Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - Vito - van range
Car-like interior features, turbo-diesel performance, standard stability control, manual and auto transmission operation, seating comfort, heated exterior mirrors, ride and handling
Room for improvement
Visibility past A-pillar, audio volume control too far away
5 Mar 2008
YOU know a commercial vehicle brand is confident in its product when it lets a bunch of motoring writers loose in vans on roads that could easily be part of the Targa Tasmania course.
And that is exactly what Mercedes-Benz Vans did last week for the national media launch of its 2008 Vito and Sprinter models (although, for the sake of clarity, it should be pointed out that the roads were in Victoria, not Tasmania).
Regardless of the geography, it proved how capable a modern van can be. Delivery men and rock bands clearly no longer have grounds to complain about being hard done-by compared with passenger car occupants.
The first thing you notice about the Vito 111CDI is how civilised it is inside, with modern switchgear that many cars would be proud to have, power windows and outside mirror adjustment, height-adjustable seatbelt guides and a car-like angle to the steering wheel, which is adjustable for both reach and rake.
With electronic stability control, air-conditioning, cruise control, heated mirrors, rear washer/wiper, remote central locking, dual front airbags, seatbelt pretensioners and a lap-sash seatbelt for the well-shaped centre seat in the front, the Vito is well-equipped for both comfort and safety.
Importantly, we also found that the comfort is very good over a long period behind the wheel, not only because of the spacious interior but also because the seats are well-shaped for support and have plenty of adjustment so they can be positioned just right no matter what your size.
Ventilation is good and there are a few storage areas, including a large tray on top of the dash that could easily take a clipboard full of delivery dockets. The three front seats means there is no centre console and the handbrake is foot-operated (with a dash release).
Ergonomically, the biggest complaint is the Euro-friendly audio system, which has the volume/off button on the far side, requiring the driver to lean quite a way to adjust it, and the big A-pillar that impeded visibility.
Dynamically, you do not expect too much of a van, but the Vito 111CDI provides no excuses for keeping up with traffic – even on Targa-style roads, let alone around town.
The turbo-diesel engine provides plenty of pulling power (at least with no load) and the long wheelbase Vito was unfussed hustling around corners, with no tyre squeal and less lean than we expected.
We were also delighted with the degree of ride quality, which meant the Vito was unsettled by road irregularities and bumps. The Vito simply behaved perfectly on our winding, hilly drive.
Our only complaint was with the steering, which was light enough but felt a bit dull and vague, with lots of slack. Perhaps this is the norm for such a vehicle.
As you might expect, even with the engine loping along at 2150rpm at 100km/h, there was more road, engine and wind noise entering that big cabin than you would expect in a sedan, but it was less than we expected in a van.
Shifting with the six-speed manual gearbox was very direct and light while the location of the gearknob right next to your left knee and the steering wheel made it a pleasure to use. The clutch was heavier than a sedan, but would not be a problem for any driver.
We also tried out the five-speed automatic and, like the manual, it is delightful to use, requiring a short movement of the hand to flick it into manual mode if the need arises – though it should be said that the Vito always seemed to be in the right gear when left in full auto mode.
The auto shift quality is excellent, with suitably gentle changes rather than sharp, sporty ones.
Standard electronic stability control is an excellent feature of the Vito and it generally worked a treat, although some particularly harsh corrugated dirt roads seemed to torture the system, causing it to almost shut down the power completely.
Out back, the load area has a nice grippy surface and the sliding doors – commendably, one on each side – are very light and slide smoothly.
Overall, we were very impressed with the car-like nature and ease of driving the Mercedes-Benz Vito, not to mention its ability to hustle along when asked. No doubt it will please a lot of professional van drivers, but even non-commercial drivers would have little trouble stepping into one if required.
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