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Mercedes readies an answer to the X3

BMW’s X3 is in for a battle from 2008 when this, Mercedes’ new junior off-roader, goes on sale. Our spies caught the sporty small 4x4 as engineers lapped the Nurburgring in their quest for excellent on-road dynamics and it’s clear that it is strongly influenced by its big brother M-class. But Stuttgart insiders say the finished product will get a much more individual appearance.

Likely to be called X-class, the new car will slot into Mercedes’ line-up above the C-class Estate but will be priced lower than an E-class Estate, taking Mercedes’ four-wheel-drive stable to three alongside the newM-class and next year’s G-class.

The X-class rides on modified underpinnings from the next C-class with drive running through a beefed-up version of Mercedes’ four-wheel-drive 4matic system. But items such as a transfer case, low-range gearing and air springs will not be offered to keep costs down.

Up to seven different engine options are under consideration. There are likely be 2.5-, 3.0- and 3.5-litre V6 petrol units, while the diesel ranks should include a 2.2-litre four-cylinder together with a pair of 3.0-litre V6 engines with differing outputs.

A hybrid version is also planned, using either a petrol or diesel engine with a pair of electric motors mounted in the transmission casing. The X-class will be just one of a range of new hybrid models planned for launch before the end of the decade, with petrol-electric and diesel-electric versions of the recently unveiled M-, R- and S-class, as well as the next-generation C-class, all under consideration.