X-Class here in early 2018

No prices yet, but Benz confirms it's high-falutin' ute will be here in force.

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LOCAL market release in early 2018 has been confirmed for Mercedes’ premium utility at its full unveiling.

Mercedes Vans New Zealand, the commercial arm of the brand’s regional passenger product distributor, has also confirmed that all three specification lines of the one-tonner – a workmanlike entry variant called the Pure, and more upmarket and progressively more recreation-minded editions, tagged Progressive and Power - will be sold here.

It has not given any indication about which of those lines is expected to make greatest impact, though the strong local market interest in high-end one-tonners suggests likelihood that it holds great hope for the most expensive variants.

Also still under wraps is the pricing strategy, though it is widely expected that the Benz product will sit, in some formats, at least on par or even higher than rig that presently sets the highest price, Volkswagen’s Amarok V6, which costs $82,990 in its flagship Adventura guise.

Too rich? Probably not. The biggest movers in the market are all products in the $60-$80,000 band.

The Power is shown in today’s images, released during a global debut in Cape Town, South Africa.

The X-Class is not, of course, a full-blown Mercedes effort. Rather, it is the result of a parts-sharing deal between Mercedes and the Renault-Nissan Alliance.

That means it’s based on the ladder- frame platform of the Nissan Navara, ironically the least successful of the big-name Japanese brand utes selling here. Navara achieves less than half the monthly volume that goes to the category-dominating Ford Ranger and is well behind the Toyota Hilux, Holden Colorado and the Mitsubishi Triton.

The X-Class’s local launch timing means it might also land around the same time as the other fruit of that product-sharing arrangement, Renault’s Alaskan. The French edition of the ute had been expected to be on sale here this year, but has been delayed by production constraints and Renault’s desire to prioritise its left-hand-drive markets.

The key for Mercedes is to create distance between the Navara/Alaskan and the X-Class by building in a higher level of quality and technology that will convince buyers that the X-Class is worth paying the Mercedes-Benz premium for.

That process began at the recent Feildays, where the brand was a first-time attendee and delivered a swank audio visual demonstration that allowed potential buyers to experience the ute in a three-dimensional digital form.

Diane Tarr, managing director of Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia and New Zealand, is confident the truck will resound here. She said the high level of interest and anticipation in the lead up to revealing the new X-Class has been a reflection of just how ingrained dual cab utes are in both the Australian and New Zealand culture.

“The fact is we love utes and we are showing a desire to incorporate this type of vehicle into our lives in more ways than we did in the past. Not just for work, but also increasingly for private use.

“The 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. 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.”

She said the model has been specifically developed for the changing requirements of the  ute  market  in  mind. 

“The  demand  for  midsize  utes  with typical  passenger  car characteristics  and  comfort  features  has  been  steadily  on  the  rise  for  years. At the  same time, the number of utes for private use is increasing. They are no longer viewed purely as "workhorses.”

There  are  three  design  and  equipment  variants  to  choose  from  as  well  as  four  or  six-cylinder  engines,  rear-wheel  drive  and  engageable  or  permanent  all-wheel  drive,  a  six-speed  manual  transmission  and  a  seven-speed  automatic transmission.  It  consists  of  a ladder-type  frame,  rear  multi-link  solid  axle,  front  independent  wheel  suspension  and  coil springs on both axles.

Benz says the Pure is ideal for rugged, functional use and fulfils all the demands of a "workhorse", yet at the same time its comfort and design make it perfect for visiting customers or suppliers and for private activities.

The Progressive is aimed at people seeking a rugged ute with extra styling and comfort functions – as a "calling card" for their own business, while also being a comfortable yet prestigious vehicle for private use, Tarr says.

The Power is described as being “the high-end design and equipment line.”

Benz says the Power is Iaimed at customers for whom styling, performance and comfort are paramount.

“The X-Class Power is a lifestyle vehicle beyond the mainstream – suitable for urban environments as well as for sports and leisure activities off the beaten track. Through its design and high level of equipment it reflects an independent and individualistic lifestyle.”