If there can be such a thing as a workhorse with a pedigree, Mercedes' revitalised mid-sized Vito van is surely it, as Jonathan Crouch reports.
The Mercedes Vito van has been revitalised by a mid-term update that's delivered the brand's latest OM 654-series 2.0-litre diesel engine and (for Vito Tourer bus operators) the option of all-electric power too. There's also a light visual update, improvements to safety kit and even a clever new digital rear view mirror option. As before, there's a choice of front or rear-driven drive configurations and very class-competitive load capacity and payload stats. As a result, Stuttgart's medium-sized LCV contender looks better equipped than ever to take the fight to an increasingly impressive array of Volkswagen Transporter and Vauxhall Vivaro-sized rivals.
One of the things you learn early on in business is that the cheapest options aren't always the best ones. And that the way you deliver your goods says plenty about them. Both things explain the appeal of the Mercedes-Benz of medium range vans, this model, the Vito, which slots in just below the larger Sprinter model in the German brand's LCV range. Well over a million examples have been sold since its original launch in 1996 but in a tougher, more eco-conscious commercial market, this design now needs more than just badge and build quality to stave off competition from less prestigiously badged but arguably more complete rivals. Hence the improved Vito model we're looking at here, smarter, better to drive and crucially, less costly to run.
All of which it will need to deliver if it is to be a credible alternative to tough rivals as diverse as the Renault Trafic / Nissan NV 300 / Fiat Talento design, the Peugeot Expert / Vauxhall Vivaro / Toyota Proace / Citroen Dispatch collaboration, the Volkswagen Transporter and of course the ubiquitous Ford Transit Custom. All these alternatives claim to match this Vito's all-round excellence for less money, but Mercedes reckons that it won't take operators very long behind the wheel to appreciate the difference that the Three-Pointed Star can make.
The big news with this improved version of the third generation Vito range is the availability for van variants of the more advanced 'OM 654'-series 2.0-litre diesel engine familiar from the Mercedes passenger car range. Things kick off with a 110 CDI front driven variant, which uses this unit in 102hp guise. Most Vito buyers though, go for the mid-range 114 CDI 136hp model, which offers the choice of either front or rear wheel drive formats. Next up is the rear-driven 116 CDI model with 163hp. And at the top of the range, there's the 119 CDI rear-driven derivative, which offers 190hp and is paired with the 9-speed 9G-TRONIC auto transmission that's optional further down the range. The passenger-carrying Vito Tourer bus model can be had in full-electric eVito form, which uses a front-driven 150kW battery powertrain using a 90kWh battery with a driving range of up to 262 miles. The eVito Tourer can be charged from 10-80% in under 45 minutes at a rapid charging station.
Across the Vito range, there's fresh camera safety technology. This includes Active Brake Assist autonomous braking and DISTRONIC with Active Distance Assist, which can be activated when driving on the motorway or in stop-and-go traffic and can maintain the distance to the vehicle travelling ahead as set by the driver. The system accelerates the vehicle by itself and brakes it with a maximum of half the vehicle's braking power in order to maintain a safe distance.
Otherwise, things are much as before. Over bumps and around corners, the Vito's ride might be a slightly firmer than you're used to but it's an undeniably supple and well-controlled set-up that you'll quickly adapt to and appreciate. There's also the fact that, a little unusually in this class, most version of this van are rear-driven rather than front driven, meaning more rewarding handling than you might be expecting and a tighter turning circle.
Visual changes to the improved version of this third generation 'W447'-series design are subtle, mainly centring around a restyled radiator grille. Rear twin doors are standard for the van models, which can be opened back to the 180?? position or locked in place at an angle of 90??. A tailgate is standard on the crew van and Tourer models, as well as being a no-cost option for panel van models. Easy access is also achieved to the loadspace via side sliding doors, fitted to both sides of the vehicle as standard, with a wide entry. In addition, a full-height bulkhead is fitted to panel vans as standard.
The Vito's wide door opening and well placed step mean that getting in to the cabin is a simple enough manoeuvre and once seated aloft, you'll find a cab with three-abreast seating that's closer than ever to Mercedes-Benz passenger car standards thanks to the introduction of higher quality fabrics. It helps that the smart steering wheel isn't set at such a bus-like angle as you'll find in some competitors, with further car-like cues found in the way that most of the controls are located on a neatly presented centre console with the gearstick protruding from the dash below. A key fresh cabin highlight is the digital inside rearview mirror. This can transmit an image from an HDR camera fitted to the rear window and project it on to the mirror's display. Which means you'll always have a fully functioning rear view mirror at all times, even if you've got a window-less full-height bulkhead fitted; or if the boot or load compartment are full to the roof.
With three lengths, three weight variants, and two turbodiesel engines in five power ratings, this Vito offers a broad range, with prices starting from around £22,000 (excluding VAT) for a typical entry-level 110 CDI panel van L2 variant. There are three standard trim levels - PROGRESSIVE, PREMIUM and SPORT.
In addition to the panel van range, there's Vito crew van variant that combines the advantages of a panel van with those of a crewbus. For even more focus on passenger carrying, a further Tourer model is available in two versions - Vito Tourer PRO and Vito Tourer SELECT, which come with eight seats (including driver) as standard and the potential to optionally specify nine seats in total.
Standard features inside include cruise control with a Speedtronic variable Speed Limiter, a multifunction steering wheel with trip computer, plus an infotainment system including a Bluetooth hands-free system, plus audio streaming, USB and aux-in ports, an iPod interface and an SD memory card slot.
Standard safety equipment includes Adaptive ESP, Adaptive Brake Lights, Attention Assist, Crosswind Assist, driver and co-driver airbags, Hill-Start Assist, reflection-style headlights with daytime running lights, Rescue Assist QR codes, plus a Tyre Pressure Monitoring System. Thorax and window airbags are standard for the Vito Tourer PRO and SELECT, and optional on the panel and crew van.
The Vito comes in three handy and not so handy lengths: L1, L2 and L3. In the cargo bay, there are load-restraining belts and plenty of tie-down points to keep whatever you're carrying from moving around. If despite all this provision, you still forget to tie things down, there are protective panels up to guard against interior scrapes and dents.
In conjunction with the base 102hp version of the 2.0-litre diesel engine, the front-wheel drive 110 CDI panel van's kerb weight for the compact length with standard equipment is well under 2 tonnes. At the standard gvw of 2.8 t, this base front-wheel drive Vito achieves a very impressive payload of around a tonne. Rear-driven Vito models with higher output engines can improve this showing by around 300kgs.
Keeping costs down will be a major priority for potential owners, so it'll be good news for operators that the Vito's latest OM 654-series 2.0-litre diesel engine line-up is more economical and cleaner than was the case with the previous 2.1-litre diesel unit. CO2 figures now range between 154g/km and 172g/km, depending on variant choice, helped by a standard ECO start/stop function.
The biggest compliment we could pay this revised Vito would be to suggest it to be the least van-like van we've driven to date. Transit-class designs don't usually also have to function as luxury, up-market people carriers (as this one does) and the difference in build excellence is obvious as soon as you take a seat inside. But nice though it is to have a quality feeling behind the wheel of one of your company's LCVs, that doesn't pay the business bills. So Mercedes has looked at the best that its competitors can offer and borrowed high technology from its luxury car line-up in order to match them. The adoption of the latest OM 654-series 2.0-litre diesel engine is crucial here, significantly improving this LCV's efficiency and emissions.
The result is a benchmark among vans that you can buy with head as well as heart and one that can carry heavier loads with more speed, less noise, greater comfort, sharper handling, reduced fuel consumption and cleaner emissions. Medium range Transit-class customers will always have cheaper options of course. Nearly all though, are lacking this van's one most crucial ingredient: Star Quality.