The 2018 Mercedes-Benz X-Class ute lands in Australia early next year, ranging in ability from an entry-level workhorse right up to a high-end showpony.
As well, the vehicle range launched in South Africa overnight will boast both four-and six-cylinder engine options, and the choice of either rear-wheel-drive, permanent all-wheel-drive or selectable, seriously off-road capable four-wheel-drive modes.
“The new X-Class finds the perfect balance between the stylish design expected of a Mercedes-Benz and the uncompromising robustness and functionality demanded of the category,” Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia managing director Diane Tarr said. “As a result, with the X-Class, we can effectively provide a solution for trade and fleet customers, and we will find out just how far this category can evolve for private customers who need the vehicle to support their lifestyle.”
The X-Class trade ute range will kick off with the entry-level Pure, kitted out to make it “ideal for rugged, functional use” – read that as not afraid of carrying a load of sand to a mud-strewn worksite. However, Mercedes claims that at the same time, the X-Class Pure’s comfort and design “make it perfect for visiting customers or suppliers and for private activities”.
Stepping up a grade to the X-Class Progressive introduces us to what Mercedes hopes will be the version of the trade ute that will appeal most to private buyers who like the looks of four-door workhorses, but want it kitted out with a bit of creature comfort and envy-inducing looks. Mercedes claims this model will be the “calling card” for a business, while also being “a comfortable yet prestigious vehicle for private use”.
The top-of-the-line model will be the X-Class Power, featuring high-end design and equipment, aimed at buyers “for whom styling, performance and comfort are paramount”. Mercedes says this model grade will be suited to the urban environment, while also aiming at buyers interested in sport and off-road use. According to Mercedes, the X-Class was developed for the changing requirements of the ute market.
“The demand for midsize utes with typical passenger car characteristics and comfort features has been steadily on the rise for years,” it said. “At the same time, the number of utes for private use is increasing. They are no longer viewed purely as ‘workhorses’.”
The light commercial segment, the part of the Australian new car market in which the trade utes play, is one of the fastest growing segments, particularly the higher-end, more passenger car-like 4x4 twin-cab utes variants.
In the first six months of 2016 the 4x4 segment – where most private buyers play – is up 9.5 percent over last year, with sales in June alone jumping almost 20 percent compared with the same month last year. Almost one in every five new cars sold is a trade ute.
The Ford Ranger is currently the best-selling 4x4 trade ute in Australia, accounting for one in five sales in the segment – narrowly ahead of the Toyota HiLux, which does better than the Ranger in 4x2 sales.
Private buyers aren’t afraid to splash out on a powerful, well-equipped trade ute. Earlier this year, Volkswagen launched a V6 version of the Amarok here worth almost $70,000.
Mercedes-Benz already sells a tough trade ute in Australia. Last year it launched the G-Class Professional, a civilian version of the four-wheel-drive that will transport Australian soldiers and their equipment for the next couple of decades. The cost for the hand-built ute? Just shy of $120,000.
Mercedes-Benz’s foray into the more urbanised ute scene comes via a collaboration with Japanese carmaker Nissan. Scratch the surface of the X-Class, and underneath is the chassis from the Navara trade ute. However, Mercedes says very little of the Nissan DNA carries through to its version of the Japanese workhorse.