Lug the fam­ily in lux­ury

Whether to make a state­ment or get there through the mud, there is a Ger­man van for the job

The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE - AL­WYN VILJOEN

VOLK­SWA­GEN Com­mer­cial Ve­hi­cles on Mon­day pre­sented the sixth gen­er­a­tion of the pop­u­lar T-Se­ries model — just in time for me to com­pare its top- end fam­ily lug­ger, the Car­avelle High­line, with the rock­star V-Class Avant­garde from Mercedes-Benz.

Now, be­fore you ask, I did not check for any hid­den de­vices de­signed to ob­scure emis­sions in the Car­avelle, be­cause South African car buy­ers are quick to for­give and faster to forget, even af­ter be­ing left high and dry by an im­porter, as Hyundai grate­fully points out. Se­condly, our lo­cal emis­sions lim­its are so high, in some some towns the smoke from VW’s diesels are ac­tu­ally cleaner than the air. So I fo­cused on com­par­ing bells and whis­tles.

MAR­KET­ING PRAISE SONGS Merc states its V-Class “com­bines room for up to eight peo­ple and ex­em­plary func­tion­al­ity with high-class ap­peal, com­fort, ef­fi­cient driv­ing en­joy­ment and safety”, adding this makes the V-Class Avant­garde “the per­fect ve­hi­cle for ev­ery­one who ap­pre­ci­ates bound­less space but does not want to sac­ri­fice style and com­fort”.

VW calls its Car­avelle High­line “a unique propo­si­tion” among vans. “The core el­e­ment of its ver­sa­til­ity is the hugely vari­able seat­ing in the back. No mat­ter what it has to trans­port or carry, the Car­avelle has an an­swer ready to han­dle al­most any task.”

Nei­ther com­pany is ex­ag­ger­at­ing too much ei­ther, as both vans are big, ca­pa­ble and about equally packed with fea­tures at en­try level. Un­der the hood, things are how­ever, very dif­fer­ent.

DRIV­E­TRAINS The Car­avelle has a 2-litre bi-turbo en­gine that makes 132 kW at 4 000 rpm and 400 Nm from 1 500 rpm, matched to VW’s 7-speed DSG trans­mis­sion.

The top-of-the-line V 250 BlueTEC V-Class has a 2.2-litre four-cylin­der turbo-diesel en­gine with two-stage turbocharging that makes 140 kW and 440 Nm from seem­ingly just above idle, matched to a sixspeed auto. Put foot and an­other 10 kW and 40 Nm pops up in “over-torque”. As a re­sult, even I could get the flag­ship model to do the 0-100 km/h in un­der 11 sec­onds, which leaves the Car­avelle far be­hind.

The V-Class wins un­der the hood with all that power, de­spite offering one less cog in the gears. (A sev­enth gear with 7-GTronic is op­tional and costs R20 500.)

HAN­DLING Merc of­fers agility set­tings to shorten gear changes and stiffen the sus­pen­sion for a drive that can get quite ex­hil­a­rat­ingly even with the ESP on.

VW of­fers all-wheel-drive through its 4Mo­tion sys­tem for those who have to get over sand or mud. The VW rides on 17-inch al­loy wheels, while the Merc rolls on 17-, 18- or 19-inch rims. The ride in both big vans ben­e­fits from smaller rims and higher side­walls.

DRIVER AS­SISTS Both the Car­avelle and V-Class sport a raft of driver-as­sist sys­tems, like ABS, ESP, Hill Hold Con­trol. Both have voice recog­ni­tion, sat nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem and Fatigue De­tec­tion.

The V-Class vi­brates the steer­ing wheel if you me­an­der close to the lines, the Car­avelle flashes a light and sounds an alarm to alert a tired driver. Park as­sist with a rear-view cam­era is op­tional in the VW, cost­ing R7 500, but is stan­dard on the V-Class. For an ex­tra R14 500, Merc own­ers can, how­ever, spec four cam­eras that gen­er­ate a bird’s eye view of the V-Class, and an­other R11 k buys smart cruise con­trol.

IN­SIDE To get in­side, both vans of­fer elec­tri­cal sliding doors. Both have seats that face front or back and both have ta­bles.

The seats and ta­ble pil­lars of both are an­chored to tracks in the floor so that they can be turned or shunted for­wards or back­wards. Both have 1.5 litre bot­tle and cup hold­ers.

The back bench or seats in both vans move for­ward to in­crease the lug­gage space, or back­ward to make more leg room, with the bench in the VW moved by sim­ply pulling a lever or loop from ei­ther front or back.

Merc and VW claim the seats are also eas­ily re­moved, but you will need a strong helper to lift and carry the heavy seats should the need arise to turn your lux­u­ri­ous fam­ily lug­ger into a plain panel­van.

Both have cli­mate con­trol sys­tems front and rear, but the Car­avelle trumps the V-Class with roller sun blinds in the pas­sen­ger com­part­ment.

The Merc coun­ters with a rear wind­screen that can be opened and closed in­de­pen­dently of the tail­gate. This makes it a bit eas­ier to load stuff onto the tray in tight park­ing spa­ces with­out open­ing the large tail­gate.

The tray it­self can carry 50 kilo­grams and has two re­cesses, each of which holds an (op­tional) re­mov­able and col­lapsi­ble shop­ping bas­ket.

EN­TER­TAIN­MENT SYS­TEMS The V-Class has Merc’s lat­est gen­er­a­tion of Co­mand On­line, which com­bines all au­dio, tele­phone and nav­i­ga­tion func­tions, and ad­di­tion­ally of­fers an In­ter­net browser, the Linguatronic voice-con­trol sys­tem and trans­mis­sion of traf­fic data in real time.

The op­tional Burmester sur­round sound sys­tem with 16 high-per­for­mance loud­speak­ers, in­clud­ing a bass re­flex loud­speaker, does what it says in the hand­book to de­liver real lis­ten­ing plea­sure.

In fact, this sys­tem is so good, it may be worth it to add this R10 000 op­tional ex­tra to the Stan­dard V-Class.

And a nice touch is a mi­cro­phone in the over­head con­trol panel to trans­mit con­ver­sa­tion be­tween the driver and front pas­sen­ger to the rear loud­speak­ers so that the pas­sen­gers sit­ting fur­ther away can also hear them.

The Car­avelle High­line comes stan­dard with a 6,33-inch dis­play cou­pled with a prox­im­ity sen­sor to sense your hand.

As it ap­proaches the screen, func­tions ap­pear on the screen and are read­ily avail­able.

When func­tional in­puts are not re­quired, the full screen can be seen, in­creas­ing ease of vis­i­bil­ity. The dis­play also re­sponds to wip­ing and zoom­ing ges­tures, as used in smart­phones and tablets. In the Merc, dig­i­tal con­nec­tion hap­pens through a Direct Se­lect lever with steer­ing wheel shift pad­dles in the au­to­matic mod­els, as well as a touch­pad that also al­lows the driver to ges­ture at the pad, or en­ter char­ac­ters in the same way as on a smart­phone.

It has to be said the sys­tem is not in­tu­itive, in the same way that Merc re­quires its au­to­matic brake but­ton to be pulled up to dis­en­gage and pushed in to en­gage, but af­ter a bit of prod­ding and a lot of mut­ter­ing, I got things to work.

THE FINE PRINT Deal­ers for both brands of­fer guar­an­teed re­sale value if the deal is fi­nanced in-house.

As with all Mercedes-Benz pas­sen­ger cars, the V-Class is in­tro­duced stan­dard with the class-lead­ing Mercedes-Benz Pre­mium Drive sixyear/100 000 km main­te­nance con­tract with no cus­tomer con­tri­bu­tion.

Car­avelle mod­els come stan­dard with a three-year or 120 000 km man­u­fac­turer war­ranty and five-year or 60 000 km Au­to­mo­tion Main­te­nance Plan. All VW vans have 15 000 km ser­vice in­ter­vals, while the Merc needs to see the me­chanic ev­ery 40 000 km.


• V200 CDI Stan­dard R695 981

• V220 CDI Stan­dard R726 875 • 2.0 BiTDI Car­avelle Com­fort­line DSG 132 kW R738 300

• 2.0 BiTDI Car­avelle Com­fort­line 4Mo­tion DSG 132 kW R770 800

• V250 BlueTEC R782 416

• 2.0 BiTDI Car­avelle High­line DSG 132 kW R816 300

• 2.0 BiTDI Car­avelle High­line 4Mo­tion DSG 132 kW R848 800 • V220 CDI Avant­garde R949 175

• V250 BlueTEC Avant­garde R984 196.


The Mercedes-Benz V-Class up­dates the Sprinter range with all the lux­u­ries you can find in a C-Class, but the the VW Car­avelle takes the fight right back to Merc with a value offering good enough to want to make us forget how the bosses in Wolfs­burg lied to the world.


Above: The in­te­rior of the Mercedes-Benz V-Class Avant­garde with its stan­dard fold-out ta­bles. Be­low: The in­te­rior of the VW Car­avelle High­line with its rounded ta­bles and three-seater bench.

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