Strong engines, dual sliding doors, relatively refined cabin, good fuel economy, better value
Room for improvement
Side curtain airbags standard only on the Wagon, front-end styling is not as clean as before, base model misses out on a lot of gear
By JAMES STANFORD
THE image of the Mercedes Benz van was hit hard by the cheap and basic models churned out by Ssangyong in South Korea up until 2004, but models like the new Vito are fixing that.
This is a premium van with strong engines, high levels of safety and a relatively refined cabin. Even better, they are now considerably cheaper.
The base model is fairly sparse, but all other Vito models, starting with the 113 at $39,490, have a very high level of standard equipment.
The fact they all come with electronic stability control (ESC) and dual airbags is a big plus as occupational health and safety laws are being sharpened to classify vehicles as workplaces.
Vito is available as an ANCAP five-star rated van with optional equipment, but otherwise still rates four stars. The Volkswagen Transporter and Hyundai iLoad also get four stars, the Ford Transit and Toyota HiAce get three, while the Mitsubishi Express has just one star.
The Vito is also a very sound vehicle when it comes to avoiding accidents. A series of tests including a myriad of witches hats around the Phillip Island race track revealed the Vito is a fairly athletic machine that can change direction without dramas.
The ABS brakes are strong and the ESC kicks in to help prevent the loss of control.
The different models have different suspension settings, but they all seemed to do the job and remained relatively comfortable. Unladen, the van feels a little choppy but would likely settle down with some load in the back while the Cargo model was a little happier and felt well tied down.
The steering provides some feedback and the van does go where you point it while height and reach adjustability of the steering wheel ensures you can get comfortable behind the wheel.
Empty vans can be rather raucous, while the vibration of large metal panels is a nightmare when it comes to suppressing noise, vibration and harshness, but Mercedes has gone to a lot of trouble to keep things quiet, including the fitment of sound deadening patches on the inside of each panel.
I was pleasantly surprised by how quiet the vans were, especially given the test vehicles were not fitted with bulkheads (the metal wall) behind the driver, which further mute the road noise.
All of the engines tested had ample performance, although we didn’t try the base engine and all the vans were empty.
The 2.2-litre turbo diesel is fairly tough and worked well with both the manual gearbox and the intelligent automatic, which would be welcome for inner city work.
It is amazing that Mercedes stuck such a stonking engine as the 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel in a van and the good news is that it has been further improved for this generation.
This writer raced the last V6 Vito in the Classic Adelaide and raised an eyebrow or two by catching some very fast cars, including a Porsche 911 on one stage. What this means for daily driving is more than enough torque for any conditions, which makes overtaking a breeze.
The Vito’s interior is a strong point. It might sound like a cliché to say that it has a car-like interior, but it’s true. All the plastic surfaces appear well made and the fit is good.
We didn’t see the base model, but the other models give a good impression with the colour audio screen and instrument cluster with chrome rings, while the Bluetooth connectivity for the phone, which can be controlled (along with the sound system) via steering wheel buttons, is likely to save tradies a bit of money in fines and improve safety.
While the true test of the new Vito will come out in the real world of cargo hauling, it certainly appears good enough to earn a place on any van shortlist and the new pricing regime further heightens its appeal.