Points to ponder
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.