WHEN a car company of the stature of Mercedes-Benz joins the fray in the competitive world of one-tonne utes, you need to sit up and take notice.
After all, Mercedes-Benz can trace its history back to 1886 and the world’s first petrol-powered car – the Benz Patent-Motorwagen – and is rightly considered the father of the global automotive industry. Today Mercedes-Benz produces everything from long-haul heavy-duty trucks to the world’s most successful F1 cars, which stand at the very pinnacle of motorsport technological sophistication.
Given this background it may come as some surprise that Mercedes-Benz has based its new X-Class ute on the Nissan Navara and not designed an all-new ute from the ground up. This decision is more a commercial one rather than one based purely on engineering, and it saved Benz several years in getting a ute to market. Obviously someone at the top said: “We want a ute and we want it fast.”
Why Navara you may well ask? Well, the simple fact of the matter is that Mercedes-Benz has a strategic co-operation strategy (and an equity sharing arrangement) with the Renault-Nissan Alliance that dates back to 2010. The idea is to share in the development of new powertrains and vehicle platforms, so the Navara was the logical (and, realistically, the only) choice.
Now you might think Benz simply whacked a three-pointed star on the Navara and was done, but nothing could be further from the truth, as the X-Class has been re-engineered from the ground up. Most notably the ladder frame has been strengthened with extra cross bracing, the front and rear tracks widened, the suspension retuned, a new wider body and tub fitted, and a new interior added.
Benz engineers have also gone to great lengths to improve the NVH so as to give the X-Class the feel of quality and refinement you’d expect of a Benz. The X-Class also features automatic emergency braking, a first in this class and a reflection of Benz’s peerless history in automotive safety.
Some components such as the doors look to be the same as the Navara, so there’s some similarity in profile between the Nissan and Benz. The Navara’s Renault-sourced 2.3-litre four-cylinder engines (both single and bi-turbo versions) and six-speed manual and seven-speed automatic gearboxes have also been carried over.
So does the X-Class feel much different to drive from the Navara? Yes, very different.
It’s far quieter and feels more surefooted yet at the same time has a more supple and compliant ride. Aside from some similarity in the engine’s response and feel, you wouldn’t know the Benz is based on the Nissan.
And if you’re not happy with that, in a few months down the track the X-Class will be offered with a Benz 3.0-litre V6 diesel and dual-range full-time 4x4. Yes, it will be more expensive, but it will also be unique as you can’t currently get this combination of mechanical features anywhere else.
4x4 Comparison: 2018 mega ute test
Still unhappy? Well, wait another five years or so for a second-generation X-Class that, by all reports, will be a Benz from the ground up and could well be based on the new G-Wagen platform. No doubt Benz engineers are already working on it.