THE MERC X-TRUCK: Image: Mercedes-Benz / Newspress
4x4, Motoring News, new models, off-road

Meet the Merc Navara bakkie… coming in 2018

  • Merc’s muscle bakkie from Nissan
  • SA seen by M-B as major market
  • Expect the two versions in 2018
THE MERC X-TRUCK: Image: Mercedes-Benz / Newspress
THE MERC X-TRUCK: Image: Mercedes-Benz / Newspress

LES STEPHENSON

Once-upon-a-time there were the two ‘M’s in South Africa – no, not the sweeties, but the automakers Mercedes-Benz and Mitsubishi with upmarket 4×4 bakkies that could go into all-wheel drive mode up to 100km/h and every time I drove one I was terrified in case the transmission exploded.

No, it never did…

Anyway, the bakkies were branded Pajero and, at the time, were pretty darn leather-luxurious, not to mention great off-road and very comfortable. Few double-storey houses with a gardener didn’t have one in the driveway alongside the E-Class and the almost informal. marriage lasted for many years until an apparently amicable divorce a few years ago.

THE MERC X-TRUCK: Image: Mercedes-Benz / Newspress
THE MERC X-TRUCK: Five seats in my wagon with a rather lurid colour-scheme to match that of the launch model’s paint job. Image: Mercedes-Benz / Newspress

That, of course, pulled a healthy section of the South African bakkie market off Merc’s balance sheet, but things are being corrected with the new deal between the Germans and the Japanese the joint introduction of the Mercedes X-Class, one for the rich and one for the not-quite-so-rich.

LOOKING FOR PIONEERS?

South Africa – with, for some reason a special mention for ‘South African vintners’ as potential buyers – is one of only a half-dozen markets mentioned in the media information, along with South America and the Aussies.

Perhaps Mercedes still sees us/them as pioneering spirits with tarred roads still in their infancy but, whatever, the X-Class will be here some time in 2018.

The bakkies were introduced to the world’s motoring media this week in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, under the trading umbrella of Mercedes-Benz Vans and described as “the company’s first premium pick-up that will combine the best of two worlds”.

Primary X-Class markets will be Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Australia, and Europe.

WATCH the X-Class launch video

There are, essentially two proposed X-Class versions, the Adventurer and the Explorer – the first as the ‘get-out-there’ model, the other as the ‘tuxedo-and-long dress’, the ‘take-the-kids-to-private-school’, weekend country-house version.

While Merc says the X-Class “will be a true Mercedes from the hallmark brand design” it will in fact be a jacked-up Nissan Navara double-cab bakkie, well-loved wheels in South Africa for some time and known for rugged off-road ability. Only the top X-Class, it seems, will have a Mercedes engine – a six-cylinder diesel.

This is the current Nissan Navara NP300
TWIN SISTER: This is the current Nissan Navara NP300, the vehicle on which the Mercedes X-Class is based. Image: Nissan

The cabin, however, will be a tad more luxurious than that of the Navara and, Merc says, the bakkie “will make Mercedes-Benz the first premium manufacturer to account for changing customer requirements in the global segment of mid-size pick-ups and it will make the tough one-tonner with seating for up to five the first to be attractive as an urban lifestyle and family vehicle”.

Guess we could argue that several brands in South Africa already offer such wheels but, never mind, this is Merc’s party… and here’s what two of its top guys had to say at the Stockholm event…

Dr Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the Daimler AG board, head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, and avid Formula 1 attendee: “The Mercedes-Benz pick-up will close one of the last gaps in our portfolio. Our target: offering customers vehicles matching their specific needs. The X-Class will set new standards in a growing segment.”

and…

Volker Mornhinweg, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans: “We’ll open up and change the segment of mid-size pick-ups with the world’s first true premium pick-up for the modern urban lifestyle – ladder-type frame, high-torque six-cylinder engine, and permanent all-wheel drive are compulsory.

THE MERC X-TRUCK: Image: Mercedes-Benz / Newspress
THE MERC X-TRUCK: This is the interior of the Explorer version – note the iPad-styled info system on the facia and the nubuck leather finish to the seats. Image: Mercedes-Benz / Newspress

“As an added value we bring safety, comfort, agility and expressive design – in other words, everything that distinguishes vehicles bearing the Mercedes star – to appeal to new customers who had not considered owning a pick-up.”

Going by more stuff in the media release, one might wonder where M-B has been all these years, such as “worldwide, the market for mid-size pick-ups is undergoing a radical change. Gone are the days when they were bought as mere workhorses – they are becoming increasingly popular as versatile vehicles for simultaneous private and commercial use and as strictly private vehicles”.

Really? But where, pray, as these well-heeled private buyers going to stick their expensive shopping from Louis Vuitton, ditto their posh luggage on a trip to the coast?

THE MERC X-TRUCK: Image: Mercedes-Benz / Newspress
THE MERC X-TRUCK: No argument that it’s a rugged-looking bakkie, especially with the (standard) heavy-duty rims/tyres. The similarity to the Nissan Navara is hard to ignore; we also wonder if the load-bed will be called the X-Box? Image: Mercedes-Benz / Newspress

The automaker also points out that “a similar development took place with off-road vehicles some 20 years ago when Mercedes-Benz was the first premium manufacturer to launch a sport utility vehicle, the M-Class, and completely redefined the off-road segment”.

They must have missed the arrival of the Range Rover… the first of which came out more than 50 years ago.

The Explorer’s cabin is, the automaker says, “characterised by an intriguing contrast of warm and cool colours and high-quality materials, translating into the Mercedes-Benz design philosophy of sensual purity”.

READ MORE Mercedes-Benz features on Carman’s Corner

The copywriter is talking about “the sensual touch and feel of the brown, very natural, nubuck leather (cowhide buffed to look like suede, guys) and ‘smoked-oak’ and aluminium trim”. There’s also a free-standing highres display top centre on the facia, a central controller, and a multifunction touchpad for all telematics.

The second concept, the Adventurer (at which juncture I might point out that Merc chose all lower-case letters for its model names, hence ‘stylish explorer’ and ‘powerful adventurer’ but The Corner will stick with the second word in each case just in case the other two are meant to be adjectival) “focuses on the classic traits of a pick-up”.

READ MORE about the Nissan Navara on Carman’s Corner

The paint job is “lemonax metallic” and the Adventurer’s upholstery is gloss-black nappa leather with black ‘carbon-style’ embossed leather surfaces; other cabin elements come from the Mercedes C- and V- classes.

Variety, Merc says, will distinguish the engine range. The top model in the range will have a V6 Mercedes diesel and permanent all-wheel drive, the latter with electronic traction control, a transfer case with reduction gear, and two differential locks. Under extreme off-road conditions the rear differential and the inter-axle differential can be locked.

The ladder chassis/loadbed can handle a 1.1-ton load (though the loadbed is typically double-cab short) and the X-Class can tow up to 3.5 tons. Modern driving assistance systems based on cameras, radar and ultrasound, the automaker says, will support and relieve the driver in many situations.

‘POSITIONED AT AN ATTRACTIVE PRICE’

Mercedes says the bakkie will focus on five customer groups: bakkie fans, those seeking car-like performance, safety and comfort, and those who prefer to drive and SUV or van. “It will bridge the gap between commercial and private and between urban and rural use.”

The market launch of the Mercedes-Benz X-Class in Europe will begin in late 2017; deliveries to South Africa, The Corner was told, will start in 2018 and “the model series will be positioned in the segment at an attractive price”.

The double-cabs will be assembled in “a production co-operation with the Renault-Nissan Alliance”. Production for Europe, Australia and South Africa will start in Barcelona, Spain, in 2017; units for Latin America will be assembled in Cordoba, Argentina, from 2018.

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