The introduction of front-wheel drive should see the three pointed star shine its light across a wider spectrum of the mid-sized sector. James Dallas takes a look
Mercedes-Benz is confident the introduction of front-wheel drive to its new generation Vito, which arrives in the UK in the first quarter of 2015, will enable it to compete on a broader front in the medium van segment.
The manufacturer has not yet released prices or specifications for the new model in the UK but domestic boss Steve Bridge says the FWD version will establish a lower entry point price than the current £17,855 for the 110 CDi Compact panel van as well as delivering fuel savings of up to 20%, thus reducing the cost of ownership.
“FWD gives us access into the price sensitive part of the market,” says Bridge.
Gross vehicle weights will range from 2.5 to 3.2-tonnes and in Germany prices are expected to start from 17,990 Euros (£14,227 ex-VAT) for the FWD 109 CDi panel van. However, the lower rated power units of the two turbo diesel engines offered are not yet confirmed for the UK.
Mercedes has produced a four-wheel drive derivative of the new Vito but this will not be coming to the UK despite Bridge admitting it would be likely to find interested customers.
Although the manufacturer markets a 4x4 version of the larger Sprinter in right-hand drive it says the costs of converting the Vito into the UK specification is too high due to the position of the steering column.
Product manager John Reed explains: “The steering is in the way for RHD, so the development cost is prohibitive.”
The Vito will be up for grabs in three bodystyles – panel van, crew van and passenger carrying Tourer, the last of which will come in three specifications, Base, Select and Professional. Bridge says the van will come with the choice of at least two trim levels.
He hedged his bets when it came to predicting the best seller, saying: “The market finds its own level,” but confirmed that Sport and Sport X flagship models would be added to the line-up after launch.
Bridge claims FWD Vitos will offer an increase of up to 120kg over RWD vans on payload with the core 2.8 and 3.0-tonne versions providing load weight capacities of 1000kg and 1289kg respectively. The maximum payload for the line-up will be 1369kg. The VW Transporter offers payloads from 752 to 1259kg while the Ford Transit Custom quotes a wide choice from 704kg to 1507kg.
With the extended model line-up due to the introduction of FWD, Bridge considers all other vans in the medium-sized sector as fair game for the Vito to poach customers from.
“It’s silly to narrow it [the competition] down,” he says.
Bridge believes the three pointed star brand’s LCV retail network, aligned as it is with the heavier commercials, gives it an advantage over rivals.
There are now 75 sales and 116 aftersales outlets, 90% of which, according to Bridge, offer 24 hour opening, thus extending operational “uptime” as he puts it.
He claims 70% of the network are going through the Van Procenter dealer excellence programme, which Mercedes launched in May, and says all dealerships will be enrolled in the scheme by the end of the year.
A key function of the initiative is to direct customers towards the vans that best match their needs. The Vito will be available in three lengths but without a high roof, for example, so dealers should direct customers towards the high roof Sprinter, Bridge suggests.
So far as an electric version of the new Vito goes, Bridge says “an infrastructure related issue” continues to muddy the waters. Basically there remains a dearth of plug-in charging points and he questions the viability of marketing a vehicle if “all we’re doing is ticking a CO2 box”, rather than boosting productivity.
On the other hand, he says Mercedes is capable of supplying zero emission taxis to London by 2018 as is the current mayoral requirement, although he questions whether cab drivers will be willing to stump up the costs for them, which could amount to £500 a week, he claims.
The new Vito is offered with 1.6 and 2.1 diesel engines. The 116 Blue Efficiency is the most economical engine, achieving an official 49.6mpg on the combined cycle.
Power outputs start from 88hp (not confirmed for the UK) and move on to 114hp, 136hp, 163hp and peak at 190hp.
Six-speed manual transmission is standard on lower powered models and the 7G-Tronic Plus automatic transmission is an option on the 114 CDI and 116 CDI and standard on the 119 Bluetec and AWD derivatives.
Mercedes says the new Vito will benefit from long service intervals of two years or 24,000 miles.
Safety is a key selling point on the new Vito and standard Adaptive ESP brings with it a package called Attention Assist that aims to protect drivers against fatigue on long journeys and is active at speeds of between 50 and 110mph. Crosswind Assist, which was introduced on the Sprinter to guard against sudden gusts of wind, is also a standard fit as is a tyre pressure monitoring system.