First Drive: Mercedes-Benz Vito

Date: Thursday, May 28, 2015   |  

In what has been the busiest of sectors in recent times, it’s the turn of mercedes-Benz to have the newest model in the medium van marketplace with the arrival of the new Vito.

On sale to coincide with the 2015 Commercial Vehicle Show last month, the new Vito supersedes the Vauxhall Vivaro and Renault Trafic as the new kid on the block, and will need to be on form to beat those two models, plus the excellent and top-selling Ford Transit Custom. and that’s without mentioning the lurking new Volkswagen Transporter-shaped shadow.

The Vito has always underperformed in volume terms against its Sprinter big brother that is second only to the Transit in its class. By comparison, the Vito is a distant fifth in class, registering 4859 units last year versus 33,516 Transit Customs, 19,364 Vivaros and 17,360 Transporters. Even the fourth- placed Trafic passed the 9000 mark, leaving a big gap to make up if mercedes is to fulfil its desire to be the UK’s number two van brand behind the all- dominant Ford.

Mercedes is hoping bigger fleets will be more interested in adopting the new Vito.

Unlike with the larger Sprinter, fleet is an area in which mercedes feels it is underrepresented when compared with retail sales.

The more diverse range of alternatives will help, as for the first time the Vito is coming
in front- or rear-wheel drive alternatives. The smaller 88hp and 114hp 1.6-litre engines, branded 109 CDI and 111 CDI, are front-wheel drive and come only with a six-speed manual gearbox, while stepping up to the 2.1-litre engine moves the power to the rear wheels with a choice of 136hp, 163hp or 190hp, the latter available only with the seven-speed automatic that’s optional on the other rear- drive models. These are badged 114 Bluetec, 116 Bluetec and 119 Bluetec respectively.

The bad news is that the 1.6 doesn’t meet the forthcoming Euro6 emissions standards that diesels will be required to adhere to by September next year, which means new engines will be introduced in the next 12 months or so. Euro5 engines will incur additional charges to drive into London from 2020, with other punitive measures likely to help deal with local air pollution.

With the exception of the top-spec model, which carries a £3315 premium over the one below it thanks to the addition of the automatic gearbox, each Vito engine option involves a £1325 price step up from the one below (all prices exclude VAT). It’s a nice touch that there’s not an increased premium for going from front to rear drive.

There is only one trim level of Vito, which is a shame because it means all vehicles get the grey bumpers as standard, when the £295 optional body-coloured ones give the van a real lift.

The variety of body styles includes three lengths, just the one roof height, and panel van, crew van and passenger Tourer alternatives. The step from compact to the long, driven here, is just £355, with another £475 required to go up to the extra-long Vito.

A second row of seats for the crew van increases the price by £1535 on the same length of panel van, while the eight-seat Tourer starts at £2720 above the crew van.

Hopping behind the wheel of the new Vito, and the first conclusion is that the dash is fairly stylish and well put- together, but maybe lacking some of the car-like features and look Ford has managed with the Transit Custom. The same is true when you start looking at areas of functionality. There’s no clever load-through hatch from the bulkhead that helps accommodate lengthy cargo, like you’d see in the Custom, Vauxhall Vivaro and Renault Trafic, and likewise Mercedes hasn’t taken on board items such as the blind-spot mirror pioneered by Renault and GM.

It’s fair to say the cabin is an improvement over the previous Vito, but there’s a feeling that mercedes has concentrated on making what previously existed better, rather than examining what Ford did when it launched the Transit Custom and using that as a benchmark and target. The centre console doesn’t look like a premium product, and while there’s nothing wrong with it, there’s the impression it was built to a budget with some cheap, hard plastics evident. The optional satnav system is also unnecessarily complicated, and an aftermarket or phone- based alternative would be less stressful.
Interior functionality is another area where this feeling prevails because there’s not the same level of adaptability. Renault and Vauxhall appeared to work particularly hard on the interior environment to make it as easy as possible for users to turn the cabin into a workspace. Calling it a mobile office was pushing the point a little, but in everything from oddment storage to comfortable places to complete paperwork, the Vito is behind its rivals. There’s nothing wrong with a solidly built, good- quality interior, but there’s not the level of innovation, cleverness or ‘wow factor’ others have managed to inject into their light commercials. Equipment levels are reasonable, though, with every Vito having cruise control with speed limiter, trip computer, Bluetooth and inputs for USB, aux and SD memory card.

Although the Vito has a three-seat cabin, the middle seat is devoid of legroom thanks to the intrusion from both the transmission tunnel at floor height and the gear lever at knee height. Three adults in the cabin is not an option, but it’s perfectly comfortable for two, the seats have a welcoming feel, while the driving position is good.

Where Mercedes does, however, excel, and genuinely leads the industry, is safety. Like the Sprinter, the new Vito gets the industry-first crosswind assist, which joins attention assist, driver and passenger airbags, hill- start assist, adaptive ESP anti-skid control, tyre pressure monitoring system and the innovative Rescue assist QR codes in the door pillars that help emergency services identify where to cut the vehicle to extract occupants in the event of a serious incident.

On the road, the Vito is impressive, with the rear-drive 136hp 114 CDI model driven here pulling strongly despite tugging around a half-load. There was certainly a clear difference in performance between this model and the 88hp 109 CDI we also sampled,and for any kind of mileage
the more powerful option is most preferable. Refinement is fine, and the solid feel to
the gearshift is a mercedes characteristic that’s thankfully carried over, while the Vito is a tidy-handling machine that will give anything in the class a run for its money on twistier roads or a long motorway slog. Front- or rear-wheel drive are both composed and without criticism.

Compared with the equivalent Transit Custom (LWB 290 125 Trend low-roof) and Vivaro (LWB 2900 L2H1 1.6 Bi-turbo 140) models, the Vito looks like a good deal. Despite being the only rear- wheel drive van of the three, it’s actually cheaper than either rival, although the 870kg payload is 172kg behind the Ford and a huge 400kg off the Vauxhall. Top payload for the Vito range comes at 1255kg, which is only good enough for fifth-best in class. Load space matches the Vivaro at 6.0m3, but the Ford can offer an extra 0.8m3, and the Vito is both shorter and lower than its two competitors. Efficiency for this model sits at 44.1mpg, beating the Ford’s 40.4mpg but losing out to the Vivaro’s 46.3mpg despite the Vauxhall being the most powerful of the three.
The economy champions of the range are, maybe surprisingly, the most powerful engines, with the 116 and 119 Bluetec models both returning an official 47.1mpg, just off the class best of the Vivaro and Renault Trafic at 47.9mpg.

The van version’s standard twin rear doors can be opened back to 180 degrees, or locked in place at 90 degrees, and the van can also be specced as a no-cost option with the tailgate that’s standard on crew and Tourer models. Twin sliding side doors are also standard, as is a full bulkhead.

Mercedes has kept its flexible servicing pricing at the same level as that of the outgoing Vito, which is £8.83 per month for 36 months to cover the first three services. The company also offers 30-year free roadside assistance cover, and claims to arrive within an average 58 minutes to fix 83% of vehicles at the roadside.

The Vito is a very capable and well-rounded van without significant weakness, but the trouble is that Mercedes doesn’t seem to have taken into account the strides in innovation, usability, quality and all-round cleverness that others have made, and as a result you’re left with a very competent, good quality van missing some of the ability and character of rivals.

 

Verdict

Thoroughly competent and appealing van but lacks a touch of finesses and innovation against the class best.

 

 

 

 

 



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