Mercedes-Benz Teases High-End Crossover Concept

During a special preview, the German premium brand spilled the beans about its future plans for the exclusive end of the market. 


This official sketch depicts Mercedes-Benz’ upcoming Ultimate Performance concept car, which we believe is likely to be unveiled to the public, early in 2019 in some form.

In addition to the release of this sketch, the Germans invited a selection of journalists to Daimler AG’s new Advanced Future Research Studio in Stuttgart Stammheim, where some of the brand’s stylists were at hand to explain what this newest concept car is all about.

Never knowingly outgrilled 

Daimler AG Chief Creative Officer, Gorden Wagener, sent a video message to the present members of the press corps, excusing himself for his non-attendance by explaining that his undivided creativity was regrettably needed in California.

This leads quite a few correspondents to immediately leave the presentation in frustration, but the rest are welcomed by Dick van Kok, recently appointed Executive Vice Chief Designer in charge of Creation at Daimler AG. Rumour has it van Kok may have taken on the unofficial role of heir apparent within the creative realm upon which Gorden Wagener keeps such a tight reign.

What becomes obvious early on is that van Kok is a man of confidence: “We are and will remain the leaders. The hunter, rather than the one being hunted, even though we actually are being hunted by our competitors. It’s just that we don’t care that much!”

When it comes to other German premium brands’ mimicking the Swabians’ stylistic ethos, the Dutchman quickly responds with a cocksure grin that quickly becomes his trademark: “We were first. Sensual Purity® was how it all started. Others are trying to copy it, and we take that as a compliment. But we own sensuality – and purity. It truly is that simple.”

When pressed for a brand he takes more seriously than others, van Kok mentions the work of a fellow Dutchman, a few hundred kilometres farther east. “We do keep an eye on what BMW are doing. Precision & Poetry clearly has potential. But where they are right now, we were years ago. We’re working on Sensual Purity® v3.0 as we speak. We’ve moved on.”

A virtual concept – for the time being

Coming back to the main reason for this invitation, a three-dimensional computer generated image of the Mercedes-Benz Ultimate Performance is projected onto the presentation hall’s screen – which may end up the only way in which this concept car is ever shown to the public. “We might be beyond motor shows. We might be beyond physical concept cars. And as we want to keep our edge, we’re still pondering if we should build this or not. For the time being, it’s the industry’s most photo realistic prototype.”

Although it may not physically exist, van Kok insists Ultimate Performance is a functioning concept car in every way. “As you can see, we built upon the basis of the Mercedes-Maybach Ultimate Luxury, which we’d brought to Auto China 2018, to great acclaim. Now we wanted to further explore the concept of a USUV.”

According to Mercedes-Benz, the Ultimate Performance does no less than to establish a new category of motor car, the Ultra Sports Utility Vehicle (USUV). Combining the qualities of a utility vehicle with those of a saloon and a sports car’s, the USUV supposedly marks a paradigm shift.

“In the long run, we believe up to a third of our entire production could consist of USUVs of different specification. We’re thinking big!”, van Kok explains before continuing: “Look at that front: When we started the creative process, it was high on our list of priorities that we won’t ever be outgrilled again. So this is not just a front grille – it’s a grille front!”

Apart from the prominent grille, the Dutch designer wants to draw attention to the fact that Ultimate Luxury was influenced by the animal kingdom: “The menace of a shark, the might of an elephant, the stance of a tiger – it’s all in there!” He then goes on to point out the three bars of laser headlights as being like “a tiger’s claws”, whereas the 25-inch-wheels fitted to the concept make it clear that Ultimate Performance could “literally crush everything with its sheer power”.

Respecting one’s heritage

However, less abstract influences can also be detected. “Come on, we’re Mercedes-f*cking-Benz! We’re the world’s oldest car maker, so obviously we respect our heritage! Those indicators at the corners above the grille, in traditional orange – that’s our nod to the classic G-Wagen. Other brands would kill to have such an icon to pay homage to!”

Clearly, Dick van Kok relished the opportunity to work on this 5,2 metres long, V12 hybrid powered virtual concept car. Similarly, he’s bullish about its influence not just on future Mercedes product, but the premium sector in general.

“We’ve been successful in the past, but with great success comes hunger for even greater success – it’s human nature. With Ultimate Luxury, Ultimate Performance and the USUV in general, we want to define what luxury means in the 20th century. Ultimate Performance defines the now!

After an intriguing 90 minutes in the company of the feisty Dick van Kok and the Mercedes-Benz Ultimate Performance, one thing has become abundantly clear: The future, as envisaged at Stuttgart Sindelfingen and now Stammheim, is not for the faint-hearted.

The author of this piece runs his own motoring website, which you are welcome to visit at


Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

23 thoughts on “Mercedes-Benz Teases High-End Crossover Concept”

  1. Please tell me that today is April 1st! I love my 1960s M-B but is in danger of becoming tarnished by association with these new things flaunting the star…

    1. The Volvo S90 seems the closest match to dignified sedan, don’t you think? Certainly none of the brash German offerings from Mercedes, BMW or Audi.

    2. A good question Richard. In this age of brash marketing, all seemingly based on image and aggressive presentation, how does one advertise a dignified vehicle?

      Are we who frequent DtW clinging too tightly to our own perceptions of what we think that the three premium German brands should be offering, based on what they formerly did? Would others simply look further afield for a dignified sedan if they were looking for one?

      Straying from the point slightly I see you can obtain an S90 or V90 for far less cash monthly (PCP/PCH) than an XC60; and that XC60 can be had for less than an XC40. Fashion is never logical, is it?

  2. The drawing is curiously cartoon-like, very different from the more accurately sketched images that typically start modelling work. A drawing like this is somewhat dangerous: it looks bold and expressive but when the concept is draped over a usable package, much can be lost.

    1. On this basis, one must suspect that the Kok has some way yet to go before it reaches its full (ahem…) extent.

    2. Given the state of things, it may be that M-B will expend a great deal of effort firming-up this strategy, only to have to withdraw at the last minute as the market softens. There could be some deflated egos and red faces in Baden-Württemberg.

  3. This is fun, but the design problem of Mercedes is sad reality. Without hope.
    The new A-class is outside a Hyundai of the year 2005 and inside a chinese aftermarket solution for customers thar cannot afford a real Mercedes…

    1. Maybe Audis are better – but they are from the dirty VW company and – for me – no option. Is there a new Ford Focus Vignale? I must say, we are living in hard times if you want a good looking modern premium compact car – and no Golf. My choice would be the C4 Cactus – but I am the exception – for sure.

    2. You’d better be quick of you want an Audi that’s less brash than a Mercedes and less ugly than a BMW.
      Audi is closing up with alarming speed and their latest offerings are no better outside and rolling smart phones inside.
      If you want a less ostentatious saloon, how about a Jaguar?

  4. If I were spending my own money on a Golf class hatchback?

    The yet to be fully revealed new Mazda 3 looks interestingly different, certainly from a design perspective:

    (As long as I don’t have to sit in the back!)

    1. Two things stand out on that new 3. One of them is how underplayed the shutlines and panel gaps are. You notice the surfaces and glass and wheels most and the little black panel gaps are almost gone. The second thing is that the under-bumper is very calm. Normally you see a Baroque fog lamp with chamfer upon chamfer piled up (the new BMW 3 series leaps to mind, among many). The C-pillar is huge and the point where the chrome trim of the DLO meets the C-pillar and the trailing edge of the rear door meets is a bit unsightly. All that said, it´s not a bad car – very Mazda, not very much anyone else (a little Genesis as Markus said). The front end is quite okay too.
      Markus: there is a Focus Vignale, yes. And it is rather nice looking if you miss comfy Lancia´s later vehicles. It´s down to the paints and brightwork. I am pleasantly surprised. It´s not flashy and it´s not boring. I think it hits a nice note of restrained opulance.

    2. The red car looks really good, in particular the calmness of the design. The shut lines do look suspiciously underplayed, but very neat. The most glaring issue to me is the trailing edge of the rear door, which cuts too close to the edge of the wheel arch. Perhaps it would have been better to follow the wheel arch line.

  5. Oops, yes, my mistake. I believe the new one is set to be launched at the Los Angeles motor show:

    Its rear haunches remind me somewhat of the Mk1 Seat Leon, which in turn was rather a reprise of the Alfasud. It least it doesn’t have the ubiquitous and now cliched triangular third light in the C-pillar.

  6. I just read two reviews of the Ford Focus Vignale. The seat facings are a bit too modern for me, but not a deal breaker.
    The reviews are broadly positive up until the authors consider what else one can get for the money. What I notice is the reverse is never discussed, is it?

    “The new Wolseley 18/76 is a fine Golf-class car overall with efficient engines and decent handling. But still, at £32,000 one might consider how much more car one can get for the money if one is a little less badge conscious. In the 1970s Wolseley might have been undeniably a top-drawer nameplate for large saloons and coupés. If you saw a Wolseley in 1972 it was and could only be a large and prestigious saloon. If you see a Wolseley today, chances are its just an 18/77 hatchback.

    These days there´s a lot of overlap between Wolseley and their competitors from Ford, Peugeot, Opel and Renault. They all make similarly well-engineered cars for moderate amounts of money. Is it really worth another £3,000 over the price of the Megane, Focus or Astra to get Wolseley´s badge on the grounds they made world-class cars back in 1990? Looked at in isolation, the Wolseley 18/76 is too expensive for what it is: a front-wheel drive, four-cylinder mid-size family car with contrast stitching on the seats. It doesn´t even have a rear-centre armrest. Grandad would be shocked.”

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