THE new X-Class pick-up from Mercedes-Benz Vans is set to lead the one-tonne ute class in terms of performance and refinement when it arrives here early in 2018.
Previewed by a pair of stunning concepts unveiled in Sweden overnight, the ute will feature a Benz V6 engine, full time 4x4 and lockers in the centre and rear diffs as part of its off-road arsenal.
To be built on a Nissan NP300 chassis as part of a new alliance with Renault-Nissan, lower spec models in the X-Class range are expected to get the Renault 2.3-litre bi-turbo-diesel; but the V6 will be the headline act.
Only Volkswagen will also offer a V6 one-tonne ute, with the 550Nm V6 Amarok going on sale here in December. No other manufacturer is expected to join the fray before the X-Class lands.
The V6 X-Class will use Benz’s full-time 4WD system including a dual-range transfer case, making it unique in the category. VW Amarok does offer full-time 4x4 but only with single-range transfer, while some Mitsubishi Triton variants have dual-range, full-time 4WD plus 2WD in the Super Select system.
Four-cylinder-powered X-Class utes will retain the part-time 4x4 system as used in the Navara. There will be a four-cylinder petrol-powered variant, as well as 4x2 models, but these are not expected to go on sale in Australia. The X-Class will be double-cab only.
Benz will be using its own suspension under the Nissan chassis, so hopefully the X-Class will perform better than the Navara did in our recent tow and load test. Like Nissan, Benz is claiming a 3500kg towing capacity and upwards of a one-tonne payload, so it will need a heavier spring and dampener set-up than what the Navara currently has.
The X-Class will retain the Navara’s all-coil suspension design, with a live axle on a multi-link set-up at the back and independent up front; however the spring and damper characteristics will be tailored to Mercedes-Benz attributes.
Benz spokesmen were spruiking a wide wheel track for better stability, ride and handling, but couldn’t confirm how much wider, if any, it is than that under the Navara.
When asked how Benz could significantly improve on the suspension design inherited from Nissan, Dr Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, compared the tweaks to the company’s Formula One racing team.
“At the start of qualifying the car may not be performing so well, but over the course of the weekend, with ongoing tuning of the product, we can create a winning car.”
Mercedes-Benz is claiming that the X-Class will be the first premium pick-up in this class and, as such, it will be jam-packed with luxury, convenience and safety features. The interior borrows heavily from C and V-Class Benzes, giving a distinct feel of the brand, while the tech and infotainment package will be class-leading.
Mercedes has its work cut out distinguishing the X-Class from its rivals, especially the Navara and Renault Alaskan which share the same architecture. X-Class’s bodywork gives it a distinct Mercedes SUV look at the front, while touches such as the chrome trims, LED lights and swept-back headlamps add a premium touch. Strip back the big wheels, rear-end treatments and added bling on these concepts and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what the production version will look like.
The two concept vehicles dubbed ‘stylish explorer’ and ‘powerful explorer’ represent two differing uses for a modern ute. The ‘stylish’ rides on 22-inch alloy wheels and highways tyres for an urban character; the ‘powerful’ sits on 35x11.5-inch muddies for a tougher, off-road-adventure look. Winches front and rear add to the style.
It’s this dual purpose usage in the market that Mercedes is hoping to capture, while adding the premium and luxury tags for which it is known.
“We will open up and change the segment of mid-size pick-ups – with the world's first true premium pick-up for the modern urban lifestyle”, said Volker Mornhinweg, Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans. “Our future X-Class will be a pick-up that knows no compromise. Ladder-type frame, high-torque six-cylinder engine, and permanent all-wheel drive are compulsory for us. As an added value we bring safety, comfort, agility, and expressive design – in other words, everything that distinguishes vehicles bearing the Mercedes star. We will thus appeal to new customers who have not considered owning a pick-up before."
Production of the X-Class will start in Barcelona late in 2017. Vehicles for Australia, South Africa and Europe will come from this Nissan factory. Vehicles for Latin American countries will come from a plant in Argentina.