New details from a top-secret Australian design forum have emerged, detailing the upcoming Mercedes-Benz ute that was spied testing this week in a Nissan Navara shell.
The private event is understood to have brought confirmation that the ute will be known as either the Mercedes-Benz X-Class or Z-Class, along with a number of other details:
Three model range (base, mid- and high-specification)
Two diesel engines (four- and six-cylinder diesel options)
Australian engineering input
B-Class-esque interior with dashtop screen for high-specification model
AMG styling kit likely, but AMG version unlikely
These details follow the sighting this week of a prototype Mercedes-Benz ute, wearing Mercedes-Benz wheels and the panels of a new-generation Nissan Navara NP300.
What we know already
Based on information released by Mercedes-Benz since the new model's announcement, we know that the ute will occupy a premium space for the brand and will be based on the recently released Nissan Navara NP300, which has been engineered to support both a coil-sprung rear and leaf spring suspension setup.
According to Mercedes-Benz, the similarities will be few and far between, with the manufacturer admitting the decision to use the Navara platform was one based on cost.
At this month's Detroit motor show, Daimler board member Thomas Weber told CarAdvice, “Yes, to come to an attractive price we are using a common platform, but all the rest is done by Mercedes - to design, to develop the vehicle specifically to meet Mercedes criteria,” Weber said, building on previous statements from the brand.
The ute, which was announced in July last year, will be sold in key markets for the brand, which include Latin America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Europe.
It will be built at Nissan’s plant in Barcelona, Spain, for global export. The Mercedes-Benz ute will also share its platform with the Nissan Navara NP300 and Renault Alaskan.
What we have learned
Based on a top secret design forum held in Australia late last year, we have discovered that the new Mercedes-Benz ute will be called either the Mercedes-Benz X-Class or Mercedes-Benz Z-Class. According to an attendee, the brand was leaning toward X-Class due to its off-road and rugged connotation.
In an attempt to distance itself from the Navara NP300 donor vehicle, organisers said that there would only be a dual-cab variant. The single variant would eliminate the need to engineer a single-cab or extra-cab variant.
The Mercedes-Benz ute range will be available in three specification levels: a trades-focused base model, a better-equipped mid-level option and a more lifestyle-oriented top specification.
The range will also be powered exclusively by diesel engines, one four-cylinder and one six-cylinder engine. Powering the base and mid-specification models will be the same engine as the Navara — a 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that produces 140kW (188hp) of power and 450Nm (332ft.lb) of torque. It will have a towing capacity limited to 3000kg. The top-specification model will be available with both the four-cylinder diesel and a six-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that produces 190kW (255hp) of power and 550Nm (406ft.lb) of torque. Towing capacity would be an increased 3500kg.
Both the base model and mid-specification will come with selectable four-wheel drive, with the vehicle operating in rear-wheel drive regularly.
The top-specification will be a full-time four-wheel-drive. In terms of design, the base model is likely to be built as a tradesman's utility with basic wheels, plastic-clad bumpers and little in the way of visual enhancements.
According to an attendee, the top-specification model had an interior similar to the B-Class, with an iPad-esque screen attached to the dashboard. The top-specification model also had integrated satellite navigation and a 360-degree surround-view camera.
Australia to have engineering input
When quizzed about the new Mercedes-Benz ute, David McCarthy, Mercedes-Benz Australia's senior manager of public relations, product and corporate communications said, "Into the design...none. Into the spec, quite a bit. We will still do some local work on it — we did actually have a styling workshop here, which we wanted [in order] to do some potential customer research.
"Bear in mind it's still two years away and is a bit of a moveable feast. We feel quite good about it," he said.
"It's a bit early. There will be three specs, basically. There'll be a 'tradie' spec (close to a tradie spec), a mid-range and a high-range. It's not going to be priced in the market against Rangers and stuff like that — I suspect Amarok or higher. It's such a new area for us."
"Certainly feedback from our existing customers is great. They're really interested in the vehicle. How many are we going to sell? No idea. We are an important component of the vehicle's worldwide sales, but it's still a long way away," he said.
"Our driving conditions are not totally unique. They are pretty unique and there will be an expectation that the vehicle be very competent off road. Certainly for us that's important. There will be local development done — to what level, we're not sure yet, but there will be local work done."
No AMG version of Mercedes-Benz ute
The concept of a 'go-fast' version of the ute was all but quashed, with McCarthy suggesting that the notion was ruled out.
"Tobias [Moers — chief executive of Mercedes-AMG] was asked about this at Detroit [motor show]. He laughed and said he had just been having a discussion about the very same thing with Volka from AMG and a V8 AMG ute...I don't think that's going to happen," McCarthy said.
"Certainly an AMG styling kit, as such, that's entirely possible. Anything beyond that, it would mean that our development engineers at AMG are used to developing cars and SUVs. A ute is an entirely different thing," he said.
"If it happened — you'd end up with something like a Maloo, which can carry three bags of baguettes, then it's use as a ute is reduced. Then again — how many people that are buying utes are using them as they were properly designed."
"Like Hyundai's upcoming thing (Santa Cruz) — I'd be surprised if that has any load-carrying capacity. For us, we definitely want a tools-of-the-trade version, as it's called. Our vans, they're built to work, so it's got a lot of lifestyle attractions to it, but a lot of these vehicles are going to have to earn their living. An AMG version is highly unlikely, especially for the first version."