GAME CHANGER

Competition in the medium van segment takes a new turn as Mercedes-Benz launches the all-new Vito

At Delivery we love technology, and when it relates to new and significantly improved vehicles we see it as a winner on several counts. For the buyer it means higher safety levels and better efficiency, for the environment it means   lower emissions, and for the driver it means a much improved working environment to make the day in their “office” a better experience.

While Daimler and Volkswagen perform the light commercial market equivalent of the “Battle of the Titans” to achieve global domination, the launch of the new Vito and its upmarket V-Class people mover represents one of the most significant events in recent years.Mercedes-Benz-Vito_8

To see what the Australian buyer can expect when the range launches into our market in 2015, Delivery headed to Spain to experience first hand what we consider to be an absolute game changer for the medium van and people-mover market.

Vittoria in Spain is the location of Mercedes-Benz Vito and V-Class production. The factory was founded back in 1954 as a DKW production plant, was purchased by Mercedes-Benz in 1986 and started producing the Vito range in 1995.

Recent investment of $280 million (AUD) enabled the Vittoria plant to start production of the latest Vito in August of this year. Thanks to a very enthusiastic and highly professional workforce there’s every reason to believe this is one model range that will cement the future of Spain as a highly valuable manufacturing base.

Think of the new Vito as being the point where prestige car meets working van. The Mercedes-Benz team under the leadership of Dr. Klaus-Jürgen Benzinger has brought the accepted technical sophistication of its prestige and luxury cars to the van market, and the result is impressive to the level that other manufacturers are going to find it hard to match the result.

As of now, the new Vito comes in three distinctly different categories, offering the choice of front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive. Although the previous Vito was engineered for electric propulsion, a lack of buyer interest in this green power segment has left this option off the order books, at least for the current development cycle.

According to Dr. Benzinger the development of the front-wheel-drive Vito was purely cost driven, with the easier assembly of the East/West transverse design of transaxle making for faster and cheaper production. Fitted with a 1.6-litre, turbocharged and intercooled, four-cylinder diesel available in a selection of power and torque outputs, there’s no automatic transmission option and all models come as standard with a six-speed manual gearbox.

Mercedes-Benz-Vito_P1Stepping up to a rear-wheel-drive brings an increase in cubic capacity to 2.1 litres, and the alternative of either a six-speed manual or the exceptional seven-speed 7G-TRONIC PLUS automatic transmission. It also takes the buyer into the next round of emissions levels with all 140 kW versions of the 2.1-litre engine conforming to Euro 6 legislation, using AdBlue (DEF) to minimise CO2 production at the tailpipe. The AdBlue tank is 11.5 litres, enough for an average 10,000 km in normal use before refilling.

Gross vehicle weights range from 2.5 to 3.2 tonnes, providing payloads of up to 1,369 kg. Vito is available in two wheelbases, three body lengths and up to four weight variants as a panel van, crew cab van (with centre seats) and as a people mover.

Given that European drivers have to battle with snow and ice, front-wheel-drive with more weight over the front tyres to maximise grip makes sense, and when combined with traction control or anti-slip regulation it’s going to be the best option for operators running lighter payloads and higher cargo volumes. Those operating in really slippery conditions also have the choice of all-wheel-drive.

The 1.6-litre engine, which incidentally is available in Euro 5 emissions spec’, comes in a choice of two power and torque outputs with the 109CDI offering 65 kW and the Vito 111 CDI upping output to 84 kW.

Stepping up to the 2.1-litre diesel brings with it three different power and torque options. The Vito 114 CDI at 100 kW with peak torque of 330 Nm rated at 1,200-2,400 rpm and the 116 CDI at 120 kW with peak torque of 380 Nm are both rated at Euro 5. The 119 CDI BlueTEC at 140 kW and peak torque of 440 Nm conforms to Euro 6 levels. Maximum power of each engine version is produced at 3,800 rpm with peak torque for the 116 CDI and 119 CDI rated at 1,400-2,400 rpm.

Both the 114 CDI and 116 CDI offer the choice of six-speed manual or seven-speed auto, while the 119 CDI BlueTEC is only available with the fully automatic 7G-TRONIC PLUS, with ratio spread of 4.182:1 through to 0.549:1 in 7th.

With the price of diesel fuel in Europe being well above what we are used to paying, the focus of the engineering team for the new Vito centred on fuel economy. Consequently, the engineering team is claiming an average reduction of fuel consumption by 20 percent over the previous model, with the 116 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY model returning a certified figure of 5.7 l/100 km. Service intervals are set at 40,000 km.Mercedes-Benz-Vito_4

Aerodynamic efficiency comes into the equation and the new Vito boasts a Cd value of 0.32, which, until very recently, has only been achievable by passenger cars. Component power loss, such as that required to drive a hydraulically-assisted steering system has also been addressed, with the Vito featuring an electro-mechanical steering system with variable assistance dependent on speed.

Handling is exceptional for a van, thanks to a semi-trailing arm rear axle with coil springs and new spring and damper settings. In the braking department you’ll find disc brakes all round matched to 16-inch or 17-inch wheels.

For those into upscaling their tyre fitment there is also a choice of 18 and 19-inch alloy rims, providing a tyre fitment alternative that ranges in aspect ratio from 65 down to 45. The people-mover version, called the Vito Tourer, features more compliant spring settings and more sensitive damper control.

Shifting to front-wheel-drive with its lower manufacturing costs has resulted in the 1.6-litre van model hitting the dealerships in Europe at the equivalent price in Euro of $26,000 (AUD). Obviously there has been no indication yet of real-world pricing for the Australian market.

Delivery was able to experience each of the different engine options in a variety of models with different spec’ and interior trim levels. Two days of driving through Northern Spain, just south of the Pyrenees and the French border, provided not only spectacular scenery, but also good stretches of hill climbing.

This quickly showed how each different drivetrain performed, and in our view the lowest power option of 65 kW from the 1.6-litre diesel is not up to Australian market expectations. The 84 kW higher output alternative for the 1.6-litre does produce the goods, and it’s this version we would suggest as a sole option for our market for those content with front-wheel-drive.

It’s interesting that buyer preference in the European market tends to go for manual gearboxes, while in Australia it’s the automatic that gets the tick on the order form. The auto version comes with paddle shifts on the steering wheel and these work well with the seven-speed.

Switching to the rear-wheel-drive van and people-mover models with the 2.1-litre engine and a full-fluid, seven-speed 7G-TRONIC PLUS transmission is just so good that we believe many buyers will simply shift up the ladder to take the higher spec’. Rear-wheel-drive also provides a further benefit, that of reducing the turning circle to 11.8 metres, plus it is always going to feel better balanced when cornering.

With health and safety requirements starting to dictate vehicle selection, the new Vito includes a list of safety features that’s actually too extensive to cover in a general feature on the product range. Adaptive cruise control, crosswind assist, blind spot monitoring, auto stop/start, collision prevention assist, reverse cameras, plus front and rear parking sensors and even a 360-degree vision around the vehicle displayed on the central screen are available subject to the model selected. With up to eight SRS airbags on some versions, it’s also possible to add self-parking assistance that analyses a parking space and will slot the vehicle in with the driver just operating the brake and accelerator.Mercedes-Benz-Vito_3

Showing how technology makes driving simpler is a further advance of the rear camera that enables the driver to zoom the camera lens downwards to focus on the towball as the vehicle is reversed onto a trailer hitch, signalling an end to the bump and bash alternative of trailer hitching.

If your daily grind takes you into underground carparks, all versions of the Vito now come in with an overall height under the 2.0-metre mark. The internal height of the panel van is 1,408 mm, load length is 2,433 mm, 2,668 mm or 2,908 mm, and the load compartment width is 1,685 mm with 1,270 mm between the wheelarches. Cargo area volumes are 5.5 m3, 6.0 m3 and 6.6 m3 respectively.

As the first introduction for the Australian media to its latest light commercial, Mercedes-Benz has shown that by taking the higher ground, from a technical perspective, it has significantly improved what was already an excellent product.

Access and egress for the driver is particularly easy, all controls are well placed and Sat/Nav is displayed on the central dashboard screen. Interior noise levels are also particularly low as a result of extensive work being done on sealing and external airflow that lowered interior noise by 2dB(A), a reduction of 50 percent when compared to the previous model.

No doubt the Australian division of Mercedes-Benz will reduce the number of variations available to better suit our market, and Delivery looks forward to evaluating the Australian spec’ models before their scheduled July launch date.

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