Is Merc's X-Class bakkie simply a pimped-up Nissan Navara?
Brenwin Naidu gets behind the wheel to find out
Chile resembles a sliver on the map of South America. It almost looks like a chopped line of the white stuff you might see on an episode of the series Narcos. This was an observation I decided not to share while standing in the check-in queue at OR Tambo International Airport, en-route to glean impressions of what could be the most important product for Mercedes-Benz in the last decade. Well, in the context of South Africa anyway.
The pick-up truck genre accounts for a sizable chunk of the monthly sales figures. Without getting too dramatic, bakkies are the lifeblood of enterprises and an automotive staple that keeps the local manufacturing industry buoyant. Your favourites from Toyota and Ford? Those are built right here.
Lately, the genre has come into favour with an upscale demographic. Think families who want the ruggedness and versatility of a pick-up with the plush factor of a sport-utility vehicle. And while this seems like the natural niche for the X-Class, the manufacturer claims their intention in our market is to chase volume. No easy feat, when you consider that one nameplate in particular dominates this ambit ... that venerable Hilux.Our evaluation of the X-Class began in the city of Santiago, before exploring the more rural parts of the country. But first, we had to squeeze past the backside of a portly elephant in the conference room of our hotel, where company representatives delivered their presentation. Underneath the skin, this Mercedes-Benz is a Nissan Navara.
The two are not new bedfellows, with Mercedes-Benz having employed engines from the Renault-Nissan duo for a while now. And even Renault will have a re-skinned Navara dubbed the Alaskan, in due time.
Without even getting inside the X-Class, you can tell that its DNA carries elements that are not authentic to Mercedes-Benz. The section flanked by the fore and aft quarter panels is a verbatim copy of the Navara; side mirrors and door handles included. The rear styling is derivative - but we suppose that could be levelled at any contemporary pick-up truck. At least they did a good job with its face, all bold and proud with its flaunting of the three-pointed star emblem.What other Nissan bits will you find? Lots of interior switchgear - the air-conditioner buttons, seat adjustment dials, lighting panels, even the centre storage compartment. Even the key fob was borrowed from the parts bin. Those who have owned products from the Mercedes-Benz stable will raise eyebrows.So our feelings towards the new bakkie might sound ambivalent. But what cannot be disputed is how it shifts the goalposts from a connectivity perspective. Infotainment is a salient point for shoppers in the luxury segment - and the X-Class derives a number of elements from the Mercedes-Benz passenger cars range.
On high-end models, buyers can specify the Comand Online multimedia interface. This throws in a navigation system with live traffic information which, according to the brand, is a first in the segment. You also get the suite of Mercedes Me concierge services, allowing customers to book a service via the in-car system. Access to a customer assistance centre is part of the package, for more specific queries, or if you are just lonely and feel like having a chat.Pricing will be crucial to the success of the X-Class. Actually, it may not. Our market has proven its appetite for cars with the famous Stuttgart star - and that money is a negligible. You only need to consider how well some of the brand's offerings perform, never mind that they are not as accomplished as some of their peers.
Still, Mercedes-Benz understands that the nuances of the pick-up truck category are a little different. And if they want to make a dent in the fortunes of the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger, they will need to be aggressive.
To say that the X-Class feels authentically premium might be a stretch. That said, they managed to a good job of repurposing the decidedly mediocre Navara. Lingering thought: is that really good enough for the brand that promises the best or nothing?
You can decide when it arrives locally next year.