Mercedes-Benz X-Class ute: In a class of its own?
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It started with a concept in Sweden, then a reveal of the prototypes in South Africa, a drive programme in Chile and now — at last — the Mercedes-Benz X-Class ute has arrived in New Zealand and is on sale.
Mercedes is the first premium brand to move in the medium-sized pick-up truck segment that it says will increase 43 per cent in the next 10 years globally.
The first Kiwi customers picked up their Mercedes pick-up last week with the ute on sale at commercial dealerships.
The X-Class will be taking on Ford's Ranger, which is the leader of the ute pack here, while Volkswagen's Amarok is a more direct competitor.
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 X200d, X250d and the X350d with a V6 diesel available later this 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 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.
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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 relied heavily on its passenger, SUV and van range when it came to interior and exterior design of the ute.
And the big grille with the large three-pointed star sets this ute apart from the competition.
Prices start at $53,300 for the base model Pure, then $59,300 for the starter Progressive before hitting $62,200 for the Power model.
No price has been revealed yet for the V6 that will be launched later this year.
Mercedes-Benz Vans, Australia and New Zealand’s communication manager, Blake Vincent, said 1300 Kiwis have registered their interest in the X-Class before it went on sale with “a lot of new customers to the brand plus existing Mercedes-Benz owners”.
It is expected that the top-end Power V6 will be sought by Mercedes E- and S-Class owners after a vehicle for the weekend.
Vincent also said that he expects SUV owners to trade into an X-Class.
At the New Zealand launch there were variants of the X250d power all-wheel-drive, with the models specced up with such accessories as canopies, soft tonneau cover, hard roll covers and roof liners.
It sits on 18in alloys and has a useful 360-degree camera (that I used in off-roading) plus dual-zone climate control and power front seats.
After a two-hour drive loop, taking in motorway and country roads, I added an off-roading element. It was here that the X-Class demonstrated its articulation over rutted dirt tracks, and also notable was the chassis’ capability driving on three wheels up a purpose-built hill where I drove at about a startling 70-degree angle.
On the open road, the handling at speed was impressive for such a heavy vehicle, although cornering at speed would benefit from a load in the tray to steady the vehicle and give more stability.
The Nissan drivetrain was smooth with enough grunt when you needed it.
The X250 Power interior is a clunky mix with Nissan’s stereo and gear stick and the Mercedes vents and infortainment system; but having been in the V6 at the South Africa launch, I’d favour this interior because of the E-Class elements.
Kiwi buyers will be able to see it at Fieldays in June.