In an automotive landscape dominated by SUVs as the first choice for a family car, you could argue that something like a van could be seen as old hat. After my time with the Mercedes-Benz V250d, I saw the van as something different: a trend-bucking, alternative kind of anti-hero.
Why not buy a van instead of an SUV? We all know that 99 per cent of family SUVs barely see a skerrick of anything demanding off-road ability, but people like them because they have a high riding position, good visibility, and space for people and gear.
I put it to you, dear reader, that your most important needs of family transportation will be better met by something like this – an unashamed van. Its riding position is high, there is acres of space inside, and it’s plenty comfortable. It’s not trying to be anything other than what it is: 100 per cent people mover.
If you’re going to be stuck with a van, you could do a lot worse than this V250d. Fresh from a mild facelift, our 2019 Mercedes-Benz V250d Avantgarde has a high starting price of $93,799. The range starts with a less powerful and lower-specification V220d for $79,627.
Standard kit for our 250d includes: Lugarno leather interior, accommodation for seven, 640-watt Burmester sound system, electric and heated front seats with adjustable lumbar support, velour floor mats, rear parcel shelf with integrated shopping crates, RHS and LHS electric sliding doors, automatic tailgate, privacy glass and 18-inch alloy wheels.
There’s also active parking assist, a 360-degree camera system, tyre pressure monitoring system, and autonomous emergency braking as standard parts of the safety picture.
While we’re on the subject of safety, the Mercedes V-Class has a five-star ANCAP safety rating from 2014.
Our V250d has been augmented, most noticeably with the AMG Line pack worth $4500 that gives you a bodykit, 19-inch twin-spoke alloys (in black, of course), blacked-out interior, stainless steel sports pedals, carbon-look dashboard, lowered sports suspension and AMG floor mats. This ain't no cookie-cutting family hauler.
You’ll find a small refrigerated compartment in the centre console, as well as heated/cooled cupholders for the second row. Those aren’t standard, and will cost you a cool (sorry) $4556 for the box to be ticked.
When combined with the black metallic paint ($1614) and eight-seat set-up inside ($1750), you’re looking at an asking price of $106,219, including the luxury car tax but before on-road costs.
Step over the illuminated aluminium tread plates and you’ll find yourself in a well-presented interior. The curved carbon-fibre-look dashboard is accented by mood lighting and blingy air vents. Benz-style seat controls on the doors, as well as the Burmester speaker covers, add a real flash of premium to the cabin.
Air-conditioning is handled by a simple row of toggles above your infotainment display controls. It’s mostly done via the rotary dial below, or the touchpad if you’re more game and/or accurate than I am. It can be tricky to master.
It’s an older infotainment system – not Mercedes’s latest ‘MBUX’ set-up that is in other models. Those who saw me shouting 'HEY MERCEDES’ at the dashboard in traffic would probably think I’ve lost my marbles. Other than that, and the fact that Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are both missing from this older system, it works alright. There’s native navigation accounted for, as well as digital radio.
The multifunction display in between the two big dials in your instrument binnacle is of a good size and quality, letting you flick through plenty of information via the steering wheel controls.
Like most other vans and semi-commercial vehicles, the Mercedes V-Class does a sterling job of supplying in-cabin storage. Along with the fridge, the centre console is generously sized. There are a couple of USB points in there, as well.
The extra air-conditioning controls on the roof for those in the second row are a nice touch, as are the 12V and USB ports.
The boot has a big, carpeted divider that gives you two tiers of storage, which makes this tall and wide space more useful than if it weren’t there. Call me boring, but this divider hides my favourite feature of this vehicle. Pull the handle and you’ll uncover two collapsible plastic crates. They're perfect for loading your groceries or other stuff into, without worrying about them rolling under seats and on the floor. Awesome.
The seat rail system, similar to the Volkswagen Multivan, lets you slide the seat rows forward and backward as far as you desire, or remove them completely. And because the seatbelt system is built into the seats, it leaves a clean and empty floor. This is for if you want to move house, or throw down a mattress for some camping.
The seats fold downward into a flat base, as well, and their hard backs thoughtfully line up with that big divider in the boot.
The passenger-side second-row seat trundles forward for easy and spacious access to the third row, so no need for hunching and squeezing when getting into the back. The two passenger-side back seats don’t have ISOFIX points, but the other four do. All six have top-tether points.
You’re also not short-changed in terms of accommodation or facilities if you do end up in the third row. There are air vents in the roof, 12V plugs, cupholders, big windows to look out of, and plenty of space to stretch out.
There isn’t a listed number to quote in regards to how big the boot is in the V-Class. Because any of the rear seats are easily removed (thanks to the smart track system in the floor), you can effectively make it as big or as little as you need. Even with room for eight, I found there was enough room in the back for a big two-berth pram and a big load of shopping.
The 2.1 litres of turbo diesel under the bonnet might not sound like much, but the power plant does an admirable job of shifting this big black unit along with purpose and refinement. Its 140kW at 3800rpm is respectable, but the 440Nm between 1400 and 2400rpm is where the real benefit is. Running through a seven-speed automatic gearbox, there’s enough push there for most scenarios; the torque band lets the engine pump along at low revs nine times out of 10. It leaves the driveline feeling unstressed, and despite being an oiler, it’s smooth and refined.
There is a firmness in the ride, owing to the 3100kg gross vehicle mass the V250 has. That’s only a couple of hundred kilograms less than a 79 Series LandCruiser, all of which you’ll need when loaded up with eight adults. It’s not harsh or overly firm, mind you, just not as nice as other vehicles that command such money. There’s no flash adaptive damping system under the V-Class, but the shock absorbers have a two-stage set-up that allows them to soak up smaller movements smoothly.
Steering is easy: light at low speeds, responsive and positively un-van-like at higher speeds. And although it’s a big unit (5140mm long), the square shape, good visibility and tight turning circle (11.8m) mean it’s easy to navigate tighter scenarios. And if things are really tight, the 360-degree camera is at the ready. Overall, the V250d is surprisingly engaging and enjoyable to pilot.
The V-Class sits on the highway without any hassle, and is comfortable enough in terms of interior and drive to pile on the long kilometres. The seating position is more van than car, with your feet falling flat onto the ground with an upright seating position. There is stacks of adjustability in the seat and steering wheel, however, and the seats have the right kind of support in the right places.
The warranty offering is the same as the rest of Mercedes, and on the skinny side when compared to mainstream players: three years and 200,000km. Service intervals come every one year or 25,000km, and can be covered by servicing packaging.
Three years (or 75,000km) of servicing costs as little as $3055 for the basic package, or up to $6571 for more comprehensive coverage.
Anyone this side of an upmarket airport transfer company probably doesn’t need the eight-seat capacity, and that $4500 mini-fridge is a bit of a rip-off in my books. Even without those options ticked, the price of the V-Class does discount it from most family buyers’ lists, which is a shame.
The higher end of the Volkswagen Multivan is one option worth cross-shopping against, although it might be lacking some of the specification and overall polish of the V-Class. Lower down the price bracket, the older Honda Odyssey and newer Toyota Granvia are worth a look, but the highly regarded Kia Carnival takes some serious beating in this segment.
You could argue that the V250d doesn’t compete with any of those, owing to the high level of pricing and specification on offer. Like I mentioned, the high pricing does hold it back from consideration. But as it stands, the V-Class is a fine vehicle, and quite adept at executing its main tasks with a flash of style.