The Mercedes-Benz brand is well regarded in New Zealand for its premium and luxury passenger car range, but less so for its heavy trucks, buses, and light commercial vehicles.
That is about to change thanks to the introduction this week of the new X-Class double cab ute range in Mercedes-Benz showrooms, both car and commercial, around New Zealand.
On-road and off-road the new X-Class ute is a class act, it more than adheres to the three-pointed star brand values of safety, robustness, high quality execution, excellent dynamics and handling as well as exceptionally low levels of in cabin noise, vibration and harshness (NVH).
We drove the top-of-the X250d Power 4Matic for more than 200km on the media drive day and came away impressed, particularly when the vehicles ultimate reason for being, was born from the brands wish to survive and grow into new markets around the globe.
Up until now the three-pointed star brand hasn’t played in the mid-size ute market but when the global financial crisis hit in 2008, Mercedes-Benz Vans watched in horror as it’s market demand for new vehicles collapsed around the world.
The X-Class ute was born as a response by the wily and pragmatic Germans to future proof the Mercedes-Benz Vans business unit from further economic shocks such as the GFC.
Daimler set up a team to look into the feasibility of building a ute or a pick up, one member being the now head of product for Mercedes-Benz Australia and New Zealand Sabine Wagner, who attended the X-Class media drive programme.
Wagner says the company decided to launch all 13 available X-Class variants for Australia into the New Zealand market to allow customers to choose the vehicle that was right for them.
She also told New Zealand Autocar during the drive programme than during the initial feasibility study for the X-Class, the company set a strict criteria on the customer values it needed to meet in terms of safety, performance, function, size, efficiency, and brand attributes.
According to Mercedes-Benz Vans product and project manager Scott Williams the company looked at the possibility of building full-size American pick-ups but decided there wasn’t a big enough market outside North America, and that there was enough competition between the three main players in Detroit.
It also looked at half-tonne utes, but again this particular style of vehicle is most popular in South America and again the volume wouldn’t justify the investment.
However 1-tonne mid-size utes such as the Hilux, Ranger, and Amarok are sold globally, and account for two million units annually and this is predicted to grow to three million units in the next ten years.
Mercedes-Benz Vans then partnered with the Renault-Nissan Alliance building on the brands seven-year strategic cooperation. By taking the Navara chassis from Nissan as the backbone of the X-Class, Mercedes-Benz Vans saved three-years of development work and got it’s new ute to market more speedily.
The X-Class has a 70mm wider track than the Navara, and the body is 50mm wider which means that it has a unique body and window/windshield glass – the sole body components shared with the Nissan are the door mirrors and the latch on the tailgate.
According to Mercedes-Benz you can fit 17 50-litre kegs of beer into the load bed.
While the X-Class and the Navara share the Renault-designed 2.3-litre four-cylinder two turbo diesel engine and seven-speed automatic transmission, Mercedes-Benz has done a significant amount of engineering development on the chassis, suspension and drivetrain to create a premium feel worthy of the brand.
That the X-Class is some 200kg heavier than the Navara, tells you there has been some significant work invested into creating a ute that not only looks like a Mercedes-Benz but also drives, steers, handles, performs, and has that unique solid-as-a-bank-vault feel which is intrinsic to the brand’s character.
While it may not have as many bells and whistles as the flagship S-Class sedan, the X-Class is the first ute in the midsize category to have autonomous emergency braking and lane keeping assist fitted as standard across the range, regardless of whether you are driving the workhorse Pure, the mid-grade Progressive or the top-of-the line Power as pictured here.
It also has seven airbags as standard across the three variants and a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating based on the latest 2017 standards.
Inside the cabin the all new dashboard and interior also differentiates the X-Class from its competitors and our drive day vehicle pictured here was fitted with the Nut Brown leather upholstery with seat heaters for the driver and passenger, as well as the interior wooden trim across the dashboard.
As well as the style pack which includes the roof rails, tinted rear windows, side running boards, electrically operating rear windows and 19-inch spoked alloy wheels, the metallic silver grey vehicle was also fitted with the optional Sport canopy, which is lower and sleeker than the other optional Touring canopy that can be fitted over the load bed.
Despite the shared drive train technology the X-Class looks and feels like a solid Mercedes-Benz. When driving the new ute through Auckland traffic and onto the motorway, we couldn’t help but notice how quiet the cabin is, and how comfortable it is to ride in, and it is not just the quality of the seats that provides this.
Somehow Mercedes-Benz has managed to engineer the usual jittery ride quality of a ute when unladen, out of the X-Class. The suspension only betrayed it’s coil-sprung rear axle when driven over the worst of bumps and corrugations on a rural country road, but on smooth city tarseal, you would never know it had such a suspension fitted.
Performance from the twin-turbo diesel unit is more than adequate for overtaking and the seven-speed automatic responds crisply enough, but the most surprising aspect of the X-Class was its ability to turn into a corner.
While there is still a touch of understeer and a bit of body roll as you would expect from a vehicle with a live rear axle, the Benz Ute feels far more confident scything through a winding country road than many of its competitors, and the steering response is also quick and precise.
Overall the X-Class will tick the boxes for many people, and we can see many people buying one in preference to a competitor product or a competitor SUV. It most certainly lives up to the buyers expectation that it is the Mercedes-Benz of utes.
|Model||Mercedes-Benz X250d Power 4Matic||Price||$69,000|
|Engine||2298cc, 4-Cylinder, 140kW/450Nm||Drivetrain||7-speed auto|
|Fuel Use||7.9L/100km||C02 Output||0g/km|
|0-100km/h||n.a. sec||Weight||2234kg kerb weight|
|Service||20,000km intervals, 3 year / 200,000km warranty||Load||5.2m3 volume, 2537m length, 1387m height|
|Vitals||3250kg GVM, 1016kg payload||Vitals||3500kg towing capacity|