WITH the modern utility often seen as a replacement for the conventional corporate sedan, the Nzcompanyvehicle Ute of the Year award is always going to be an interesting one. Every manufacturer looking to flourish in today’s market is going to have a utility offering somewhere in its line-up. The once agricultural pick up has been replaced with all levels of sophistication, culminating – for the moment – with the arrival of the on-road performance ute. But there are other ute categories yet untapped. And that thinking has extended to those brands which were once assured of their success by virtue of their exclusivity and excellence, such as Mercedes-benz, which has extended its vehicular reach into the ute market with the X-class. The X-class may not be a fromthe-ground-up-build, and doubtless if Mercedes-benz had been so inclined, a Stuttgart-designed and built X-class would have been something quite different. Given that Mercedes-benz is not shy of spending R and D dollars on its core product, the X-class, like the Vito van and to a certain degree, the Sprinter, have been built on the back of the passenger car lines with a little bit of partnership assistance. As far as the untried waters of building a ute is concerned, it made good sense for Mercedes-benz to not reinvent the wheel and thus we have an ute bearing the threepointed star, but which looks strangely familiar, on the outside at least, to something Japanese rather than something pure Euro. But at this point, the resemblance to anything we have so far seen in the ute market stops. Inside, the Mercedes-benz ute has an intriguing interior, the ‘busy’, but functional and different’ dashboard a backdrop to the striking chrome highlights on the air conditioning vents which serve to highlight the vehicle’s nomenclature; this is an X-class, and you won’t forget it. Subjective visual tastes aside, if you travel about 200 yards in the X-class, you’ll understand why we chose it as a worthy winner of our Ute of the Year award. The on-road handling is nothing short of remarkable, following in the wheel-tracks of other Mercedes-benz commercial vehicles, which redefine the term “car-like-to-drive.” And when this is the signature design cue to which all ute manufacturers subscribe, to have your vehicle’s on-road virtues described as “the best handling suspension package on the market today,” is high praise indeed.