Tight rein on X-Class six-cylinder

No other brand invested in the X-Class utility is going to lay mitts on the star V6 engine – but neither is Mercedes’ hot rod division.

RESTRICTIONS surrounding the 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel that will go into the new one-tonner later this year have been further outlined as a big soiree in Auckland to launch Benz’s first utility locally gets under way.

High hopes are held for the X-Class, touted as the world’s first premium one-tonne utility and also a mixed bloodline Mercedes in that it is developed with the Nissan-Renault Alliance.

Here initiailly in four-cylinder format, with the V6 coming before year end, X-Class specifically derives from the Nissan Navara that has been on sale here for several years and comes from a Nissan factory in Spain.

Mercedes argues their first every entry into the booming one tonne sector cannot be considered a badge engineering exercise on grounds that while the chassis is shared, its version is wider in body, track and tray bed length, has different body panels, a bespoke interior and many Mercedes-specific technologies and features.

Also, there’s the flagship engine: Whereas the 2.3-litre turbodiesel in the mainstream X220d and X250d formats on sale now is from Nissan-Renault, the turbocharged diesel V6 that will go into the top level X350d from later this year is all-German. And Benz intends it to stay that way, too - so no likelihood of seeing it transfer to the Navara or the Renault Alaskan, the third off-spring of this family which has yet to land here.

“We have seen strong demand for the four-cylinder as well but we think it (the V6) is a key product within the range for us,” said Blake Vincent, the corporate communications manager for Mercedes Benz Vans in New Zealand and Australia.

"At this stage, with the Nissan partnership, we are always looking at synergies and at how to make that partnership work. But at the moment there are no plans for the V6 to be used elsewhere."

With outputs of 190kW and 550Nm, the Benz engine is at equal-pegging with a new Amarok Aventura flagship announced yesterday for power but is 30Nm shy on torque.

The German makes are fierce rivals and given that Benz is seen as a more upmarket brand which has historically tended to hold the upper hand on performance and technology, it might seem possible that the three-pointed star model might yet get a pep up to even the score, if not alter the balance of power.

However, whatever muscle-building work goes on for a unit that also goes into the G-Class sports utility and E-Class sedan, it won’t involve the marque’s usual performance go-to.

In the wake of fresh rumours about the potential of an AMG issue model to sit above the X350d, the boss of the black ops division has again reiterated that his outfit is steering clear.

Regardless that Mercedes’ here and in Australia has reported significant consumer interest in a hard-out performance-focused X-Class, AMG chief executive Tobias Moers has hinted that the fact that this is a Nissan model by birthright tends to complicate things. Then there's the fuel type. AMG has never worked up a diesel engine.

Vincent reiterated that AMG is not going to be part of the X-Class story, not only as a tuner but even as a supplier of anyt performance-enhancing parts, like a suspension retune. Indeed, X-Class buyers won't be able to buy any AMG-branded accessories whatsoever. And as for the potential of an AMG petrol engine, something juicy like a V8?

"At this stage it's just definitely no with AMG with any engine for X-Class," Vincent said. "Australia and New Zealand are both big markets for AMG ... I understand why a lot of people see the allure and interest in that. But right now we are really comfortable. We have a V6 coming that is sort of leading in terms of power."

As for trim appointments? "We really think with the interior design and look right now it is already a steep change in what people are used to. We really think that what we have will have plenty of appeal without people having to have an AMG right now. So right now there is juist no plan to have AMG coming."

Asked if that comment meant the door was still open for involvement in the future, Vincent quantified: "There is no plans for AMG."

Even though Amarok V6 has been a huge success for VW here, Vincent, fellow Australian Scott Williams and Stuttgart native Sabine Wagner - respectively product and project manager for X-Class and the senior manager of product planning and marketing for Mercedes Benz vans in Australia - do not see that trend as providing any indication on how theirs might be received.

Said Wagner: "At the moment we are concentrating on the four-cylinder product. We are not yet talking about the V6 engine."

Added Williams: "We don't really compare ourselves with Volkswagen."

Vincent said it was obvious big ute engines were proving popular with Australians and Kiwis. He imagined the V6 would attract "another customer base" than the four-cylinders.

"We just cannot comment on how it might sell. There's no doubt that there is particular customer set for that. We think it is definitely a key product in the X-Class range for us, but how that all ends up in the mix we cannot comment," 

As things stand, while the four-cylinder X-Class will be offered in three trim levels, the V6 will be available in just two grades also emulated in the four-cylinder line: 'Progressive' and 'Power'.

The entry-level Progressive variant has 17-inch wheels, leather-lined steering wheel, keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, black fabric seats and an eight-speaker sound system. The Power variant adds 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, chrome-plated front bash plate and rear bumper, an Artico-leather interior and electronically-adjustable seats.

Whereas the four-pots run with a Nissan transmission, the V6 is married to a Benz box with the same cog count, the vaunted 7G-Tronic, which includes steering wheel paddles. It also marries to a Benz four-wheel-drive system.

Even without AMG influence, would a ‘Power’ be considered a contender in the emergent sports-oriented one-tonne ute sub-sector where the Raptor and Holden Special Vehicles’ Colorado SportsCat will place?

Ironically Nissan could potentially be there, too, as the Japanese are said to be looking to creating a higher-performance version of the Navara.

The X350d still has a fair bit wallop than the X220d and X250d, which respectively make 120kW/403Nm and 140kW/450Nm. Though no pricing has been announced, it will likely cost a lot more too: In Germany this model will cost the equivalent of around $86k.

The X220d is available with purely rear wheel drive or with engageable all-wheel drive. The X250d is offered with engageable all-wheel drive only. As standard the X220d and X250d come with a six-speed manual transmission. A seven-speed automatic is optionally available for the X250d only.

The three four-cylinder grades are entry Pure, which Benz says is “for classic robust use”, Progressive - “for higher requirements in terms of quality feel and comfort” – and also Power. That’s described as being “the high-end variant for urban lifestyles.”

Benz announced its count of four-cylinder variants (13) and their pricing in November. It has since staged a global media drive in Chile. That's the subject of the video below, supplied by Mercedes Benz (sdo, yes, it's rather one-eyed and chintzy. But it does give good insight into what we're getting).

To recap, the cheapest model is the Pure in cab-chassis X220d RWD manual, at $53,330. You can get this layout with four-wheel-drive, automatic and with the X250d engine for $60,200. The Pure in traydeck (pickup) format spans from $54,200 (X220d RWD manual) to $61,100 (X250d 4WD automatic).

A Progressive cab-chassis runs between $59,300 (X250d 4WD manual) to $62,000 (X250d 4WD automatic); the pickup edition starts at $60,200 (X250d 4WD manual) and runs to $63,000 (X250d 4WD automatic).

A pickup in Power guise is $66,200 (X250d 4WD manual) to $69,000 (X250d 4WD automatic).

Consider the specification and you might be forgiven for thinking Pure is Benz-speak for ‘basic’, at least in respect to the exterior fitout. The front bumper is black because it is unpainted plastic and those 17-inch wheels are steel rims. It has halogen headlamps, electrically adjustable outside mirrors, plastic floor coverings and fabric upholstery.

However, the equipment includes the relatively rare provision, for an entry-level ute, of a rear view camera (except with cab chassis), an infotainment system (which includes something you see much of any more, a CD player) with a seven inch TFT and touchpad, air conditioning system, four load-securing rings on the sides of the load bed – these from Nissan - and tyre pressure monitoring.

The Progressive model has bumpers painted in the vehicle colour and gets carpet and more interior trim highlights. Also provisioned are 17-inch six-spoke light-alloy wheels, heated outside mirrors, rain sensing wipers, a sat nav, eight-speaker digital audio system, and chromatic rear view mirror with compass.

Mercedes-Benz offers three optional equipment packages for Progressive. The Comfort Package delivers electrically adjustable front seats with lumbar support, dual zone automatic climate control, Artico leather/Dinamica microfibre upholstery, and a stowage net in the front passenger footwell.

The Style Package comprises LED headlamps and part-LED tail lamps, an electrically opening rear window, tinted rear windows, side running boards, roof rails and 18-inch six-twin spoke light-alloy wheels.

The Parking Package comprises Parktronic parking assistance system and 360-Degree Camera.

There’s one more thing: The sale process. Leading up to X-Class's launch, there was plenty of conjecture about this model, on strength of it being a Mercedes Commercial, being set to be sold through the van and truck division and not off Mercedes car yards.

That's not quite how it works: It will be represented by many outlets in the new car sector, to the point that you might well see it on the same showroom featuring all that glam road-bound metal.

There are two caveats: One, Benz Commercial insists that the dealership has to have a bespoke X-Class retail zone. Also, to earn the right to sell the ute, those new car frenchises will have also had (if they did not already have it) ro sign up to retail Benz vans.

So, in short, yes, it'll be out there front and central in the sales landscape.