The top dogs’ tiff

Andrew Muzamhindo

TOYOTA Hilux is indisputably the king, but the all-new Ford Ranger Raptor and Mercedes-Benz X Class are the princes and heir to the throne, especially if the Hilux does not innovate further in 2020.

The dirt-busting Ford Ranger Raptor went on sale in the middle of last year in most developed countries.

It became the most expensive double cab in its class.

Enter the class-topping Mercedes-Benz-Benz X-Class to knock the Raptor off its perch. This is despite the fact that it is based on one of the market’s most affordable trucks: it is a Nissan Navara underneath. Considering there is plenty of Navara in its DNA, it is worth wondering what that extra money buys.

That is the real point of difference in this Spanish-built, German-Japanese hybrid machine. Ripping the guts out of the Navara, Mercedes-Benz has finally plonked its own driveline down the middle. It consists of a German-made 3.0-litre diesel turbo V6 motor mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission and bespoke low-range transfer box. The chassis has also had several tweaks over the four-cylinder X-Class model and promises to be the ultimate X-Class experience.

The Thai-made Ranger Raptor matches the Merc’s level of re-engineering, albeit with different tact. Its suspension uses parts of the epic Ford Performance suspension set-up found in the all-busting American model F-150 Raptor. It allows the use of custom Fox Racing shock absorbers, brings a wider track and a taller 283mm ground clearance to house gnarly 17-inch alloy wheels. It is quite simply the most off-road focussed vehicle there is on a showroom floor in the world at the moment.

However, the engine falls short of what the X-Class offers, downsizing the previous-gen five-cylinder for a 2.0-litre bi-turbo four-pot diesel.

Given the Ranger’s unique Baja mode button for setting the car up to tackle jumps, it is only fitting that the Raptor feels sportier inside the cabin. The seats are finished in suede trim with leather bolsters and a contrasting blue stitch ties in with the Ford Performance theme. The instrument panel also has a unique Raptor fascia and the steering wheel, with its noon marker and magnesium paddle shifters, is the closest tiller to a racing wheel as you will find in a modern-day truck.

The Mercedes-Benz takes a more conservative approach, matching most of its design cues to those found in the brand’s models over the last five years. The vents seem very Mercedes-Benz, and the central-infotainment system with a pad controller is more elegant than poking at the Raptor’s touchscreen — particularly when off-road — but it lacks easy phone connectivity options like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto that add further apps such as Waze and music streaming services which the Ford has.

The Merc cannot totally mask its Navara origins, with thin plastic on the lower sections of dash and cheap-feeling buttons. The seats are comfortable, but not as hugging and supportive as the Ranger, which also has the best driver’s position of the pair.

However, the Mercedes-Benz does have a nice aesthetic higher up.

The X-Class arrives standard with AEB that the Raptor does not get, even though it is available in the lower-grade Wildtrak. Both models have their own version of lane keeping assist, ESP trailer sway mitigation and cruise control, but the X-Class gets a 360-degree bird’s-eye view camera system that bests the Ranger’s reversing camera. Both models score a five-star ANCAP rating but the Mercedes-Benz achieved its 2018-rating under stricter requirements than the Ranger that was tested in 2015. The Merc also has seven airbags over the Ranger’s six.

Mercedes-Benz easily out-muscles the Raptor when it comes to going hammer and tongs. Its engine is a 3.0-litre V6 turbocharged diesel engine, producing 190kW and 550Nm through a seven-speed automatic transmission to the four-wheel-drive system. In the diesel-powered truck world, it is only outclassed by the Volkswagen Amarok V6 580, but in reality, it feels every bit one the quickest truck you can buy.

Driving modes are what get the most from the motor, with the default comfort setting a touch lazy off the line before it shuffles along quickly. Put it into sport or manual mode to use the paddle shifters and it hammers from 0-100km/h in a claimed 7,9 seconds.

Raptor has a 10-speed automatic transmission. It has enough gears to feel lively enough, never bothersome and is a smooth operator, but as far as bragging rights go it takes a claimed 10,5 sec to reach 100km/h from a standstill.

Ford consumes 8,2L/100km whilst Mercedes-Benz swigs 8,8L. Both have an 80L tank for diesel fuel that, in theory, would provide a claimed driving range around 900km.

Off-road, the X-Class remains a capable four-wheel-drive and uniquely has a transfer box that allows it to engage low-range on the move. It is a system taken from the latest Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon and a great feature in slippery conditions.

But the Raptor has it covered for off-road cred, and there are places you would not want to take the three-pointed star that the Raptor will lap up. It is also more fun on gravel roads, with Baja mode loosening traction control and the oil-reservoir-cooled suspension perfectly suited to thumping along for a full day of off-road driving.

The Ford Ranger is heading towards the end of its generation and there have been a few recalls ironed out along the way.

The Mercedes-Benz is built on the third-iteration of the Nissan Navara’s D23 platform architecture which has also been around for a number of years. But it remains to be seen how Mercedes-Benz’s modifications to the chassis hold out.

Which one should you choose between the Raptor that is a tough truck like no other, and the X-Class which is the most premium badge with muscle to match?

But where the Ranger Raptor may seem like an expensive toy, it has a breadth of capability that lends credibility both on and off the road. It is a surprisingly plush town car for a big rig and it follows that up with the most competent off-road focus of any new car available on the showroom floor. It is simply brilliant in the hard stuff.

The Mercedes-Benz is a brute in a blue-collar suit, with some nice touches inside, better safety tech, expensive appeal, and a thumping great engine that will keep up with the hardest of demands. Spruced-up with accessories, it looks even nicer — and stands out even more. —