If you need to move a tribe in style, few vans command the respect focused on the 2018 Mercedes-Benz V250d Avantgarde. Our pick of the people-moving bunch, the Kia Carnival, sets the all-round (affordable) standard, but if a higher sense of luxury is required – not to mention hard to measure badge cred – then the V250d is where buyers need to head.
Keep in mind that while the V250d wears a luxury brand’s badge and is styled to match, it is in fact underpinned by the spine of a commercial vehicle. As such, it’s not as obviously luxurious as you might expect in some areas – ride for example. We’ll get to that shortly, though.
The V250d is powered by a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine that generates 140kW and a chunky 440Nm. Peak torque is available between 1400rpm and 3800rpm. The punchy oiler is backed by a 7G-TRONIC seven-speed auto. The V-Class is, of course, rear-wheel drive.
Pricing starts from a not-inconsiderable $88,800 before on-road costs – the V-Class is significantly more expensive than many other conventional people-mover options. The most expensive diesel Carnival, for example, the 2.2 Platinum, starts from $62,790 before on-road costs, making it a whopping 26 grand less. That’s why I make the point that if you’re on a stricter budget, you won’t even look at this end of the van segment. But, whereas the Carnival is pegged fairly at the family buyer, the V250d is aimed more at the professional driver whose vans work for a living.
Standard-equipment highlights include: electric front seats with lumbar support, seating for eight, front and rear parking sensors, Distance Pilot, blind-spot assist, lane-keep assist, heated exterior mirrors, COMAND online system, DAB+ radio, Garmin satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone connection, Burmester surround-sound system, black leather upholstery, electric sliding doors, electric tailgate and chrome interior appointments.
Optional equipment on our test V250d includes: metallic paint, a panoramic sliding roof, AMG-Line kit, and an anti-theft protection pack, which takes the price of this test vehicle up to $93,817 before on-road costs.
First up, the driver’s cabin – a factor that is easy to overlook when you’re more focused on being the passenger. Buyers might, in fact, be most concerned with this area, especially if they are an owner/driver – maybe not so much if you’re paying someone else to drive for you. Still, the driver in these kinds of vans spends a lot of time behind the wheel, so comfort, practicality and amenity are all vital.
Firstly, the seating position is excellent – upright in a more traditional sense, but not uncomfortable, with exceptional forward visibility as you’d expect of the high-riding seating position. The commanding view up above the rest of the traffic flow makes positioning and manoeuvring what is a large vehicle genuinely easy. To that end, I never once felt like the V250 was anywhere near as big as it is from behind the wheel. It tends to shrink around you somewhat, and hides its heft well.
There’s broad rear side and rear three-quarter visibility too, which makes reverse parking and reversing into driveways et cetera nice and easy as well. In short, you never really feel like you’re trying to move a big land barge around when you’re behind the wheel of the V250d. Given how often you see one of these threading down a tight city lane, into or out of a clogged airport, or onto a hotel forecourt, the slightly narrower than expected footprint is more than handy.
The seats themselves are comfortable with clever armrests, and the driver’s gauge display is likewise well laid out and easy to decipher. The same goes for the passenger seat up front, in terms of comfort and visibility. I like the way the armrests are useful when folded down (many aren’t) and completely out of your way when folded up.
The Bluetooth connection is excellent and worked solidly for us at all times. Once connected, the phone paired back up quickly hopping back into the V250, and there were no issues with call quality or any of the basic phone functionality once that initial pairing was made.
The proprietary satellite navigation also worked well over the duration of our test period. The visibility of the mapping display itself is near perfect, but it’s also easy to add destinations and stop points, and clear the destination if you want to as well.
General storage in the driver’s compartment is well catered for with a slew of cup and bottle holders, proper door pockets and hidey-holes for smaller items like phones, wallets and keys. While there’s obviously an emphasis on passenger space and comfort, this is very much a sensible, functional, working people mover. While it’s always hard to define exactly what ‘premium’ is – it’s different things to different people – there’s a genuine feeling of quality when you’re up front in the V250.
Into the passenger area, and all three rows are near perfect in terms of all-round room, comfort and visibility. In fact, you feel the same high-riding sense of visibility from the second and third rows as you do up front, ensuring passengers never feel like they’re buried in a cave. Some vans can’t quite deliver that open, airy sense, but the V250d does it with aplomb. There is no doubt whatsoever that this is a proper, multi-people-mover built to tackle that specific task with ease.
Entering and exiting the second and third rows is easy too – none of that ungainly physical origami we see with some third-row seating especially. We spend a fair bit of time being ferried around in V-Class vans in Europe, and I can attest that it's comfortable back there too, even after a few hours on the road. While these vans are mainly used for short trips, they will occasionally be called into longer road-trip service, and that’s an important factor.
You can slide and tilt the seats to get them where you want them, which makes accommodating taller drivers easy, or for that matter liberating a little more luggage space behind the third row.
On that note, I love the fact that the V250 has useful and flexible storage behind that aforementioned third row. It’s not uncommon for the third row to thieve chunks of luggage space, but remember this is a working van underneath, and therefore the long wheelbase provides for both comfort and space.
The two tiers of stacked storage makes the most of the space, and there’s ample room for loading numerous large suitcases into the back section. The collapsible plastic ‘trays’ keep smaller items from sliding around when you bring them into play too – a very clever addition. I do see myself using the top shelf a lot for luggage storage, especially lighter items, while heavier cases are easy to store down low. If you use this van as a work commuter, the high-lifting door and smart storage will be extremely useful for you.
What might surprise you the most about the V250d is the engine – not so much the punchy power delivery of it given it’s a diesel, but the smooth and effortless way it gets down to business. It’s a hell of a lot more refined than you might expect, and properly enjoyable to use day to day too.
The engine, whichever way you cut it, and no matter what you might have been expecting, is a cracker. The V250d is actually brilliant to drive in the real world because of it, rather than in spite of it. The gearbox is beautifully paired to it too, shifting up and down smoothly and precisely. Vans have no right being this refined and fun.
Like any good diesel, the highlight is that effortless wave of mid-range punch, making the whole driving experience feel so easy and completely unfussed. Even when you’re loaded up with people and you need to roll-on overtake, for example, the V250d just punches hard and keeps accelerating. It’s a definitive point of difference from vans of old, no matter the manufacturer, that were more tortoise than hare. Chugging along, almost going backwards uphill, emitting clouds of diesel smoke – all things of the past.
I’d wager that the V250d will feel a hell of a lot more car-like than you might have expected. It even surprised me, and I went in knowing that this driveline had the potential to impress. It rarely feels like a van at all, and almost never like a commercial vehicle, which is exactly what it is under the skin.
The ride is also impressive, either unladen or loaded up, despite the 18-inch wheels. They are wrapped in 245/45R18 rubber, which is more sporty in both width and profile than it is commercial. Despite this lack of balloon on the sidewall, the V250d never crashes through sharp-edged potholes or ruts.
Our average fuel use during the week of testing was 9.2L/100km around town and 7.8L/100km at 110km/h on the freeway. Those numbers sit against an ADR claim in the mid sixes, so the V-Class won't cost an arm and a leg to keep running day to day.
The V250 gets a full suite of electronic safety equipment, as well as a three-year/200,000km warranty. There’s also a 24-hour roadside-assist support package.
So, the question then is whether the V250d is worth the hefty price of entry against capable competitors with much sharper pricing? Certainly, if you’re a family buyer, or you’re on a budget, you aren’t even looking at this end of the pricing spectrum. If you are, however, a professional driver or a business that needs to ferry people around in style and class, the V250d has few, if any, peers. The fact it’s such a fun thing to drive is an unexpected bonus.