Mercedes-Benz is taking aim at the small off-roader market, unveiling plans for a pint-sized offering to slot beneath the M-Class.

Mercedes-Benz is taking aim at the small off-roader market, unveiling plans for a pint-sized offering to slot beneath the M-Class.

Though the name has not been decided yet, indications are that it could go into production as the X-Class, according to Mercedes-Benz has already registered the model designations X280, X350, X55 and X63.

'There is clearly room at the lower end of the Mercedes line-up for a smaller four-wheel-drive vehicle,' one senior Stuttgart source said. 'Our plan is to come at the established competition with a bottom-up and top-down approach.'

The X-Class will be sold with four-cylinder and V6 power, including the range-topping 3,5-litre V6 petrol and 3,0-litre V6 common-rail turbodiesel engines.

And with around 200 kW on tap, the X350 should become one of the fastest cars in its class. Fastest, at least until the rumoured AMG version makes its appearance.

Suspension is by conventional MacPherson struts up front and multi-links at the rear. Transmission electronics will split the torque between different axles and wheels according to the available traction though the emphasis will be on on-road comfort rather than off-road competence.

The X-Class is expected to go on sale in 2007, though Mercedes-Benz will try to avoid the fate of the BMW X3 that was widely criticised for being too similar to the X5.