Mercedes-Benz joins the ute brigade

By David Thomson on Sat, 18 Nov 2017

Here in New Zealand we are well-used to light commercial vehicles - and utes in particular - topping our new vehicle sales charts.

By way of example, our two most popular utes year-to-date (the Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux) have each outsold our most popular new passenger car (the Toyota Corolla), by a margin of two-to-one. Look a bit further down the sales charts, and the prominence of utes is even more apparent: the Holden Colorado, Mitsubishi Triton, and Nissan Navara also make the new vehicle top-10 and - like the Ranger and Hilux - are the top-selling vehicles for their respective brands.

Add in the contribution the BT50 makes to Mazda's sales, and the presence of the VW Amarok in Volkswagen'sKiwi line-up, and the only top-10 vehicle manufacturers selling here without a ute in their line-up are Hyundai, Kia and Suzuki. 

Mercedes-Benz, which ranks 12th here for vehicle sales, will be the next major manufacturer to offer a ute in New Zealand.

Called the X-Class, the German company's new machine is scheduled for an April 2018 launch. This is no toe-in-the-water exercisefrom Mercedes either; it was confirmed just a few days ago that the X-Class (pictured) will launch here as a range comprising 13 different variants. 

Prices are set to range from $53,300 to $69,000, and all but two of the variants will be four-wheel-drive machines. Power will come from a 2.3-litre turbo engine, in 120kW single-turbocharged or 140kW bi-turbo form. Three different specification grades will be available: the Pure variant forclassic robust use; Progressive for higher quality feel and comfort; and Power as the high-end variant for urban lifestyles. 

Interestingly, the X-Class range has been designed in conjunction with the French-Japanese Nissan-Renault alliance. It will be built at factories in Spain and South America, was launched to the international media in South Africa, and A-list journalists headed to Chile to drive it for the first time. 

This reminds me that while we may think of fondness for utes as particularly Kiwi, their appeal is truly international.

It's going to be fascinating to see how the X-Class goes in New Zealand. I'm picking it will do well, for Mercedes already has a decent commercial vehicle pedigree earned through its vans, and the pricing of the top-end variants (where most X-Class sales will surely be) looks quite competitive.

David Thomson