Eight seats, a Mercedes-Benz badge and a starting price of $56,380 plus on-road costs — sounds good, right?
Say hello to the 2016 Mercedes-Benz Valente, launched in Australia last month. It’s ostensibly a people-carrying version of the Vito van, making it conceptually similar to the Hyundai iMax and soon-to-be-replaced Volkswagen Multivan.
What does this mean? It’s not the refined, car-like offering that the top-selling eight-seat Kia Carnival is. But, if you ask Mercedes-Benz, it also belies its working class underpinnings to offer higher levels of comfort than its natural rivals, and the previous-generation Valente to boot.
Keep in mind, though, that the opening price is $1790 higher than before, though it’s about on par with a mid-spec TDI400 Multivan ($56,990). The Valente also costs more than an upper-spec Carnival SLi diesel, just for context.
The first, and most basic, observation is that the Spanish-made Valente is big. Very big. At 5140mm long and with a 3200mm wheelbase, it has a bigger footprint than the Kia, or a long-wheelbase Range Rover.
The boxy, van interior affords huge levels of space, with three rows of seating in a 2+3+3 configuration (eight seats) as tested. All are trimmed in hard-wearing checkered cloth, not easy-clean leather.
The middle and final row seats are all the same in terms of width and bolstering, meaning the middle users are not duped.
Unlike some people-movers, the rearmost six seats all have their lap-sash seatbelts fitted to the top of the seat rather than the roof (which hinder visibility), and each gets adjustable headrests. There are also four ISOFIX anchors spread across the latter two rows.
Outboard middle-row occupants get plane-like folding armrests, while all eight seats can tilt backwards. No matter which of these seats you’re sitting in, headroom and legroom is vast.
Middle- and rear-row occupants also get roof-mounted air vents (though the rear temperature controls are operated by the driver), grab handles, map lights and a button to open/close the electric sliding side doors, fitted here but a $2490 option.
Downsides? The deep glass side windows may give occupants excellent outward visibility, but they are fixed, meaning no wind through the hair for anyone not up the very front. There’s also not a cupholder in sight in the middle row, or any storage for that matter beyond two flimsy netted map pockets.
Climbing into the third row is slightly more challenging than in something like the Carnival, or any number of family SUVs with three rows.
You can flip each middle-row seat-back down easily enough and clamber in — there’s actually a good opening — but if you want to slide this middle row forward on rails, you have to reach behind the right-hand seat, and pull up a heavy handle that moves all three laterally as one bench. Why not just have the familiar pull-up bars under the squab?
It’s not as user-friendly as the simple one-touch tilt-and-tumble systems we’ve seen elsewhere. Meanwhile, a lever under and behind the left-hand and middle seats can be pulled out and used to tumble each forward (the left seat as one, the middle and right-hand seats together, in a 33:66 fashion).
Once ensconced in the rearmost row, you’ll appreciate the vast levels of room on offer. These are not mere booster or spare seats for a rainy day, these are properly useable for three burly adults. There are also two bottle holders (finally), vents, map lights and grab handles. Speakers built into the sidewalls also give good sound back there.
The tilt, slide and tumble function of the third row works exactly the same as the middle row. Naturally, the further you slide this row forward, or fold flat/tumble it, the more luggage room you get. Even with eight seats full, there room for multiple big suitcases. Up to 3.6 cubic-metres.
That said, there’s nothing to stop smaller bags sliding around under the seats and into the main cabin, nor is access made easier by an electric tailgate. Again, for airport pickups and hotel valet services, it’s perfect. As a kid-carrier, less so.
The standard six airbags number, among their ranks, full-length curtains for all three rows as they should.
Up front, our test car came with the standard two-seat arrangement, though as the massive bit of carpet-laid open air between them indicates, you can pay an extra $690 and get a third pew fitted in between, making the Valente a nine-seater minibus.
As it stands, the open area deprives you of a closing centre console, something instead catered for by the large open cubby below the fascia, the three big areas atop the expansive dash and the two smaller areas that flank the audio system. The doors have three levels of storage areas, though the only two cup-holders are small ones atop the dash, good for a take-away coffee.
A common complaint is, there are not enough places to stow your stuff.
The Valente’s van origins are made clear by the infotainment system, which comprises a 5.8-inch screen (it’s not a touchscreen) operated by less intuitive dials, though the software is familiar Benz. Flanking this screen is a cluster of phone and audio buttons, while below are the climate controls, and — among others — two buttons to operate the electric sliding side doors from the front.
Standard features include a swanky Crosswind Assist system, part of the latest Mercedes-Benz ESC program, steering wheel buttons, cruise control, automatically dimming mirrors and USB/Aux/Bluetooth connectivity. Read our pricing and specification breakdown here.
Our test car was fitted with a number of options including a reverse-view camera ($900) and a fairly lo-fi Becker Map Pilot sat-nav unit ($900). The fact that these features, as well as parking sensors (bundled with an active parking assist system for $1700), are not included as standard is, we’ll be blunt, poor form.
Beyond the aforementioned camera, navigation and sensors, you can also option features such as an active collision prevention system, lane assist, blind-spot monitors, intelligent LED headlights, and active park assist.
Mercedes-Benz uses the tagline “safety comes standard” in its brochure for the Valente. You be the judge...
Luxury touches you can add include electric sets with memory, a leather steering wheel, black window tint, larger 17-inch alloy wheels and roof rails, though at that point you’ll be nudging close to the much more upmarket V-Class people-mover and its C-Class-like cabin layout.
You're also exceeding the cost of the absolutely loaded-to-the-gills and more comfortable Kia Carnival Platinum diesel ($59,990).
The Valente’s van roots manifest in the proliferation of hard-wearing but less-than-premium plastics across most contact points, including the (nice-looking, at least) steering wheel.
The foot-operated parking brake, and the ignition barrel mounted to the left of the wheel and high up (meaning any keyring you have slaps noisily against the dash) are ergonomic quibbles.
The typical Mercedes column-shifter gear stalk to the right of the wheel remains easy to confuse with the (left-mounted) indicator stalk. We changed into Neutral accidentally once after climbing immediately beforehand out of a car with the indicator stalk on the right-hand-side, which is downright dangerous.
Livening up affairs are the classy C-Class-like window switches on the doors, flanked by silver inserts, and the modern (albeit black-and-white) instrument screen ahead of the driver with a digital speedo, a drowsiness warning system and all manner of trip data.
As you might expect, the Valente offers a commanding driving position that shades many SUVs. Ample seat and steering wheel (reach/rake) adjustability mean anybody can get comfortable swiftly.
Belying its origins, the Valente is actually quite refined, with highway wind and tyre noise only a few Db shy of a conventional car or SUV-based people-carrier. It also feels stable and planted at highway speeds - no surprise given it has to contend with German Autobahns and the like.
Mercedes has also done a good job at reducing any overt tendencies for the commercial-based car to bob about on the straight-ahead, or amplify bumps in the road when unladen.
The damping also gives the Valente the ability to iron out harsher bumps and ruts pretty well. The ride is actually pretty plush for this type of vehicle, while the large 16-inch wheels on fairly high-profile tyres (there’s also a full-size steel spare) help stave off brittleness.
The electric-assisted steering is exceptionally light, which makes the Valente a doddle to drive around in urban environs. There’s little loading-up at speed, or feel through the wheel, but you’ll be enjoying the sensation of sitting almost over the wheels, and up nice and high, to care overmuch. The decent 11.8-metre turning circle helps ease parking.
Under the bonnet is a 2.1-litre turbo-diesel engine only (dubbed the 116BlueTec, but don’t let that poxy number fool you). With 120kW at 3800rpm and 380Nm from about 1400rpm, there’s plenty of low-down grunt, and sufficient refinement (it’s a little gruff, but not overly so).
This engine is matched to a 7G seven-speed automatic that is so intuitive you scarcely notice it’s there. Torque is sent to the rear wheels. Towing capacity is up to 2500kg with the right towing package ($200 extra) or two-tonnes without, while gross vehicle mass is 3050kg (given the unladed weight is 2260kg, you can have about 800kg of stuff on board).
You'll see many of these lugging about an enclosed trailer for people's suitcases, we'll vouch.
Fuel economy is a claimed 6.3 litres per 100km on the combined-cycle, naturally prone to climbing when you’ve got a whole crew on board. Our combined route yielded a figure hovering in the high 7s, which is pretty fantastic.
In terms of ownership, you get a three-year/100,000km warranty, and service intervals (not capped-price) are a long 12-months or 25,000km. The cheaper ($43,990) iMax diesel is going to be cheaper to own and operate, if you’re a business (or private) buyer.
Where does the Mercedes-Benz Valente fit? It’s not the comparatively cosseting and kid-friendly offering that the Carnival or Honda Odyssey is. But it does offer vastly more space inside than either of these, and any large family SUV you’d care to name.
As a somewhat upmarket and refined, van-like people hauler, it does the job well. Only that value equation is questionable, especially since it compromises active safety. The inevitable test against the new-generation Volkswagen Multivan around that car’s launch in November should prove very interesting indeed.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.