Mercedes-Benz Vans last month launched its new X-Class bakkie in an unveiling in Cape Town. The much anticipated model is scheduled to make its debut in Europe in November and will go on sale in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand early next year. Sales in Argentina and Brazil will begin in 2019.

Mercedes-Benz’s CEO, Dieter Zetsche, said in a statement that the model opened the bakkie segment to new customer groups. “Our pick-up convinces as a workhorse just as much as a family and lifestyle vehicle,” he said.

A spokesman for Mercedes-Benz Vans said the high level of interest and anticipation in the lead up to the unveiling reflected how engrained dual cab bakkies had become in motoring culture.

“The fact is we love bakkies 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,” she said.

According to a statement released by the company, the X-Class had been designed with a view to finding perfect balance between the stylish design expected of a Mercedes-Benz and the uncompromising robustness and functionality demanded of a bakkie.

“As a result, the model effectively provides solutions for trade and fleet customers, while also satisfying the needs of private customers who require a vehicle to support their active lifestyles,” the statement said.

The model will be available initially with two diesel engine options as well as a petrol-fed unit. A top-of-the-line V6 diesel will be available from mid-2018.

Judging by activities at the launch, Mercedes is targeting the mid-sized pick-up at wealthy customers who like quad biking and sailing. Taking on a new segment far removed from opulent models like the S-Class sedan shows how far the world’s biggest maker of luxury vehicles is prepared to go to capture new sales.

Though it plans to stay clear of America’s competitive truck market – which is dominated by utilitarian vehicles like the Ford F-150, the world’s biggest selling derivative – introduction of the mid-sized X-Class gives Mercedes-Benz an edge over rivals such as BMW and Audi, which do not contest the bakkie market.

The company anticipates that demand for mid-sized pick-ups will grow by 43% over the next decade to around 3,2 million units. While that proposition might be attractive, observers believe that moving into new segments can be a risk, especially for a brand that trades on its image for elegance and performance.

The X-Class, which cost “a high three-digit million euro sum” to develop, will be produced as part of Daimler’s cooperation with the Renault-Nissan alliance. Vehicles for Europe will be assembled at a Nissan plant in Barcelona, while models for Latin America will be built at a Renault factory in Cordoba, Argentina.

“The X-class is the first genuine pickup with convincing passenger-car characteristics,” said Volker Mornhinweg, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, which developed the vehicle. “As a result, the X-class pushes the boundaries of the classic pick-up.”

He said the model had been specifically developed for changing requirements in the bakkie market. Demand for mid-sized pick-ups with typical passenger car characteristics and comfort features had risen steadily for years while, at the same time, the number of bakkies for private use had increased. “These vehicles are no longer viewed purely as workhorses,” Mornhinweg said.

When the bakkie goes on sale, three design and equipment variants will be on offer, incorporating four and six-cylinder engines, rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, six-speed manual transmissions or seven-speed automatic gearboxes.

The bakkie is built on a ladder-type frame with a solid axle at the rear, coil springs all round and independent front suspension. The basic X-Class variant, called Pure, is described as being ideal for rugged, functional use.

“It fulfills all the demands of a workhorse but at the same time its comfort and design make it perfect for visiting customers or suppliers and for private activities,” the statement said.

The Progressive derivative is aimed at people who seek a rugged bakkie with extra styling and comfort features, the vehicle designed to act as an advertisement for their own businesses while also being a comfortable yet prestigious vehicle for private use.

The X-Class Power encompasses the high-end design and equipment line. “It is aimed at customers for whom styling, performance and comfort are paramount,” the statement said. “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.”

X-Class Dimensions

Length 5 340mm

Width  1 920mm

Height 1 819mm

Wheelbase       3 150mm

Load bed length           1 587mm

Load bed width           1560mm

Load bed height           474mm

Payload           1 042kg

Braked towing capacity          1 650kg – 3 500kg