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Future models - Mercedes-Benz - X-Class

First look: Mercedes gets tough with X-Class

X appeal: The X-Class has already racked up strong pre-launch interest ahead of its early 2018 Aussie arrival.

Mercedes-Benz to take on booming ute segment with X-Class range from early 2018

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Mercedes-Benz logo19 Jul 2017

By TIM NICHOLSON in CAPE TOWN

MERCEDES-BENZ has finally ripped the covers off the production-ready version of its highly anticipated X-Class, with the German auto giant proclaiming it has “big ambitions” for its inaugural ute in the high-volume but increasingly competitive segment – despite being a premium alternative to its major rivals.

The X-Class, which was today shown in production guise nine months after the reveal of two distinct concepts last October, will start to roll out in Australia in early 2018, shortly after the European market.

For Australia, New Zealand, Europe and South Africa, the X-Class will be built at a Nissan production facility in Barcelona, Spain, while the Latin American market will source the ute from Cordoba, Argentina, from 2019.

Speaking with GoAuto at the unveiling in Cape Town, South Africa, Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia and New Zealand managing director Diane Tarr was coy on sales targets for the X-Class, but confident the company would be successful in the dual-cab pick-up market.

“We have big ambitions for the X-Class,” she said. “As you can understand we can’t give you specific numbers, but it is our intention to be a decent player in that space. For us, we are also setting a … new category, by introducing a real premium ute into that segment and let’s see how that stimulates interest and demand for all of us in that space.”

The X-Class will be offered in three specification grades – base Pure, mid-spec Progressive and highly specified Power – and a mix of two four-cylinder turbo-diesel engines and a flagship V6 oil-burner.

According to Mercedes, Pure variants are designed more for rugged, professional use as a traditional workhorse, and Progressive adds extra styling flourishes and comfort features while retaining its “rugged” characteristics.

The flagship Power variant adds more stylistic and comfort features and has the highest level of standard equipment. Its closest rivals in the segment will be the VW Amarok V6 Highline and Ultimate and the Ford Ranger Wildtrak.

Ms Tarr would not be drawn on expected pricing for the X-Class, or whether it would start in the low-to-mid-$30,000 mark in base guise as the company is still working on pricing. However, she did emphasise “we are very mindful that we are a premium (brand) and it is a competitive segment and we have got to be able to make sure we are competitive in that”.

Ms Tarr said the X-Class would become the best-selling model in the Mercedes-Benz Vans Australian portfolio because of the “sheer nature and the volume in that segment”, edging out the Sprinter that captured 2757 van and bus sales last year.

As previously reported, there has been significant pre-launch buzz for the X-Class, and Ms Tarr confirmed that Mercedes has experienced “a lot of expressions of interest and deposits have been taken by network”.

While she was unable to confirm pre-order numbers, Ms Tarr said the company was happy with the level of interest leading up to the reveal.

“It has been a pleasing number. We received a lot of interest from the network saying there are a lot of people that want to be early adopters and want to be the first to own a Mercedes-Benz ute,” she said.

Ms Tarr added that while she expected the V6 variant to be popular with Australian buyers, the four-cylinder versions would also carve out a place in the segment.

“We are comfortable that we will get a strong demand for the four-cylinder (variants) too,” she said. “In the Progressive and the Power, we think there will be good interest on those engines. Being Australia, the V6 is always appealing. We have some strong interest so far in the V6. We have got confidence that we will sell a few of those four-cylinders as well.”

The V6 will arrive in Australia around mid-2018, several months after the arrival of the four-cylinder variants, but Ms Tarr said that was not an issue and that it “probably gives opportunity for the four-cylinders to shine”.

The exterior design of the X-Class is based on what Mercedes calls its “Sensual Purity” design philosophy, and while the pick-up is clearly based on last year’s Concept X-Class, the overall look has been toned down for production.

As reported following the reveal of the concept last October, the X-Class follows the design of Benz’s SUVs rather than its commercial vehicle lines, with a clear relationship in the front-end styling – notably, the twin-louvre grille – with the GLS large SUV and the smaller GLC.

The headlights are reminiscent of the Ford Ranger’s, while its Navara origins are clear, with the middle of the X-Class from the A-pillar back virtually identical to the Nissan upon which it is based.

To differentiate the model grades, the Pure has an unpainted front apron and rear bumper, the Progressive has a body-coloured apron and bumper, while the Power also has a body-coloured rear bumper and front apron but with the addition of chrome flourishes, including a chrome underbody guard.

The slimline tail-lights lose some of the edge of the concept’s units, but they are in keeping with the rear lights on the Vito van.

An integrated step in the rear bumper provides easy access to the cargo area.

There is a standard 90-degree tailgate opening, or the option of deleting the rear bumper for a 180-degree opening.

Mercedes says the X-Class can take a Euro pallet in the tub, straight between the big wheelarches. The cargo area also has a dedicated third LED ‘brake light’ which illuminates the entire bed (operated via a switch in the centre console), while a 12-volt socket is also provided in this area.

The X-Class will be offered with a choice of 17-, 18- or 19-inch wheels, depending on the variant, and the choice of nine exterior colours.

The Progressive and Power variants will be available with a number of styling packages that allow for a degree of personalisation of the ute.

Mercedes has ensured that the cabin has a distinctly Benz flavour, with a concave trim feature on the instrument panel reminiscent of other models, as well as the circular, aviation-themed air vents and familiar steering wheel – wrapped in leather in the case of the Progressive and Power.

The Power is offered in three different cabin trims, including one with woodgrain, Artico man-made leather on the upper section of the cabin, large silver doorhandles and other high-end touches.

From Progressive spec onwards, the X-Class is fitted with a free-standing central display with an 8.4-inch screen – claimed to be the biggest in the segment – incorporating the Comand Online multimedia system and digital radio, while a 360-degree rearview camera and Garmin Map Pilot satellite navigation is standard on Power.

There is also a 5.4-inch colour multimedia display between the dials, and the now-familiar multifunction touchpad in the centre console that allows users to input instructions using gestures or by inputting letters.

Depending on the variant, there are six seat coverings on offer, while the top-spec Power gains Artico and Dinamica microfibre with contrast stitching, with black or nut-brown leather optional.

From launch in Australia, X-Class will be offered with the same 2.3-litre four-cylinder common-rail turbo-diesel engine from its Navara donor, but in two states of tune.

The X220d matches the Navara’s output of 120kW/403Nm and has a single turbocharger, while the X250d punches out 140kW/450Nm and is a biturbo unit.

A six-speed manual is the only transmission available on the X220d, while the X250d is offered with the manual or a seven-speed automatic transmission. Both variants are offered as rear-wheel drive or with Benz’s 4Matic four-wheel-drive system. All 4x4 versions come with a diff lock as standard.

By mid-2018, Mercedes will launch the flagship X350d in Australia, powered by a V6 diesel engine delivering 190kW and 550Nm – enough to make it the most powerful one-tonne pick-up on offer Down Under, beating VW’s punchy 165kW Amarok V6 for power, while matching its torque output.

The V6 will be offered as standard with 4Matic permanent all-wheel drive, a 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic transmission (with paddle shifters), automatic engine idle-stop and Mercedes’ Dynamic Select drive mode select system with Comfort, Eco, Sport, Manual and Offroad modes that alter the engine characteristics and transmission switch points as well as the idle-stop function.

A 122kW X200 petrol variant will be made available in markets such as Morocco and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) but it not being produced for right-hand-drive markets.

Performance and fuel figures have not yet been released. All engines are Euro 5 compliant.

Mercedes is prioritising ride comfort and dynamic ability for the ladder-frame X-Class, with a double wishbone front axle and a rear multi-link solid axle with coil springs all round, matching the set-up of the Navara.

The X-Class has a 1632mm/1625mm front/rear track as well as a 3150mm wheelbase, which the company says reduces vibration and makes for smooth straight-line stability.

The wheelbase length naturally matches the Navara’s, but it is 55mm longer than the Amarok and slightly off the Ranger (3220mm).

The four-cylinder versions have a payload of 998-1092kg, while the the V6’s payload is 918-977kg.

In four-cylinder guise, the X-Class has a maximum braked towing capacity of 3200kg for the 4x2 and 3500kg for the 4x4, while the V6 can also tow up to 3500kg. This is lineball with the 4x4 Navara and Ranger and 500kg more than Amarok.

Mercedes says the payload is enough to cart “17 full 50-litre barrels of beer in the cargo area” and the towing capacity is enough to pull a trailer “containing three horses or an eight-metre yacht”.

The manufacturer also says it is the only brand in the segment to offer a ute with large, internally vented disc brakes on both axles as standard.

The X-Class has a 600mm fording depth, ground clearance of 202mm at the front and 221mm at the rear and it is being offered with a 20mm-higher suspension as an option.

Safety-wise, the X-Class has seven airbags, ‘i-Size’ child seat attachments for two child seats, active brake assist, lane keeping assist and collision prevention assist systems, tyre pressure monitoring, cruise control, LED headlights (the brightest in the segment, according to Benz) and a trailer stability system.

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