Points to pon­der

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Big Wheels -

AS A lux­ury car maker, Benz cops a bit of stick for build­ing com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles.

But if you’re in the mar­ket for one, you’ll prob­a­bly re­gard the badge as a big plus, par­tic­u­larly the as­so­ci­ated fives­tar safety rat­ing.

Sit­ting long and low, with a steeply raked wind­screen, the Vito cuts a dis­tinc­tive pro­file and there’s a large three­p­ointed star on the nose.

It has all the bases cov­ered, com­ing in sin­gle or dual cab form, short or long wheel­base and front or rear-wheel drive. The lat­ter en­dows more pay­load and ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity.

The diesels start with a 1.6-litre man­ual and there is a 2.1-litre in three stages of tune. Our test ve­hi­cle, the long wheel­base 116CDI, gets the 2.1 with 120kW/380Nm.

It’s teamed with a smooth chang­ing seven-speed auto — with, be­lieve it or not, pad­dleshifters — and there is en­gine auto-stop to save fuel.

The gear stick it­self is a col­umn-shifter while the park­ing brake is foot-op­er­ated, with a hand re­lease.

Our test ve­hi­cle was a twoseater but the sin­gle pas­sen­ger seat can be re­placed with a twoseat bench for $690. The seats are a lit­tle firm and could be­come un­com­fort­able on long trips, though around town posed no prob­lems.

With sep­a­rate front seats you can walk through to the back. Oth­er­wise ac­cess is via slid­ing side doors or a lift tail­gate (barn doors add $715).

For a van it’s pretty well equipped, with such fea­tures as auto lights and at­ten­tion as­sist to mon­i­tor tired­ness

Unique to Benz, it has Cross­wind As­sist, which as its name sug­gests it helps the driver main­tain sta­bil­ity in strong cross­winds which tend to buf­fet slab-sided vans, and kicks in au­to­mat­i­cally over 80km/h.

And, just like a Benz car, there are plenty of op­tions, among them a $1600 driver as­sist pack­age that in­cludes forward col­li­sion preven­tion, blind spot as­sist and lane keep­ing as­sist. Professional Becker sat­nav is $900 while Active Park As­sist adds $1230. At al­most 5.4 me­tres long, it’s no shrink­ing vi­o­let and de­mands cau­tion — al­low plenty of room in cor­ners and have a good look be­fore chang­ing lanes.

A win­dow in the tail­gate gives de­cent rear­ward vi­sion but, with no side win­dows, you need to rely on your mir­rors (blind spot alert is fit­ted). Park­ing, al­ways a chal­lenge in th­ese things, is greatly as­sisted by the stan­dard re­verse cam­era with guide­lines.

The auto works well with the diesel and it’s no slouch out of the blocks, with strong midrange re­sponse for over­tak­ing.

But the col­umn-mounted gear se­lec­tor, with a but­ton on the end for park, is a bit fid­dly. You’ll only need the pad­dleshifters with a big load when greater con­trol is re­quired. The steer­ing feels light and car-like.

On the mo­tor­way, the van has long legs and slips into top gear at a re­laxed 1800rpm.

Blind spot alert is handy around town but more so when it comes to chang­ing lanes in the fast pace of the mo­tor­way.

Claimed fuel con­sump­tion, at 6.0L/100m, could be a tad op­ti­mistic. The com­puter in our test ve­hi­cle was show­ing 10.2L af­ter 900km, but then diesels don’t pro­duce their best un­til they’ve hit 10,000km and ours had hardly been run in.

Stop­ping to fill up re­vealed the van also re­quires AdBlue ad­di­tive, to re­move ox­ides of ni­tro­gen from the ex­haust.

Benz reck­ons it should use 1.0L-1.5L of the ad­di­tive ev­ery 1000km, vary­ing ac­cord­ing to con­di­tions and the way you drive. The good news is it sup­plies the stuff free, un­der war­ranty or as part of a main­te­nance plan.

With 1270mm be­tween the wheel arches and a load area that’s 3061mm long, the long wheel­base ver­sion can carry up to 1110kg and should eas­ily fit a cou­ple of pal­lets.

The au­dio is a two-speaker job. There is a 5.8-inch screen, AUX and USB ports, plus Blue­tooth with au­dio stream­ing — this last item is im­por­tant as it misses out on a CD player. It does what it does well, with solid en­gi­neer­ing, strong per­for­mance and the added ad­van­tage of rear-wheel drive. For any van, though, try it on for size and pay spe­cial at­ten­tion to the seat­ing and driv­ing po­si­tion.

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