Why it's Catch 22 on tax for pickups like Merc's X-Class
Great comfort and style but bulky for city
On the face of it a Mercedes pickup is an appealing proposition. But like so many Irish tax solutions to Irish problems, there can be a nasty little shock for your pocket if you're not careful.
It is fair to say the Mercedes X-Class crew-cab version I've been driving is as near as you'll get to a glamour pickup - for €52,000 or so (starting price €39,950, including VAT/VRT).
With leather upholstery, an array of safety tech and 'executive' creature comforts (heated seats), it most definitely holds out the prospect of travelling in real comfort and style.
Amid such opulence in my test car it was easy to overlook the fact that these vehicles are primarily being bought as commercial workhorses.
That means the people aboard are using them purely in connection with a business or enterprise. Road tax is a moderate €333.
But Ireland's version of Catch 22 kicks in if you want to use the likes of the X-Class for 'private' driving - such as dropping the children to school. Then there is a much stiffer road tax bill: double or treble the commercial rate - depending on engine size.
I know it sounds crazy but that's how it works. You have to tell your local authority what exactly you will use the pickup for, and pay accordingly.
Same car (passenger accommodation, separate load-carrying and good towing ability) but different tax category.
And there are potential VAT and Benefit-in-Kind (BIK) ramifications. It's a right old maze. Mercedes urge people to check with their local authority before doing anything. "But," I hear you say, "what's to stop me telling them I'll only use it for commercial purposes and still drop the children to school?" Well you are breaking the law; it is illegal and there can be penalties.
Look, let's leave it at that and look at the car itself. The X-Class has the distinction of being the first of its kind by a posh automaker. There are two rows of seats (good rear-leg room) while outside you have your flatbed/payload area (varying covers, formats and styles) to carry stuff.
It can be your open-air boot, covered-in working tool carrier or whatever.
I can see why self-employed people like them. They are versatile and accommodate not just materials/tools but people.
It was inevitable when driving not to imagine how families could enjoy one of these, too. They're different, roomy enough and look at all that cargo space out back for bikes and tents and all sorts for weekend activity, breaks or holidays.
The X-Class makes its own case as a commercial proposition but is it worth the fuss and extra expense for families?
My immediate reaction was so say No for anyone living in congested urban areas. But then location doesn't stop some from buying gargantuan SUVs. I felt it big and bulky for comfortable city driving although a brilliant combination of cameras made negotiating city streets and parking slots much easier.
It was a different story out the country, on the open road where the powerhouse 190bhp engine came into its own. However, the suspension, despite being described as in 'comfort' guise was poor at absorbing mid-range jolts. The driving position was excellent, my front seat passenger had plenty of room, too. We headed inland with a small jog of bits and pieces, but nothing approaching the X's 1.1-tonne capacity or 3.5-tonne towing ability. The load bed is wide enough to fit a Euro-pallet, making this a serious piece of kit all round.
Our main reason for one midlands' foray was to celebrate a special 80th birthday. There is nothing like a home-land welcome to make you feel 'one of our own'.
Mercedes have done a good job making the X-Class look and feel like their own too, despite the fact the engine and transmission come courtesy of Nissan's Navara pickup. While only 85mm longer and 70mm wider, the Merc felt much, much bigger. They also tweaked and braced the chassis, but I still think the damper settings need work - it shouldn't jar as much on moderately poor roads. On the better roads, it just swept along, impressively smooth and swift. I can see its appeal as a mostly 'tarmac driver' with light off-road use - I don't see people spending that sort of money on a car with leather seats for workers with dirty clothes and muddy boots to climb into after a day's work.
If you are running a small business that requires ferrying employees, you could make a strong case for its versatility. And if you don't mind forking out the extra tax, it could be a runner for a mix of business and pleasure.
It's all about weighing up the Catch 22 cost of having the best of both worlds.
FACTS & FIGURES
Mercedes X-Class 250d double-cab pickup; 7spd auto transmission, 2.3-litre (2,298cc), 4cyl diesel, €333 commercial road tax, 190bhp, 4Matic POWER Line.
Range: from €39,950 inc VAT (X220d, 4x2, 6spd); X250d 4Matic (€44,850). POWER Line version tested €52,550.
Spec includes: leather upholstery, comfort suspension, 8-speaker system, reversing camera, cruise control, lane keep assist, rear-towing hook, 18ins wheels, lumbar support driver/front passenger, load-securing rail system, electric windows, rain sensor, auto air con.
Also on board were a number of 'packages' including Style and Parking.