Cape Town - The next big step in the gentrification of the once-humble pick-up is upon us. Mercedes-Benz pulled the covers off the showroom version of its X-Class in Cape Town on Tuesday night and, just as you would expect, its game plan is to offer a posher alternative to one-tonne favourites like the Hilux and Ranger.
Available only as a double cab, and due in South African showrooms in early 2018, the X-Class is based on alliance partner Nissan's Navara, and is also built in the Japanese carmaker’s Spanish plant, but Mercedes has added its own flavour in numerous ways, including swankier exterior styling and a redesigned cabin with plusher trimmings and more features.
And yet the fanciness quotient is variable, with Mercedes offering three trim grades, in the form of Pure (rugged and functional), Progressive (extra style and comfort) and Power, which is just downright lavish.
Like the Navara the X-Class trades the leaf spring rear suspension that you usually find beneath one-tonne bakkies for a smoother-riding coil-sprung, multi-link solid axle.
The X-Class will have a braked towing capacity of up to 3.5 tonnes and the vehicle will be offered with diesel power only in most markets. Initially this will be limited to two versions of the Nissan-sourced 2.3-litre oil burner: a 140kW/450Nm twin-turbo in the X 250d and a 120kW/403Nm single-turbo unit in the X 220d. A small selection of markets, mainly in the Middle East, will also get a 122kW petrol engine option.
Later in 2018 Mercedes will play its best engine card with the introduction of a V6 turbodiesel, rated at 190kW and 550Nm.
The four-cylinder models will be available with rear-wheel drive or part-time four-wheel drive as per one-tonne bakkie tradition, with six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic gearbox options, but the V6 will be mated to a more sophisticated permanent all-wheel drive system together with the 7G-Tronic Plus autobox. The flagship will also be available with Merc’s Dynamic Select system, allowing drivers to configure the engine and gearbox characteristics through five selectable driving modes, including one for off-roading.
However, all 4x4 versions will have low-range gearing and Downhill Speed Regulation to facilitate serious bundu-bashing, while a rear diff lock will be optional. Mercedes says the ground clearance on models sold outside of Europe will be 222mm.
The X-Class will have decent workhorse credentials too, with a payload of up to 1100kg, within a loadbay that’s wide enough to accommodate a Euro-pallet. The load area also offers LED illumination to help you out when loading at night and there’s a handy 12-volt socket for power tools.
It may have the work ethic of a proper bakkie then, but Mercedes-Benz has gone the full luxury car monty inside with premium materials and gadgets that you’d normally not expect to find in a load-lugger. And there will be plenty of ways to personalise the cabin as Mercedes says it will offer the widest selection of materials and colours in the segment, including six different seat upholstery options and two roof-liner colours.
The X-Class has a free-standing central screen as per the V-Class, and measuring up to 21.3cm in vehicles fitted with the Comand Online infotainment system. Versions equipped with this, or the Audio 20 CD system, will also feature a console-mounted touchpad, as offered in the brand’s passenger cars.
Mercedes claims that the X-Class is the most connected pick-up in its class, thanks to its ‘Me Connect’ system that allows customers to view vehicle information remotely via their smartphones or set-up door-to-door navigation, although it appears that these features will be limited to European markets.
On the safety front, the X-Class boasts a full suite of active driving aids, including Active Brake Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Trailer Stability Assist and Traffic Sign Assist. Furthermore, it’ll be the only vehicle in its segment fitted as standard with internally vented brake discs on all wheels.
South African specifications and pricing will be confirmed closer to next year’s launch.