The launch of the Series 2 HSV SportsCat was an endorsement of the risky decision to take the performance brand into the crowded high-end ute market.
Let’s cut to the chase: it’s good, very good. While the motoring ‘experts’ mutter about it being a Nissan Navara in a fur coat, it’s not hard to dismiss these sour grapes in a close look at the engineering, the overall specification and the fit and finish.
You might ask why does this matter because it’s just a ute?Yes but these are no longer just working vehicles; they’re dual-purpose. Many will never venture out of the cities.
Rural News drove an X-Class 250D for a week in rural Waikato and while a few of its German traits puzzled us, the more we drove it the more we liked it.
First impression, important when you’re picking a vehicle that’s going to be a partner for a few years, is that it’s right up there. A broad, handsome front end makes it clear this is a Merc, detail lines in the flanks suggest purpose, the practical back end has a step set into the bumper, and the well-deck has a secure sliding cover and clever load securing within.
Back to the front, power (140kW /450Nm) comes from a 4-cylinder 2.3L twin-turbo unit never found wanting. For a bit more boogie, a V6 190kW option is also available, but that’s probably hard to justify given the performance of the four, mated to a 7-speed auto box.
Acceleration was brisk, yet smooth, with changes imperceptible. There is also the option of manual shifting.
Suspension up front is a double-wishbone set-up, and the rear takes the form of multi-links. The Mercedes development team has obviously tweaked the rear end, as generally it doesn’t exhibit the harshness normally found in most utes set up for a one-tonne payload and 3.5t towing capacity.
Off-road during our test (don’t tell the lovely lady from Mercedes NZ) we found that the selectable 4WD system — with high and low ranges — kept the big German kept moving. An added bonus was knowledge that the rear diff lock, although not needed for our expeditions, was there if things got tough. Add to this 222mm ground clearance and 600mm wading depth, then rural life shouldn’t prove too stressful for this ute.
In the cabin the finish is what you’d expect from this premier marque. Nut brown leather covered the seats, the upper dashboard, door caps and arm rests, and a faux-wood finish on the face of the dash. The seats were firm and supportive — a typical German trait — and adjustable for all shapes and sizes, although the vertical adjustment for the seatbelts were a little limited for this 1.83 tall driver.
Controls on the dashboard and the steering wheel are plentiful, probably best understood on a quiet evening with a whiskey and the operator’s manual. The 8-inch touchscreen dominating the centre of the fascia is clear and informative, although the touchpad/scroll-wheel next to the gear shifter was distracting. Add in a great sound system, an extremely useful 360-degree camera system and a park assist function and you have technology shown to its best use.
As you’d expect, safety functions are to the fore: cruise control/speed limiter, lane keep assist, active braking system, downhill speed control and much more.
Our test vehicle had the optional Style Pack: privacy glass, side steps, roof rails, 19-inch alloys and a quirky electric sliding window in the rear cab glass that should keep Shep happy.