MERCEDES-Benz has pulled the covers off a pair of exciting concept vehicles in Stockholm, Sweden, that give the first clues to what its forthcoming entry into the popular one-tonne ute class will look like. To be known as the X Class, the new ute, or pick-up depending on your preference, will go into production late in 2017 for an Australian launch in the first quarter of 2018.
Australia has been highlighted as one of five key markets for the X Class, the fourth product line for the Mercedes Benz Vans subsidiary. Other markets to get the dual-cab ute include Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and Europe, each of them nations showing unprecedented growth in the mid-size pick-up segment. The Latin American nations will get their X Class from a plant in Argentina; Europe, Australia and South African models will be produced at Nissan’s plant in Barcelona, Spain.
Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the board of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, said of the X Class at the unveiling of the concepts: "With the Mercedes-Benz pick-up, we will close one of the last gaps in our portfolio. Our target: we want to offer customers vehicles matching their specific needs. The X Class will set new standards in a growing segment."
To be built as part of a partnership with Renault-Nissan, the X Class rides on a modified Nissan D23 Navara chassis but features bespoke bodywork forward of the firewall with a distinct Mercedes Benz SUV look, and behind the cabin in the cargo tub.
Inside is all Mercedes Benz, while under the bonnet of the up-spec variants lies a M-B V6 diesel engine expected to make as much as 600Nm of torque. Lower grades are expected to use the Renault 2.3-litre unit as found in the Navara.
The "Concept X-Class stylish explorer" and "Concept X-Class powerful explorer" illustrate the evolving nature of the ute market and buyers in the this segment, as well the different uses buyers have for this style of vehicle.
The stylish explorer features 22-inch wheels with low profile tyres and a luxury-appointed interior highlighting the urban uses for a premium pick-up. The powerful explorer has a more adventurous look with 35-inch off-road tyres, higher ground clearance and winches mounted in the front and rear bumpers.
The X Class is set to raise the bar for pick-up truck refinement and its interior features controls and components borrowed from both the C Class passenger car range and V Class of Mercedes Benz vans. It will include leading connectivity allowing occupants to connect with the vehicle via smartphone or tablet to access infotainment and navigation systems.
Likewise, the latest safety systems including radar and camera technology will be integrated in to the X Class to place it at the lead in its segment.
Significantly, the V6-powered X Class will use Benz’s 4MATIC permanent all-wheel-drive system including a dual-range transfer case, making it unique in the category. VW’s Amarok offers full-time 4x4 but only with single-range transfer box, while some Mitsubishi Triton variants have dual-range, full-time 4x4 plus two-wheel drive. X Class will have locking differentials in the centre and rear diffs for improved off-road ability.
Using its own suspension on the Nissan-derived chassis, Mercedes-Benz claims the X Class will have up to a 1.1-tonne load capacity and be rated to tow up to 3.5 tonnes of trailer, keeping in in line with the other class leaders.
Just as Mercedes-Benz was an early entrant to the luxury SUV segment with its ML Class of vehicles, the brand is claiming to be the first to create a luxury pick-up vehicle. The X Class will join other vehicles at the top end of the booming one-tonne ute segment such as the Volkswagen Amarok that’s soon to add a V6 engine, the Toyota Hilux and the Ford Ranger.
Mercedes-Benz’s ties up with the Renault-Nissan alliance will see the X Class as the third vehicle to ride on the NP300 platform originally from the D23 Navara. The Renault Alaskan pick-up also uses this architecture and shares powertrains and most body panels with the Nissan ute. The Alaskan is expected to go on sale in Australia late in 2017.
Yet Renault-Nissan may not be done with this ladder chassis. Having just taken a controlling stake in Mitsubishi Motors, model sharing will be a key part of the wider alliance. Mitsubishi already has a deal with Fiat Professional to use the ladder chassis and architecture from its Triton one-tonner to build the Fiat Fullback pick-up.
It would seem wasteful for the alliance to produce more than one body-on-frame platform for one-tonne pick-ups so is it unreasonable to imagine utes from five different manufacturers all riding on the same design in the future? While the current models are locked in, certainly not for future generations of these utes from Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Renault and Fiat.