WHEELS sneaks an early preview of the Mercedes-Benz one-tonne ute line-up ahead of its April 2018 arrival in Australia.
WHAT IS IT
The X-Class is Mercedes Benz’s first entry into the booming one-tonne ute segment. It is a body on chassis, double-cab ute that shares much of its underpinnings and some driveline components, including the four-cylinder engines, with Nissan’s Navara ute.
At the top of the range will be a class-leading diesel V6 variant offering 190kW of power, 550NM of torque and full-time four-wheel drive.
The Mercedes-Benz X-Class will be diesel fuel, 4x4, double-cab only.
WHY ARE WE DRIVING IT
We’re not. Mercedes Benz has taken us to Cape Town, South Africa, the home of the ‘Bakkie’, to give us a first look at the production ready vehicle and a brief ride along.
The four-cylinder X-Class will be launched in Australia in April 2018 with the V6 following around mid-year. When it lands it will offer class-leading levels of refinement, safety, equipment and performance to what was once a truck-based vehicle segment.
Up-spec versions of the sales-leading Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux double cabs are already tipping $65K and the only other full-time 4x4 V6 powered ute in the segment, the Volkswagen Amarok V6, can cost upwards of $70K.
With 4x4 utes being one of the fastest growing segments in the market, it is these range-topping models that Mercedes-Benz will be targeting with the X-Class. Lower spec variants using the Nissan/Renault four-cylinder engine and part-time 4x4 will compete with the models above, as well as Holden Colorado, Mitsubishi Triton, Isuzu D-Max, Nissan Navara and Mazda BT-50 utes.
There’s no word on official pricing as yet but Benz will have to be sharp to compete with the many established players. Only the upper spec V6’s will be able to command a premium price.
THE WHEELS REVIEW
MERCEDES-BENZ has seen the rapid growth in mid-size pick-up sales globally and doesn’t see the skyrocket changing trajectory any time soon. It is predicting growth of 43-percent over the next decade to be running at around 3.2-million units worldwide in 2026. As such Benz can’t get its own entry into the segment to market quickly enough.
To massively cut the development time and cost of an all-new model, Benz partnered with Renault/Nissan to share the platform and engines from its well established Navara.
The reasons Benz chose the Navara are multiple; firstly it already has alliances with Renault/Nissan where they share other passenger car vehicle platforms; and secondly, the D23 platform is the only vehicle in the one-tonne ute segment to offer a coil sprung, multilink rear suspension configuration in lieu of the leaf springs usually used under such cargo haulers. The more compliant ride and better dynamics offered by coil rather than leaf springs should better suit Mercedes-Benz’s aim of creating a premium performance pick-up truck.
The X-Class will be available in three levels of specification - Pure is for the tradies and farmer’s markets, and will be distinguishable by its unpainted bumpers, non-carpeted floors and steel wheels; Progressive adds extras like body-coloured bumpers, alloy wheels and upper spec interior trims; while Power is the top tier for those who want authentic Mercedes-Benz passenger car levels of features and performance.
Three engine specifications will be offered, these include the two Renault-sourced four-cylinders and the Mercedes-Benz V6. The entry level X220d makes 120kW/403Nm from its single turbo 2.3-litre diesel engine while the X250d makes 140kW/450Nm from its twin-turbo version of the same engine. Both four-cylinder engines can be had with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed auto transmission and as is conventional for the segment, part-time four-wheel drive.
The range topping X350d will be driven by a 190kW/550Nm V6 diesel making it the most powerful one-tonne 4x4 ute on the market. It will be backed by a seven-speed automatic transmission, full-time four-wheel drive and also include a dynamic select drive system offering five driving modes including Comfort, Eco, Sport, Manual and off-road modes. This system is a first for a ute in Australia, same goes for its fuel-saving stop/start tech. The X350d will only be available in Progressive and Power specification. All engine/driveline configurations feature a locking rear differential as standard.
The ladder chassis used under X-Class is derived from the Navara platform and includes the unique to class, five-link coil spring rear suspension. The X-Class will only be offered with rear coils while Nissan still offers the option of leaf springs at the rear in Navara for towing and load carrying.
Benz has said the X-Class will have a towing capacity of 3500kg and payload up to 1100kg, so it will be interesting to see how they have calibrated that rear end when we get to drive it. Bespoke spring and damper settings and a wider wheel track differentiate it from the Navara. X-Class’s rear end is fitted with disc brakes.
Safety is enhanced with the X-Class employing pre-collision assist, lane keeping assist, trailer sway control, stability control and seven cabin airbags to protect occupants. LED headlights, another first for utes, offer excellent night time visibility.
The interior of the X-Class will give buyers in this ute segment never before seen choices of materials and features and most of all, luxury. There are three choices of trim colours and materials all with the Mercedes-Benz look and sensation of quality.
Many of the interior components have been adapted from the Mercedes-Benz C-Class passenger car and V-Class van and integrated into the adopted bodyshell, and you can see where compromises have had to be made. For example, the HVAC controls sit very low in the centre stack while there’s a plain of vacant space above them that would have been a much more practical location. In fact the whole dashboard looks a bit mish-mashed. Likewise, the steering column lacks reach adjustment, a carry-over from the Nissan donor.
Yet the X-Class brings a fresh face to the busy market, and comes with a level of style and presitige not yet seen in the segment. How well that style and equipment actually works on and off road we’ll just have to wait to see.
We did have a chance for a short ride in an X250d Power on a closed track with both on and off road sections, and the test driver didn’t hold back. Obvious straight away was the composed nature of the suspension as we powered through high speed curves at a rate you wouldn’t think possible in a work ute without much tyre squealing. It did this while remaining comfortable and compliant over the rough sections.
Likewise off road, we hit whoops and bumps at speeds that would upset most utes riding on OE shock absorbers and the Benz made it feel easy.
Also evident is the work Benz has put into keeping the cabin quiet. This four-pot engine is known to be harsh and noisy in the Navara but that has been well and truly subdued in the X-Class. A ute will never feel like a luxury limousine but the refinement of the X-Class takes a step in that direction.
That’s what you expect of any Mercedes-Benz vehicle be it ute van or luxury sedan. The V6 should take that level up again and will be worth waiting for.