There aren’t many niches left to fill in the automotive world these days — we have SUVs styled like coupes, and off-road spec city cars, for example. However, Mercedes-Benz reckons it’s found a new one, that of the premium pick-up truck. Its argument is that more and more people are buying pick-ups for personal use, so there’s a market for a truck that’s a bit less utilitarian than what’s currently out there. With almost a thousand pre-orders in the nine months since it was revealed, Mercedes might be on to something...

Rather than build a new vehicle from the ground up, Mercedes-Benz signed a deal with Nissan to use the platform for the Navara pick-up. That means the engine available at launch is from the Japanese manufacturer, albeit with new software, while the transmission and four-wheel-drive system is also carried over. What is different is what makes the X-Class stand out, though. The exterior styling is sleeker than the Navara, while Mercedes’ suspension has given the pick-up a much better ride quality. The interior’s a massive step up, too, though some switchgear is reused.

Mercedes has worked wonders with the front end to give the truck a distinctive face. In a segment where most cars are defined by simple, rugged aesthetics, the X-Class brings a sense of sophistication.

At launch in the UK, there’s one 2.3-litre diesel engine in two states of tune. The lower-powered X220d model has 161bhp, while the X250d gets 188bhp. We got behind the wheel of the latter, finding it to be surprisingly slow in everyday driving — it’s fine once you’re up to speed, but getting there is a genuine effort. Fortunately, for those who want to use the X-Class off-road, it proved more than torquey enough to get the truck out of trouble on a particularly boggy 4x4 course. Fortunately, a more powerful version is on the way — a high-torque diesel V6 with 255bhp and a monstrous 550Nm of torque. It should be the pick of the bunch when it goes on sale in mid-2018.

The X-Class’ suspension helps smooth out road imperfections, while also keeping body roll minimal around corners

Typically, when driving pick-up trucks, you have to make a concession for the fact they’re set-up for having heavy loads in the back, leading to an often jiggly ride. However, Mercedes has done incredibly well to tame this, leading to a best-in-class ride quality. This is thanks largely to two things — new suspension and a wider track. Because the wheels are further apart, it helps make the X-Class more stable than the Navara, while Mercedes’ road-tuned suspension helps smooth out the tarmac ahead of you. It’s impressive in corners too, resisting too much body roll, though with slow steering it’s best to keep your speed in check, otherwise you could find yourself sawing at the wheel in tighter turns.

The rear two-thirds of the X-Class are quite forgettable — there’s only so much you can do with the traditional pick-up shape. However, Mercedes has worked wonders with the front end to give the truck a distinctive face. In a segment where most cars are defined by simple, rugged aesthetics, the X-Class brings a sense of sophistication. It’s a real head-turner, and many pick-up truck drivers along our test route in North Wales couldn’t help but take a look.

Higher-spec Progressive and Power models get alloy wheels and shiny chrome, but if you go for the entry-level Pure trim you get steel wheels - perfect for those who want to make the most of the X-Class’s 4x4 capabilities without damaging expensive alloys. The simple look doesn’t quite work with the smart front end, but the Pure trim does have a slightly more function-over-form ethos than the rest of the range.

If you expect the same level of refinement and craftsmanship in the cabin as your executive saloon’s, you’ll be disappointed

The X-Class’s interior is a mixed bag. This is where the clash between Mercedes reputation for high quality interiors struggles against its need to be functional in all weathers. By pick-up truck standards, it’s definitely up there with the best of them, with smart propeller-like air vents and a prominent infotainment screen. However, while the hard plastics used throughout might be normal for this segment, they feel slightly at odds with the premium image the X-Class is trying to portray. It’s best described as ‘premium for a pick-up truck’, but if you’re coming out of one of the German brand’s road cars you might get a bit of a shock. Fortunately, this is offset by comfortable seats and well-judged driving position, while ‘theatre-style seating’ in the back helps rear passengers’ view out the front.

The X-Class is well-equipped in all trims, but most private buyers will want to avoid the more ruggedly styled Pure trim. Opt for the top-spec Power trim instead and you’re looking at chrome detailing and body-coloured bumpers, 17-inch alloy wheels and LED lighting all around. Inside, black artificial leather and microfibre upholstery makes for extremely comfortable seating, while fully electrical adjustment makes it easy to get the seat in the perfect position.

Compared with pick-up rivals, the Mercedes X-Class is a bit of a revelation to drive. The German car-maker has clearly spent a lot of time on ride refinement, giving the most car-like driving experience this segment has to offer. Those simply looking for family practicality would still be better served by an estate or SUV, but if the well-sized load bay appeals and you don’t want to give up interior creature comforts, the X-Class treads a fine line very well indeed.