Mercedes has made some big changes in recent years, making a move downmarket with its ever-growing range of A-Classes, but its latest product is the biggest departure from three-pointed tradition we've seen yet. The X-Class shares its underpinnings with the Renault Alaskan and Nissan Navara, but Mercedes is adamant it melds the capability of a traditional truck with levels of luxury previously unmatched in the segment.
It might have been unthinkable in past, but Mercedes moving into the world of trucks actually makes sense. Pickup truck sales are growing rapidly, as people start to think of them as lifestyle vehicles rather than workhorses. Fourteen percent of all light vehicles sold in Australia are pickup trucks, and it's a similar story in Latin America. Even those sophisticated Europeans love them.
With that in mind, Mercedes has aimed the X-Class at buyers who want to drive it around the city during the week, before loading it up with bikes, kayaks and surfboards for their weekend adventures.
From the outside, the design team has done a good job of hiding the fact the X-Class shares a close relationship with a Nissan. The slim headlamps, glitzy grille and deep front splitter have all been adapted from existing Mercedes models, and the wraparound taillight treatment on the white Stylish Explorer X-Class give it a totally unique feel from the rear.
You're also unlikely to find 22-inch wheels on the Navara or Alaskan, although there's no guarantee they'll make it to production here, either.
In matte green Powerful Adventurer trim, the X-Class swaps the pretty front bumper and shiny wheels for off-road ready parts. The looped taillights are also gone, replaced by a netted tailgate and more conventional lights. To our eyes, it's the more attractive of the two cars shown.
The X-Class might be a concept at the moment, but the interior looks production ready. From the standard COMAND infotainment system to the circular air vents, the new pickup borrows plenty from the E-Class and C-Class, although no amount of leather will hide the fact it's fitted with an old-fashioned mechanical handbrake and traditional gear stick.
Although it's a bit prettier than the average pickup, Mercedes says the coil-sprung five-link rear axle on the X-Class gives it a peak payload of 1.1 tons, and a peak towing capacity of 3.5 tons. It will be interesting to see if this practical setup can also deliver the ride quality and damping you'd expect in a Mercedes, although the company was adamant its pickup would feel properly at home on the road.
Range-topping cars will also be fitted with a clever 4MATIC four-wheel drive system with dual differential locks and a transfer case for a bit of extra off-road capability. Details about the full range of engines will be offered closer to the production car's launch in 2017, but we do know a torquey V6 turbodiesel will sit at the top of the tree.
The X-Class will hit showrooms late in 2017. Expect to see a full production reveal early next year – but if you can't wait until then, you can check out more pictures of the concept in our gallery.