SMOOTH MOVER | VAN REVIEW – Mercedes-Benz V-Class

The Mercedes-Benz V-Class is much more than just a mum bus  – Words by Stuart Martin. 

John Travolta did his level best to make people-movers cool in Get Shorty, and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt made short work of some nasty Beemer-driving assassins while driving one as well, but the benefits of moving the masses in a vehicle appropriate to the task seems lost on many Australian vehicle buyers.

People-movers are shunned, by and large, in favour of SUVs, vehicles that might well seat a similar number of bums on seat, but in nowhere near the same level of comfort and practicality – breeders who want to look like explorers. Is it any wonder then that those who do it for a living opt for machines fit-for-purpose – exclusive winery tours, airport shuttles, corporate transport and the like?

Shifting people for a living brings even more demands on a van, sometimes (but not always) beyond the juvenile demands of family members.

The $88,800 Mercedes-Benz V250d is at the top-end of the people-mover brigade in Australia, although not by as much as you’d think given the flagship Volkswagen Transporter Highline sits near $84,000.

It’s a stylish and commodious way to get from A to B, and remarkably quiet given the workhorse origins of its drivetrain. The V250d shares the Vito’s 2.1-litre turbodiesel double-overhead cam four-cylinder, which has proven to be a useful unit within the commercial range, offering 140 kW at 3800 rpm, with 440 Nm from 1400 through to 2400 rpm.

The numbers suggest good flexibility from the common-rail direct-injection engine, and that is reflected on the road, shifting the considerable 2349 kg tare weight, while outright acceleration is a claimed 9.1 seconds to 100 km/h and a top speed of 206 km/h.

Unlike some of the passenger-car derivatives, the big Benz has its rear wheels taking direction from the seven-speed auto and the engine, with the results on the trip computer remaining in the single-digit realm.

A claimed thirst in the lab on the ADR combined-cycle test of 6.0 litres per 100 km is not worlds away from the real-world figure we achieved with five well-fed adults and gear on board – we saw an average of 8.4 litres from the 70 litre tank (plus a 25-litre AdBlue tank) for every 100 km when leaving the seven-speed auto to its own devices.

An upright but comfortable driving position was obtainable for the driver, thanks to the reach and steering adjustment and a decent range of power adjustment for the driver’s seat. A commanding view through the front isn’t matched by the scene to the rear, when even without occupants the headrests obscure the view aft. The 3rd row centre seat in particular was a distraction for the driver, and was subsequently removed and left to roll around in the boot, as there was no holder for it, something that has been a feature of some people-movers in the past.

There were elegant wheel-mounted silver paddle shifters, but the transmission did a good enough job of picking the correct cog and didn’t warrant being overruled.

A comprehensive safety package is typical of the three-pointed star and there are all the good features from the LCV van range – top of that is the crosswind assist function within the stability control, which is a must-have as it keeps the van headed as directed without concern. There are also front, side and full-length curtain airbags, LED adaptive headlights with high-beam assist, tyre pressure monitoring, auto emergency braking, the PreSafe accident prep system, lane keeping assist, blindspot warning and rain-sensing wipers among the safety gear, as well as a handy 360-degree camera system and parking sensors front and rear.

Its passenger-car ambience extends to the seven-seater’s (there’s an option for eight) centre stack and dashboard to upgrade the front of the cabin to passenger-car range status. Power adjustment for the comfortable and broad heated and cooled (optional) front seats is on the doors (a la the passenger-car set-up) and the centre screen sits atop the dash, rather than being integrated into the dashboard, a set-up not to all tastes but it easily controls integrated satnav, phone, digital-radio-equipped infotainment and car systems via a touchpad and roller wheel.

Other niceties include leather trim, two USB ports, active high-beam adaptive dusk-sensing LED headlights, an electric park brake, ambient interior lighting, illuminated exits, power-adjustable, heated and folding power mirrors (with auto-dimming on the driver’s side exterior and the centre mirror) and a 15-speaker Burmester sound system.

Both rear doors are power-operated, by dash-mounted buttons for the driver (who doesn’t get an in-car remote boot release button beyond the key fob) or by using exterior handles or B-pillar switches – making kerbside drop-offs or pick-ups simple. The lack of moving glass anywhere aft of the B-pillar was a concern, even with the three-zone climate control and vents for all rear rows.

The optional (at $2797) panoramic sunroof above the middle row assists when extra ventilation is required, but the pop-out windows for the third row – as fitted to the Marco Polo camper – would be well worth including, but the options list exercise sends the as-tested price to almost $100,000.

Both back rows have leather-trimmed seats, as well as some ventilation and storage pockets, but only the third row gets easy access to a 12-volt outlet – there’s one on each side adjacent the cupholder. Each row does have the safety benefit of integrated seat belts, the only drawback being the weighty nature of such a seat structure.

While both rows can be slid, rotated and removed as required to tailor the rear occupant space for an ideal balance of legroom and loadspace, it’s not a job easily completed while seated and best done by two people before any journey is undertaken.

A considerable split-level loadspace is divided by a flip-up bench (that contains fold-out baskets as well) and accessed by a large powered rear tailgate with an integrated glass hatch to allow larger items left below and lighter items to be retrieved through the glass section.

Ride quality and chassis composure when laden toward its 905 kg payload was good, feeling at ease with bums on most of its seats and a load in the tail. It was hardened slightly by the fitment of optional 19-inch alloys and lower-profile rubber, which jarred a little on some smaller ruts; with just the driver on board the V-Class felt a little jittery, but nothing that would send the driver to the funny farm.

At just over 5.0 m long and nearly 2.0 m wide and tall, there’s plenty of girth to pilot, but it doesn’t take long to shrink around the driver a little – that’s helped by sensors and 360-degree cameras for tight squeezes, but it felt better than the 11.8 m turning circle would suggest.

The V250d comes with a three-year/200,000 km warranty and requires regular scheduled maintenance every 12 months or 20,000 km service interval. If your trade puts you behind the wheel and you are carting crew and gear regularly from A to B, then the V-Class offers cargo and occupant space, comfort and the gravitas of the Benz badge, as well as an easy drive experience….but it comes at a hefty price.

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