Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - Viano - people-mover range
Practical interior configuration, commanding driving position, tight turning circle, true walk-through ability, interior ambience, turbo-diesel performance
Room for improvement
Lack of standard full-length curtain airbags, no electric sliding rear doors, clapper windscreen wipers set up for left-hand drive
21 Jul 2005
UPRIGHT and commanding driving position? Tick.
Quiet, passenger car-like ride? Tick
Cabin room for seven? Tick.
It may sound like we're talking about the scourge of the neighbourhood - modern seven-seater four-wheel drives that never venture off road. But we're not.
It's the new Mercedes-Benz Viano. The people-mover for people who actually move people.
Mercedes-Benz has seen an opening and the Viano is the result.
Two model lines are available - the entry-level Trend and up-spec leather and wood Ambiente - with pricing kicking in from $61,990 for the Trend 2.2 CDi and $67,890 for the Trend 3.7-litre V6. The Ambiente option adds another $6900.
The Viano is a well-equipped and seriously commodious vehicle for adults and children that also offers plenty of left-over luggage space.
There are no compromises. It does not pretend to be a four-wheel drive. Nor does it pretend to squeeze in a third row of seats with little or no legroom. It's not a car for the ego-driven urban wannabees.
Every seat has ample leg and headroom and to make travel even more enjoyable all the seats are supportive and comfortable.
If you think we're joking go check out one of those seven-seater four-wheel drives and then check out the Viano. Few will offer the outright accommodation afforded by the Merc.
A bonus too are the aircraft-like adjustable seat rails and quick-release mechanisms that easily turn the passenger carrier into a load carrier too. But we'll have to take Mercedes-Benz's word that the 29kg seats are easy to unloaded out of the vehicle.
Although based on the Vito light commercial vehicle line, there is enough visual separation between the pair to make the Viano stand out.
From the front there's a sloping bonnet dominated by the three-pointed star grille and signature eyebrow Merc headlights. By virtue of its design brief the profile is slab-sided thanks to the flush-fitted glass.
But it is practical the long twin sliding side doors open easily and afford plenty of room for entry into the commodious rear. The rear hatch rises wide and high - to 90 degrees - but requires some strength to close effectively.
Alloys, better trim and the tinted windows are easy to spot but the driving experience is largely the same.
Inside the standard of the equipment is on a par with Mercedes' passenger car line-up, from the multi-function steering wheel to the five-speed manual-shift auto.
The wood trim and leather around the suitably quiet cabin provide an up-market air that will silence even the most critical passenger. Ditto the build quality for the Spanish-built Benz. It feels solid and secure.
Like its passenger cars, Mercedes safety is a strong point, from the safety cage to the host of traction aides to keep the car on the road.
The only omission are full-length curtain airbags, a feature available on other people-movers. Front driver and passenger curtain bags are an option though, complementing the side airbags, which are standard on the Ambiente.
Although the 3.7-litre V6 develops a healthy 170kW and 345Nm of torque it was the 2.2CDi turbo-diesel that impressed. At just a tad over two tonnes the Viano can still kick up its heels for some spritely acceleration when the situation warrants it, like overtaking.
The diesel's low-down lugging power - from just 1800rpm - and silky five-speed auto made it more agreeable in stop-start city traffic but there was not much between the V6 and the diesel at constant open road speeds.
Despite an all-too-short drive on rain-soaked slippery narrow roads around Daylesford, north east of Melbourne, the Viano never put a foot wrong.
The long wheelbase, rear-wheel drive and a stubborn refusal to be provoked made it reassuring to drive in circumstances that could have embarrassed some modern hatchbacks.
One pleasant surprise too was the commendably small turning circle, making the wagon easy to get out of the tightest parking spaces.
The Viano is shaping up as the choice for practical folk who don't need to validate their lives through ego-driven off-roaders.
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