbones up front and multi-link rear set-up, really was put to the test and not found wanting.

Merc’s decision to aim to be ‘best in class’ is indicated by the fact the it will only be available as a doublecab in the UK and all models in the range come with the well-proven – and beefed up for this use – 4MATIC selectable all-wheel drive, with low-range, plus drive selection mode.

As far as trim levels go, there’s three choices – Pure, the most basic variant; Progressive, for higher requirements; and Power as the high-end variant mainly aimed to those with an ‘urban lifestyle’. However, as Mercedes will find out, most of the other major players in this market have been surprised at the take up of the high-spec’ models and I don’t expect this will change for the X-Class.

The entry level X 220 d has a six-speed manual transmission and only gets the choice of Pure or Progressive trim, while the X 250 d gets all three choices and, as with the test vehicle, there’s a really nice seven-speed automatic gearbox available – why would you opt to go manual with this beauty?

The road system in Knoydart is basic(!), but there was no doubting the X-Class proved agile enough over the bumps and scrapes, while leaving those in the passenger area in some comfort. It’s a neat trick and only beaten in recent times by a Toyota Land Cruiser Amazon!

As is usual in high-end passenger cars these days, but not so common with commercials, there was a whole heap of safety and driver assistance available, some of which becomes a bit annoying when off-road – like the proximity monitors which took fright at a daddy long legs wafting its way by!

But with stuff like driver and passenger airbags, plus window bags on the A-D pillar and a driver’s side knee bag allied to Active Brake Assist (which uses radar-based autonomous emergency braking) and Lane Keeping Assist, then this is just about as high tech as pick-ups can get.

Ooh ... and the reversing camera! Ideal for loading up trailers and the model on test also came with one of those bird’s eye 360-degree cameras that let you see all around the vehicle, which is useful in precarious situations.

For an extra £1200, buyers can move up from Pure to the Progressive model which has painted bumpers with a simulated under guard in matt black; aluminium door sills featuring ‘Mercedes-Benz’ lettering; chrome door handles; load securing rail system; heated exterior mirrors; and a radiator grille with silver matt finish.

Inside, this has model black fabric upholstery and an aluminium trim, with automatic dimming interior mirror with integrated compass function, illuminated sun visors, lighting for the front footwell and exit lamps, and chrome air vents.

The model tested, the Power version, costs £3500 above that mid model, and is offered only with the 250 d 4MATIC engine, featuring painted bumpers; a rear bumper in chrome with integrated step; fog lights with chrome surround; shoulder line trim strips in chrome; LED high-performance headlights with cleaning system; LED tail lights; electrically folding exterior mirrors; and keyless operation as standard.

In the cabin there’s eight-way electrically adjustable driver and front passenger seats, with a mix of leather and microfibre upholstery – and there’s matched leather is on the dashboard, plus piano black, high-gloss trim.

There’s a pretty hi-spec’ ‘infotainment system mated to a seven-inch high definition screen, plus rotary controller and touchpad between the driver and passenger seats which was a little too much in the way of spillages! A Garmin-based Map Pilot is a useful option at £405.

On economy, the 250 d can manage 35.8mpg – a bit less frugal than the Nissan equivalent, but the X-Class is heavier, longer and wider, with beefier underpinnings. There’s one wee problem with the fuel system – it has an AdBlue tank and it has the same entry hatch as the 73-litre main fuel tank, but on opposite sides, so you can get confused when drawing up for a fuel top up. Beware!

Just to confuse things further, there are no fewer than seven option packs to choose from, depending on which standard model you opt for. But they can add up to some serious money – for instance the nominal price of the 250 d Power as tested was £34k, but nearer £40k with a host of extras added on. One I wouldn’t buy was the optional lockable tool cabinet for the rear load space – it’s clumsy to use and dismount, and cuts off most of the rest of the load area which fitted where it’s handiest.

Useful add-ons include a differential lock for the rear axle if you do serious off-road work, which costs an extra £495, while a kit to increase ground clearance by 20mm can be added for £220.