Mercedes-Benz is plotting a supermini-sized rival for the Mini and Audi A1, CAR Online can reveal. Referred to internally as ‘X-class’ for now, the 4m-long crossover would be developed with Renault-Nissan for a 2018 launch.
The need for a baby Benz is acute: Mercedes has nothing in the £12,000 to £19,000 bracket between Smart and A-class, a niche BMW will target with the next-generation Mini and front-wheel drive BMW 1-series. The fix is the X-class, pooled with the next-generation Renault and Nissan superminis.
The five-year timeframe should give Mercedes the opportunity to influence the architecture from the outset, in a bid to ensure the right levels of perceived quality, reliability, content and style. Benz sources vow that the X-class must have a bespoke exterior, cabin and gadgets.
What’s the baby Benz line-up?
Two models are planned, a small crossover and a ‘space concept’ – think B-class MPV that’s been through the boil wash. The crossover would be paired with the next-generation version of the Renault Captur, the Juke rival that goes on sale this year, and resemble the A-class SUV due to be unveiled soon.
The X-class has to be keenly priced, with an A1 starting at £13,640 in the UK. To keep the base price down, the engineers’ hopes of an independent rear suspension might be dashed. But driver assistance systems are becoming more affordable, and up to eight airbags are a given.
The engine and chassis lowdown
The engines are new, direct-injection and turbocharged petrols and diesels, in 1.0-litre three-cylinder and 1.5-litre four-cylinder form. The Germans would like to buy the engine blocks from Renault-Nissan, before adding their own cylinder heads and intake and exhaust manifolds. Mercedes may team up with Renault/Nissan to drive down the cost of dual-clutch gearboxes, or to get battery electric tech within reach.
Thanks to a flexible body architecture, Mercedes can dial in special reinforcements to enhance rigidity, safety and refinement. Optional extras would include the Comand navigation system, LED headlights and leather seats.
Mercedes calculates 100,000 to 150,000 sales per annum for each bodystyle, which would take combined production volume for all three brands beyond 1.5 million units. The search for a low cost assembly bases has not even begun; the cars will be sold in China and North America, as well as Europe.
Initially, the product planners considered cutting down and decontenting the A-class, but it was ruled out on cost grounds. Likewise the next-generation rear-engined Smart wasn’t sufficiently flexible to provide the donor architecture. The X-class has another link to Smart: its Juke-based Formore SUV will probably bite the bullet, in favour of the more profitable Mercedes crossover.