NEW MODEL FOCUS
Mercedes-benz has taken the wraps off the production version of the X-class, its first-ever ute. We describe in detail the pick-up truck which will makes its NZ debut early next year.
IT’S THE MOST TALKED ABOUT, AND PERHAPS THE MOST eagerly-awaited, ute of the past 18 months.
And the production versions of Mercedes-benz’s first-ever midsized pick-up truck made their public debut in South Africa in the third week of July.
The Mercedes ute, the X-class, will go on sale in New Zealand in the first quarter of next year, initially with four-cylinder turbodiesel motors.
A 3.0-litre V6 will follow later in the year, and that’s the one, we’re picking, that buyers will be most attracted by.
Mercedes, without a trace of false modesty, refers to the X-class as the first pick-up truck from a prestige car manufacturer.
Not that you can really argue with that statement, for most pickups (utes in Kiwi-speak) are fielded by mainstream carmakers like Toyota, Ford, Nissan, Mitsubishi, or truck makers like Isuzu.
The nearest to a maker of premium vehicles has been Volkswagen with its upmarket take on the ute, the Amarok.
Particularly with the V6 version, VW has done some groundbreaking that the Mercedes will benefit from, taking the once-humble ute to new heights of luxury – and price.
The V6 Volkswagen peaks around the $83,000 mark but June sales of the VW truck hit new levels reaching just a shade below 200.
So what will the X-class cost here? Your guess is as good as ours. Mercedes NZ isn’t saying, and won’t be drawn into speculation.
Some observers suggest the price will have to reflect Mercedes’ position as a premium brand, but the pick-up market is new territory for Mercedes so Mercedes-benz NZ staff face a tricky decision on where to position the X-class price-wise.
Then they’ll have to negotiate with the head office in Germany which will have its own ideas on what the price should be.
No prices for markets outside Germany have been announced, but Mercedes says X-class prices in its home market will start at 37,294 Euro. At presstime, that converted to $58,473 in NZ currency.
Presumably that’s for a manual Pure, the workhorse model in the three-stage line-up, so even the base Pure would be a pricey workhorse here.
You can expect the mid-grade Progressive and top-range Power V6 to be considerably more expensive.
Maybe the Progressive will be priced near to the Amarok V6, but we’d expect the Power V6 to cost more, given that Mercedes is defining its ute as the product of a prestige manufacturer.
Whether Mercedes NZ adds the workhorse Pure model to its lineup remains to be seen.
The brand’s cars don’t compete in the bread-and-butter segment of the market, and we can’t visualise Mercedes going into the roughand-tumble workhorse end of the ute market.
The workhorse’s buying decision definers include ruggedness and load-hauling ability, both of which the Mercedes will surely have.
And then there’s price – the most amount of bang for your buck – where given the indicative German price for the Pure, the Mercedes would probably not be competitive
We suspect Mercedes NZ is unlikely to want to enter into the price wars that rage around the entry-level utes where the buyers’ main consideration is the most truck you can buy for the least amount of money.
Mercedes’ vans don’t compete at that level of the market and we can’t see the company pitching the X-class Pure against lowergrade variants from established ute makers.
It’s more likely to go for the mid- and high-grade X-class utes, but we’ve been told that all three X-class models are under consideration.
So, too, are the three diesel engines – the 120kw single turbocharger X 220 d, the twin turbo X 250 d which develops 140kw, and the high-torque V6 diesel X 350 that will join the range in mid-2018. The V6 develops 190kw of maximum power and peak torque of 550Nm.
Mercedes prides itself on performance, quality and driving satisfaction, so we suggest it will opt only for the more powerful fourcylinder turbodiesel.
The V6, of course, is a no-brainer. True Mercedes diehards will settle for nothing less than the top model.
Mercedes NZ has indicated that all drivetrains are under consideration – rear-wheel drive, selectable four-wheel drive and permanent four-wheel drive.
Two-wheel drive X-class Mercs will definitely come here, we understand. The two-wheel drive ute segment is growing rapidly – faster, in fact, than the ute segment as a whole – and Mercedes will want to capitalise on that.
Mainstream brands are all pushing for 2WD sales, trying to peg back the run-away rear-wheel drive niche leader, the Ford Ranger.
So expect Mercedes to field rear-drive X-class utes to compete with upscale 2WD utes from established pick-up truck manufacturers.
So is there a market for a Mercedes ute? The answer is an emphatic “yes.”
It’s understood that Mercedes-benz NZ has well over 1000 expressions of interest in the X-class on its website, and that those expressions of interest are predominantly for the high-end variants.
How much of that will turn into actual sales remains to be seen, but the level of interest – both from traditional Mercedes buyers and people considering moving from a high-end SUV into a luxury ute – is reportedly very high.
In Australia, where Mercedes has been taking deposits, potential buyers have already stumped up their money without knowing the final retail prices.
Potential NZ buyers, however, have tended to hang on to their cash for the present, LCV Magazine has been told.
The expectations for Mercedes’ first ute are high, and it will be crucial for Mercedes NZ to get its model mix and pricing right.
The success of VW’S V6 Amarok shows that there are buyers willing to stump up once unheard-of money for a ute.
And VW has shown that a brand with virtually no experience of building and marketing utes can make a go of it.
The cachet of the Mercedes name and reputation for performance, driving dynamics and quality will attract potential buyers to the X-class.
The rub is that this is a new frontier for a brand that builds prestige cars and high-quality vans and trucks and is now venturing into new territory, bringing to market a product it says bridges the gap between commercial vehicles and cars.
Given that it is drawing on the pick-up truck expertise of Nissan for the underpinnings of the X-class and its own thoroughness and ultra-high standards, Mercedes is more than likely to succeed.
Certain to be sold here are the Mercedes-benz X-class Power (white ute) and Progressive.
Above left: Base model in the X-class range is the Pure. It’s under consideration for the NZ market. Above right: Mercedes has developed a range of accessories for the X-class like this sports bar. Below: Progressive is the mid-range model in the X-class line-up.