X-Class ute marks the sweet spot for Mercedes-Benz
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Exclusive: Driven is in Cape Town for the worldwide premiere of the X-Class ute
As Mercedes-Benz Vans revealed its pre-production X-Class mid-size pickup truck to the global market last week in South Africa, it had a lot of messages to convey.
It's the first premium brand to move into the segment that, Mercedes-Benz Vans says, will increase 43 per cent in the next 10 years globally.
The mid-sized pickup was officially launched in Cape Town, and goes into production in October, for sale in Europe the following month.
The X-Class is a collaboration with Renault-Nissan and, for the New Zealand market, it will be built in Barcelona, Spain, at the Renault-Nissan plant.
There are three models: Pure, Progressive and Power and variants of the X200, X200d, X250d and the X350d with a V6 diesel available next year.
Pure is the base model, suitable for tradies, and sits on 17in steel wheels with no carpets in the interior. The Progressive is for commercial and private use while the Power is aimed at customers who want to use it as a personal or family vehicle. It is specced up to resemble an E-Class sedan or GLE off-roader.
The X-Class will be positioned in the mid-size ute segment that is dominating the New Zealand new vehicle market, with Ford's Ranger the leader of the pack. The X-Class will take on the Ranger and Volkswagen's Amarok in the New Zealand market when it lands in April next year.
Diane Tarr, Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia/New Zealand managing director, told Driven at the Cape Town launch that prices for the three X-Class variants will be announced before the April launch date but she couldn't confirm when.
The Latin American-only X200 petrol model, along with the X220d, will have a six-speed manual transmission while the X250d has the option to upgrade to 7G-speed auto transmission.
The X350d will be a 7G automatic with permanent four-wheel-drive and 4Matic that includes low range.
The engines include Nissan's four-cylinder 220d that produces 120kW of power and the 250d with 140kW. The 250d has a bi-turbo diesel engine.
The V6 diesel engine is from Mercedes and is found in the G-wagon and E-Class. It also includes the company's dynamic select system in conjunction with the 7G-tronic plus transmission. This technology means you can tailor your driving preferences -- from comfort, to sport and off-road.
The X-Class has a ladder-type frame that will take a payload of more than 1100kg and has a towing capacity of up to 3500kg. It will also have driver assistance systems based on cameras, radars and ultrasound sensors.
When Mercedes-Benz decided to move into the mid-size pickup arena, it made sense to not only hook up with an existing ute-maker but more importantly to look at its own products.
But Mercedes didn't just slap a three-pointed star on the grille of a Navara -- instead it took the basis of the Nissan ute and made it its own.
It's 5350mm long, 1819mm high with the rear tray big enough to take a wood pallet lengthwise.
The X-Class has a wading depth of 600mm and 221mm ground clearance.
At 1920mm, it's 70mm wider than the Navara, and that's an important design factor for Mercedes, and an aspect it's keen to promote.
The increased 70mm means improved driving performance, more room in the interior and that extra-wide tray.
Mercedes is also keen to promote that the only shared exterior element between the Navara and X-Class is the door handle while the interior is all Benz.
Mercedes relied heavily on its passenger, SUV and van range when it came to interior and exterior design of the ute.
At the Cape Town launch event, the design team said the face of the X-Class is most important and is related to the SUVs with the front headlights by the grille "very Mercedes-Benz".
The bonnet of the X-Class was intentionally made high to "show strength" with the LED daytime running lights "typical" of the brand.
The side proportions "don't have any creases".
The X-Class was designed at the same time as the E-Class sedan and coupe, and it shows with side elements taken from those two luxury products.
All the accessories for the X-Class are made by Mercedes. The canopy has been designed so that the ute resembles an SUV.
The X-Class also comes with soft and hard tonneau covers plus a roll cover.
The rear of the X-Class takes design elements from Mercedes-Benz Vans with the rear lights taken from V-Class products.
The back of the X-Class was the let-down for me after seeing the concept X-Class in Sweden last year that had LED rear lights that wrapped around the tailgate.
Mercedes' designers told me in Cape Town that although that LED design element was "realistic", it came down to cost efficiency.
Inside, the X-Class Power and Progressive resemble a Mercedes SUV or sedan thanks to the four turbine-style air vents and a large curved dash that emphasises the width of the five-seater ute.
There are three trim variants in the Power: a pixelated look in matt black, an aluminum effect with longitudinal grain and a brown matt woodgrain effect.
The three models of the X-Class have control and display elements found in the C- and V-Class products while the Progressive and Power have a 5.4in display.
The three X-Class models are also highly specced when it comes to safety features thanks to Mercedes-Benz technology that's been handed down from such products as the E-Class sedan.
It comes with active brake assist, lane keep assist, trailer stability assist, cruise control, reversing camera and optional 360 degree camera -- an element that came in handy during our ride experience in the X-Class just outside Cape Town at the Anthonij Rupert vineyard estate that has its own race track.
For the first time at a global premiere, Mercedes-Benz gave the media a chance to experience its product on the road.
Nine pre-production utes with Mercedes-Benz certified instructors took the media on a 15- 20-minute circuit that incorporated the race track plus a purpose-built off-road course.
Each of the 190 journalists was given a sample as front passenger in the X-Class and shown the ute's impressive road handling on the tarmac, cornering and lane changing at up to 100km/h.
Off-road, the instructor showed hill descent control using the 360-degree camera (go to Facebook.com/DrivenNZ to see my video of the experience) as we crested the hill.
Back in high/normal 4WD we were driven over stony tracks at up to 60km/h without being jolted about, while we manoeuvered 60 degrees on both sides after a hill ascent, using the camera again.
The width of the X-Class gives the stability this segment needs and I was impressed with the soundproofing in the cabin.
Mercedes-Benz Van's marketing department's workshop at the vineyard had examples of potential customers for its main regions with a tradie used as an example for Australasia. For Tarr, the New Zealand customer will be a combination of existing Mercedes owners plus people looking at SUVs.
Mercedes-Benz NZ also has a list of potential customers, examples being E-Class owners wanting the X-Class, and GLC drivers also wanting the ute for lifestyle.
The toned-down version of the X-Class over the concept, plus the defined Mercedes elements inside and out, will attract even more buyers to the product.
Just as Mercedes predicts.
Nutting out the dealer network
When the first Mercedes-Benz X-Class ute lands in New Zealand in April next year there are plans for it to be sold in commercial rather than passenger dealerships.
Mercedes-Benz Van Australia/NZ/Pacific managing director, Diane Tarr, told Driven at the Cape Town reveal that at this stage van and truck dealerships will have the first premium ute on their yards.
"For New Zealand specifically, we are still working on that network structure and the X-Class is a Mercedes-Benz Van product," said Tarr.
"Under that, we would always position it into our van dealerships but also at the same time, we are making sense for the opportunity, for the right representation, to expand it when we need to," she said.
Commercial dealers would have training to deal with private customers, and van dealerships provide the same experience as passenger dealerships
Tarr expects to announce the price for the utes before the April launch.