New details from a top-secret Australian design forum have emerged, detailing the upcoming Mercedes-Benz ute that was spied testing this week in a Nissan Navara shell.
The private event is understood to have brought confirmation that the ute will be known as either the Mercedes-Benz X-Class or Z-Class, along with a number of other details:
Three model range (base, mid- and high-specification)
Two diesel engines (four- and six-cylinder diesel options)
Australian engineering input
B-Class-esque interior with dashtop screen for high-specification model
AMG styling kit likely, but AMG version unlikely
These details follow the sighting this week of a prototype Mercedes-Benz ute, wearing Mercedes-Benz wheels and the panels of a new-generation Nissan Navara NP300.
What we know already
Based on information released by Mercedes-Benz since the new model’s announcement, we know that the ute will occupy a premium space for the brand and will be based on the recently released Nissan Navara NP300, which has been engineered to support both a coil-sprung rear and leaf spring suspension setup.
According to Mercedes-Benz, the similarities will be few and far between, with the manufacturer admitting the decision to use the Navara platform was one based on cost.
At this month’s Detroit motor show, Daimler board member Thomas Weber told CarAdvice, “Yes, to come to an attractive price we are using a common platform, but all the rest is done by Mercedes – to design, to develop the vehicle specifically to meet Mercedes criteria,” Weber said, building on previous statements from the brand.
The ute, which was announced in July 2015, will be sold in key markets for the brand, which include Latin America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Europe.
It will be built at Nissan’s plant in Barcelona, Spain, for global export. The Mercedes-Benz ute will also share its platform with the Nissan Navara NP300 and Renault Alaskan.
What we have learned
Based on a top secret design forum held in Australia late last year, we have discovered that the new Mercedes-Benz ute will be called either the Mercedes-Benz X-Class or Mercedes-Benz Z-Class. According to an attendee, the brand was leaning toward X-Class due to its off-road and rugged connotation.
In an attempt to distance itself from the Navara NP300 donor vehicle, organisers said that there would only be a dual-cab variant. The single variant would eliminate the need to engineer a single-cab or extra-cab variant.
The Mercedes-Benz ute range will be available in three specification levels: a trades-focused base model, a better-equipped mid-level option and a more lifestyle-oriented top specification.
The range will also be powered exclusively by diesel engines, one four-cylinder and one six-cylinder engine.
Powering the base and mid-specification models will be the same engine as the Navara — a 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that produces 140kW (188hp) of power and 450Nm (332ft.lb) of torque. It will have a towing capacity limited to 3000kg.
The top-specification model will be available with both the four-cylinder diesel and a six-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that produces 190kW (255hp) of power and 550Nm (406ft.lb) of torque. Towing capacity would be an increased 3500kg.
Both the base model and mid-specification will come with selectable four-wheel drive, with the vehicle operating in rear-wheel drive regularly. The top-specification will be a full-time four-wheel-drive.
In terms of design, the base model is likely to be built as a tradesman’s utility with basic wheels, plastic-clad bumpers and little in the way of visual enhancements.
According to an attendee, the top-specification model had an interior similar to the B-Class, with an iPad-esque screen attached to the dashboard. The top-specification model also had integrated satellite navigation and a 360-degree surround-view camera.
In terms of pricing for Australia, attendees were told that pricing would start from around $55,000 for the base model, over $60,000 for the mid-specification and close to $80,000 for the top-specification guise.
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Ah, the Skyline. Against a skyline. Nice.
The Skyline, in our opinion, is the car that made Nissan.
Never mind that it was actually invented by Prince – no, not the ‘Purple Rain’ one, the Japanese car manufacturer, which merged with Nissan in the 1960s. Nissan kept the excellent ‘Skyline’ name – and the somewhat suspect ‘Gloria’, but we digress.
The Skyline nameplate dates all the way back to the late 1950s, but it’s the 1989 R32 Skyline GTR that really put Nissan on the map. Even though there had been quite a few highlights in the range over the years – the original 1969 GTR, for instance, and the R31 GTS-R – the R32 left an indelible mark, both on the road and in motorsport.
Families have moved on from the family sedan.
Looking at sales trends, soccer fields and school drop-off lines it’s clear that today’s family car is actually an SUV. And the family-friendliest vehicle of them all, the minivan, continues to appeal with its purpose-built practicality.
As SUVs have grown more comfortable and more efficient over the years, families and car shoppers in general have demonstrated an increasing preference for the elevated driving position, superior cargo versatility and higher profile of SUVs. Whether it’s the sliding doors and cavernous interior of a minivan or the high-riding nature and available all-wheel drive of an SUV, each of these vehicles is simply more functional as a family car than a traditional sedan.
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The all-new 2018 Range Rover Velar has been revealed, filling the space between the smaller Evoque and larger Sport in the British marque’s line-up, and will land in Australia later this year, in the Summer. Pitched as the “avant garde Range Rover“, the Velar is claimed to offer new levels of refinement and technology for the brand, and is set to go on sale in Europe later this year.
When the Velar goes on sale in Australia, pricing will range from $70,300 to $135,400 before on-road costs. A special ‘First Edition’ variant will also be offered at launch, priced from $167,600 – again before on-road costs are applied.
Although full Australian details are still to be revealed, headline features in the Velar include the debut of the new Touch Pro Duo infotainment system with two high-definition 10-inch touchscreens, along with Matrix Laser-LED headlights, Jaguar and Aston Martin-esque flush deployable door handles, and a minimalistic design approach.
Do you know what it’s like to be the most popular person in the room? What about the most attractive? No, I don’t either, I was just wondering if anyone had felt the way Mazda must feel in Australia at the moment. Everything the Japanese brand has touched of late has turned to gold and one blinding example of that is the 2016 Mazda 3 Maxx.
Positioned as the second most affordable 3 in the range, the Maxx actually pushes our pick of the 3 range – the SP25, based on our launch review – all the way when you sit down and weigh up driving engagement, pricing and specification. In fact, if you’re shopping on a tight budget, and you don’t absolutely need the 2.5-litre engine, the Maxx is without doubt the model we’d recommend. Yes, it is that good.
Standard safety kit was part of the recent revision to standard specification across the range, and as such, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and smart city brake support are included. The amount of standard kit you get at this price point is genuinely impressive. Luxury Euro vehicles with stratospheric price points don’t get some of the gear that the 3 Maxx gets standard.
The Maxx is powered by a 2.0-litre, four cylinder petrol engine, which generates 114kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm at 4000rpm and, as tested, features the aforementioned six-speed automatic gearbox. The engine is pretty high tech too, with stop/start and direct injection, all part of Mazda’s SkyActiv-G technology under the bonnet. All petrol Mazda 3 models will drink regular unleaded, although we tend to run 95RON as a matter of course. The ADR fuel consumption claim is 5.8L/100km with the automatic transmission.
External styling is a Mazda 3 strong point and the Maxx is an attractive small hatch. It is part of the reason the 3 is so popular in Australia – we definitely buy vehicles on style in this country. Mazda’s Kodo design language delivers a fluidity in the proportions from front to rear. The signature swooping design cues might eat into second row headroom a little compared to the outgoing model, but there is still room for two adults in the second row. One exterior highlight is the stylish 16-inch alloy wheels, with sensible sidewall tires that add to the driving comfort around town – more on that in a minute.
Controlling the system is beautifully simple via the rotary dial that is mounted within easy reach and is incredibly easy to understand even for first timers. Cleverly, the touchscreen function is deactivated when the Maxx is in motion. The satellite navigation software is quick to load and accurate when directing you to a destination. The audio system works well too, with Bluetooth phone connectivity always crystal clear and never dropping out. You also get DAB+ radio and internet radio integration. The screen displays all you need to work through in an easy to understand fashion.
The driving position, visibility and comfort are all perfect. There’s plenty of seat adjustment for tall occupants even in the passenger seat, but keep in mind, tall adults up front will eat into leg space for passengers in the second row. If the Maxx is a family runaround though, there’s more than enough space to truck the brood around.
The second row seats are actually nicely sculpted and comfortable for adults even on longer trips. You tend to sit down into them rather than up on top of them, and the material is both hardy but comfortable. Your passengers will appreciate the second row accommodation, that’s for sure.
The small console bin and small glove box don’t offer up much space for workers using the Mazda 3 as a mobile office, but there’s safe storage for a wallet and phone ahead of the shifter and the cup holders/bottle holders are well positioned too. The hatch section is low enough to make loading and unloading gear easy and again, there’s enough usable space to haul the kind of gear that most Mazda 3 owners will need to carry.
On the move, the 2.0-litre engine presents – at city speeds at least – as a quiet and refined power plant. It’s only when you lean on the throttle a little heavily, or coax the Maxx willingly up to highway speeds (or roll on overtake from say 60km/h), that it starts to feel like you’d be better off with the 2.5-litre engine. Under all other conditions, the 2.0-litre is more than up to the task. The real world fuel usage reflects the fact that the engine has to work harder than its bigger sibling, returning an indicated 10.3L/100km.
The gearbox is crisp regardless of how hard you’re working the engine, and paired with sharp steering, it makes the Mazda 3 Maxx feel like a nimble little hatch. You find yourself darting around town, like you’re piloting a go-kart, such is the all-round balance and feedback. We loved the way the Maxx rode over poor surfaces, thanks in part to sensible 16-inch wheels and tall tires, but also to an inherently capable suspension tune. While it can turn in sharply and stay balanced through corners, it can also ride comfortably when the going gets nasty – it’s a solid compromise.
As we stated at the outset, the Mazda 3 Maxx really does give the SP25 a red hot run for its money as the overall pick of the 3 range. It’s only piped by the more effective engine and extra inclusions for those buyers not on a tight budget. In Maxx specification though, we reckon the Mazda 3 earns a solid eight overall, such is its all-round ability. It’s not hard to work out why the Mazda 3 is so damn popular with Australian buyers.