The 2015 Mercedes-Benz Vito van range builds upon the existing model’s strong reputation for quality engineering, but adds extra safety – and extra cost to the customer across most models in the range…
The new-generation Vito features what Mercedes-Benz claims is the most high-tech electronic stability control system fitted to any van in the world. Indeed, the company has gone as far as to suggest the new model is the safest van in the world.
That is despite the fact the brand isn’t offering competitive levels of some safety equipment when you stack it up against its rivals.
For example, the Ford Transit Custom has six airbags as standard, including side and curtain protection, as well as dual front airbags. Mercedes-Benz offers two airbags as standard on the Vito, but you can option side protection ($700) and curtain airbags ($790).
Further, there’s no standard reverse-view camera (which you can get in a Toyota HiAce, no matter what specification you choose) but buyers can option it individually at $900 or as part of a pack. Parking sensors aren’t standard, either, but you can get them on all Renault Trafic models at no cost. Instead, Mercedes-Benz asks buyers to pay either $1230 for the Active Parking Assist system (which can semi-automatically park the van for you - which is pretty cool!) or choose the Parking Package which adds a reverse-view camera, sensors and the Active Parking semi-automated parking system for $1700.
However, Mercedes-Benz claims that it offers electronic aids that no competitors do. Examples include a driver drowsiness detection system that monitors driver inputs and runs algorithms based on the amount of time behind the wheel and the time of day to judge if the driver needs a break.
The electronic stability system – ESP9i – is said to offer 15 different measures in which it can help drivers reach their destination more safely. These include: Crosswind Assist, which can brake individual wheels to offset wind gusts affecting the line taken by the driver; Load Adaptive Control, which senses how much weight you have on board and adjusts the ferocity of intervention; rollover mitigation; and Enhanced Understeering Control, which limits the van from pushing straight during cornering.
The option of a collision prevention system with auto braking, blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping assistance are all worthy of accolade.
Still, the short story is that there’s plenty of safety, but you have to pay for it. Another way it could be seen is that it’s software safe, but hardware short.
Enough about the safety – how does the new model drive?
During our limited time behind the wheel of the new Vito range we sampled the entry-level 111CDI manual variant, and the flagship 119BlueTEC automatic version.
The 111CDI is the only Euro 5-compliant engine in the line-up, leaving it lagging behind the Euro 6 engines fitted to the rest of the range. That means it misses out on engine stop-start, and it doesn’t use AdBlue to reduce its emissions, either.
However, it’s a vital model for the brand – it’s the entry point, firstly, and at $36,990 driveaway the company claims it has already seen plenty of interest. It's also the first front-wheel drive Vito offered in Australia.
For those in the market for an entry-level van, here are some other base model prices based on promotions at the time of writing: Renault Trafic ($32,990 driveaway); LDV G10 ($29,990 driveaway); Volkswagen Transporter Runner ($32,990 driveaway).
The 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine in the 111CDI produces a lowly 84kW of power and 270Nm of torque, but that’s still more than you get in the base model Renault Trafic (66kW/260Nm) or the entry-level VW Transporter (75kW/250Nm). The LDV has heaps more grunt from its turbo petrol engine (165kW/330Nm).
Still, it isn’t the liveliest of engines, particularly when you’re taking off from a standstill – there were a few grumbles from the assembled media about stalling – but no such complaints about the fact the base model sends its grunt to the front wheels, though there’s a discernible difference between the feel of the steering between the front- and rear-drive versions.
At higher speeds, in third or fourth gear, there’s decent in-gear acceleration, but fifth and sixth cogs are best left for highway duties only. The shift action itself is quite slinky, and likewise the clutch has a user-friendly amount of weight to it.
There’s no shifting required in the top-spec 119BlueTEC, with the 2.2-litre four-cylinder engine paired exclusively to a seven-speed automatic gearbox with paddleshifters.
It, along with the 116BlueTEC and 114BlueTEC models that bridge the gulf to the 111CDI, are rear-wheel drive, and there’s certainly a lot more pep in the 119 model with its 140kW of power and 440Nm of torque.
There’s a hint of lag down low, but the engine’s response is brisk from about 1500rpm, and in greasy conditions you’ll see the traction control signal light up on the dash, such is the torque on offer.
The seven-speed automatic was hard to fault, with smooth, decisive shifts under both light and heavy throttle application.
Both vans were unladen for our test loop, which is somewhat disappointing as it would have been great to see what the 111CDI feels like with a load on board (it’s the one with the highest payload of the entire Vito range, at 1285 kilograms).
That said, both vans coped very well without any ballast in the rear, with a quality ride over some of Sydney’s worst arterial roads. The steering of the Vito impressed, too – it is adequately responsive at high speed and light and easy to use when parking or performing u-turns.
What the Vito can’t deliver on, however, is a peaceful workspace. There’s no standard bulkhead – buyers need to purchase that for an extra $1290 – and the level of noise intrusion is excessive. You can even hear fuel sloshing around in the tank.
And while there are optional glazed side sliding doors that would improve outward vision for the driver even further, this isn’t the hardest van to see out of, courtesy of its large wing mirrors and broad rear windshield pane.
Swapping between the 111CDI and the 119BlueTEC may have been a “wow!” moment in terms of performance, but not so when it comes to differences inside the cabin. That’s because there are hardly any.
Indeed, the cockpit feels very basic inside, with a plastic steering wheel as standard, along with a plastic gearknob and hard-wearing plastics on the doors and dash.
Still, the presentation is top notch, with a logical layout to all the controls, so long as you remember there’s no handbrake – it’s a foot-operated park brake – and that the automatic gear selector is a stalk on the steering column.
There are commendable levels of storage on offer, too, with two small cupholders on top of the dash, plus three storage bins that are suited to hold folders of files or papers. The door pockets are large, and include bottle holders, and there’s a large centre tray at the bottom of the centre stack (but no centre bin between the seats).
While our test loop was hardly what you’d describe as a life in the day of a courier van driver, we noticed that the seat comfort was somewhat lacking. There is height adjustment, as well as sliding and backrest adjustment, but the pitch of the squab isn’t perfect, and nor is the length of the seat base, particularly for taller drivers who prefer extra under-thigh support. Further, accessing the backrest dial adjuster proved difficult.
The media system is fine, but not exceptional. It isn’t a touchscreen, has fairly average quality graphics, and while it is easy enough to use, the fact there’s no navigation or camera link to this system as standard on any variant is disappointing. The benchmark in this class remains the Renault R-Link unit in the new Trafic.
At the business end, both our short-wheelbase test vehicles were equipped with six low-mounted tie-down points (you get eight in the LWB models), and as standard the cargo area features ply panelling on the lower side sections and doors, but not up high. There’s a spare wheel that eats in to the load space, too.
Owners may be happy to learn that Mercedes-Benz Australia has moved away from the existing condition-based servicing program for the Vito. Instead, there are set intervals of 12 months or 25,000km, which is likely to be better suited to business owners who need to know when their van(s) will be out of action. Further, there are various service plans that can be paid off from as little as $10 per week.
The new-generation Mercedes-Benz Vito may be technologically safer than ever before, but following our first drive of the new model it seems clear the German maker hasn’t moved the game on in the highly competitive mid-sized van segment.
Without testing the van with a load on board, it’s hard to give an accurate assessment of its true capabilities – as such, we look forward to getting it through the garage to put it through some more rigorous testing.