Extended Family Business

Moving people with a certain degree of style, the Mercedes-Benz Viano changes the definition of the traditional Mum Bus

There’s a certain dogma attached to driving a Mum Bus. The expectation is that performance will be average, handling will be from the wallow and pitch school of ride comfort, and that the total package will always be a compromise, rather than an epic experience.

Well, it’s hard to classify driving a people mover, even the Mercedes-Benz Viano, as providing an epic experience. But, if you’ve got a stack of people or kids to shift, and you want to accomplish the task with some flair and a high degree of safety, the Viano may well tick all the boxes.

Let’s start with why you go out to buy a Viano. Most importantly, the Viano is the only vehicle in this class to hold a five-star ANCAP rating. It comes with a host of safety features, all of which we cover later on, but before we do so, let’s just look at the competition, all vying for consideration.

Although it might seem like being out of left field, the Viano is a direct competitor for all those families driving around in large 4WDs that never actually go off-road. It consumes all the kids and their luggage in safe, easy to access seats, but it has ride and handling dynamics that none of the large 4WDs can even hope to achieve.  CARS_Vans_Mercedes-Benz-Viano_5

There’s also another market for the Viano, that of being a replacement for the conventional limousine as operated out of airports or through the inner city. No upper executive type wants to be seen being picked up or dropped off in a Mum Bus. But, when it’s sleek, has alloy wheels, dark tinted windows and the doors open to reveal leather captain’s chairs inside, well, it’s another dimension to executive travel.

Mercedes-Benz does make it easy for the Viano buyer to choose the exact specification. It’s a one-engine-suits-all-requirements offering, but that said, it’s one heck of an impressive engine.

Using the Mercedes-Benz BlueEFFICIENCY concept for low emissions and impressive performance, aligned with frugal fuel economy, the Viano is powered by a 3.0-litre, six-cylinder, direct-injection V6 diesel. Thanks to turbocharging, this engine offers quite exceptional performance and will dispel many of the often-held myths from days gone by that diesel engines are slow, noisy and generally uninspiring. In the Viano, the front engine drives the rear wheels.

There’s nothing sluggish about this particular 3.0-litre V6 diesel. With a 0-100 km/h acceleration time of 9.1 seconds and a theoretical top speed of 201 km/h, it’s rather impressive.

We are talking here about having 165 kW of power produced at 3,800 rpm and 440Nm of torque on tap through from 1,600 to 2,400 rpm. Team that with the five-speed full fluid automatic transmission, and the performance is always impressive. Fuel economy for the combined cycle comes in at 8.6 l/100 km and the emissions at the tailpipe are rated at 226 g/km of CO2.

We will dwell for a moment on the transmission. A full fluid automatic, as used by Mercedes-Benz, is vastly superior to the automated manual or twin clutch DSG gearboxes available with other makes. The full fluid automatic is smoother, less intrusive and infinitely superior in slow moving, stop/start traffic, or when shuffling back and forth for a park in a tight space.

Buyers can mix and match the interior seating configuration with a choice of what you might want, from either three seats across the centre row or the rather more impressive alternative of two captain’s chairs. The third or rear row of seating is usually a three-seater, but, again, it’s possible to order up a second pair of captain’s chairs if you want the extra style and comfort.

CARS_Vans_Mercedes-Benz-Viano_4 Because of the clever seat track arrangement in the floor of the Viano, you can position your second and third row seats in theatre style, or turn them to face each other. You can also alter the available legroom to increase or decrease, at the expense of load space behind row three. You can also remove one complete row if you wish.

The front seats for the driver and passenger are, again, individual seats. When you drop down in seating capacity, from eight seats, you gain a foldaway table in the rear.

When choosing the three-seat centre row, this configuration can split between a dual and single seat with the single on the nearside tilting forwards to enable access to the rear triple-seat row. This provides seven passenger seats in addition to the driver.

Getting in and out of the rear seats is also afforded a little extra luxury by the powered sliding side load doors on each side of the body. Touch the door handle from the outside, and the side doors slide effortlessly, under power, to the fully open position. Closure is by pressing a large button just inside the B pillar. Alternatively, the driver can control the door opening and closing by buttons on the dashboard.

When you line up the safety inclusions that are a standard item with the Viano, you really start to see where Mercedes-Benz is coming from, with an attitude that never compromises passenger and driver protection.

Anti-lock braking these days is a given, but, to that, the Viano adds a full electronic stability programme, brake assist, acceleration skid control (usually called traction control), and six airbags comprising front airbags for the driver and passenger, seat mounted thorax side bags, and side window bags for the driver and front passenger. There are four child seat anchorage points, two in each row.

Within the general pricing structure, of $74,990, comes a COMAND APS multimedia system, Bi-Xenon headlamps, the powered sliding doors on both sides, a front and rear tilt and slide powered sunroof, and 17-inch alloys shod with 225/55R17 tyres.

A further $1,500 brings you 18-inch alloys with 245/45R18 lower profile tyres, but we would suggest this would bring in a harsher ride for what is largely only a benefit in looks. Bear in mind, you hopefully will not be cornering in your Viano on the absolute limits of adhesion in order to discuss the reduced tyre squirm of a 45 series aspect ratio tyre versus that of a 55 series.

While on the subject of ride comfort, the rear of the Viano has a self-leveling air suspension that adjusts according to the weight carried to maintain a level ride height. The system operates automatically, but can be manually over-ridden to provide a ride height variation of up to 50 mm.CARS_Vans_Mercedes-Benz-Viano_2

Powering up iPhones or iPads will be accomplished through three 12-Volt sockets in the interior, and, with the COMAND APS system, you get a 6.5-inch colour screen display with HDD navigation, Linguatronic voice operation for personal discussion with the audio, telephone and navigation commands, a 4 GB music register, and AM/FM radio, MP3/WMA and ACC compatibility. The in-dash CD player, though, is a single disc system. Adding a six-disc player to the system will increase your overall spend by a further $750.00.

There are other ways of increasing your tax concessions, if this is a company vehicle, and these include adding a reversing camera ($1,200), having powered, adjustable and heated front seats with a position memory and powered lumbar support ($4,200), retractable luggage net ($750), a foldaway table in the rear ($1,200), and a wood and leather steering wheel for $1,500. If you can manage without the powered lumbar support for the powered front seats, but still like the idea of them being heated, you can bring the price for this option down to an additional $1,050.

If all this additional cost is starting to blur the attraction, then let’s take a look at what you do get as a standard item. It’s also important to bear in mind that a large 4WD, which comes with its own restrictions on interior access and with lower levels of ride and handling and overall safety, will be either matching or exceeding this pricing structure.

The standard features include an automatically dimming rear-vision mirror, central locking with remote operation, centre console for storage, ducted air conditioning to the rear passenger compartment, trip computer, power windows with obstruction sensor, external temperature display, an ultrasonic parking system assistance, rear tailgate wash/wipe, and front windscreen wipers with a rain sensor activation.

While this list is comprehensive, the one variation we would insist upon is to replace the standard space-saver tyre with a full-sized tyre on a matching alloy rim. Full marks to Mercedes-Benz on this one fact alone, as it means you can carry a full-sized spare and not be at the whim of losing your mobility because you are stuck with a temporary spare in the event of a puncture.

Having struggled through an extensive list of inclusions, you are rewarded by finding that the Viano is actually extremely impressive to drive. It’s quiet on the road, handles surprisingly efficiently, and doesn’t provide the bumps and rattles that are often associated with passenger derivatives of what was originally a commercial van.

That’s where the Viano has it, in terms of appeal, over a van conversion. It’s designed from the outset to be an impressive people mover. Whether its destination is for a hotel to move patrons to the airport, or for parents to move an extended family, the Viano works well.

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