STAR GAZING

It’s the key to better fuel efficiency for Mercedes-Benz, but for Australian operators of light commercials the prospect of AdBlue is a new concept.

Welcome to the world of Euro 6 emissions legislation, where the global pollution levels caused by motor vehicles take a significant drop and all of us can breathe more easily, at least in theory.

Australia has been slow to regulate for the introduction of the toughest exhaust emissions levels, and in the case of heavy truck engines the introduction of Euro 6 still remains a mystery, rumoured by some to be as far away as 2020.

In Europe, the legislation for having a cleaner exhaust is already set in stone. But when you are a vehicle manufacturer selling your products globally, it makes sense, due to the cost advantages of product standardisation, to keep everything equal and, where possible, to stay with one specification rather than producing different products to match the lesser technical requiMercedes-Benz-Valente_9rements of some markets.

The new Vito, Valente and V-Class vans and people movers from Mercedes-Benz embrace all this new diesel-engined technology, plus the company adds to its reputation for safety by expanding its driver and passenger protection systems. And it does so, all the while reducing fuel consumption and total cost of operation (TCO).

Although Mercedes-Benz splits the responsibility for selling the Vito variants and the Valente to the commercial division, leaving the more luxurious V-Class to its prestige car outlets, for the purpose of Delivery Magazine we’ll combine the options, largely because of the similarities in specification, rather than the differences that occur.

For van buyers there are four short and long-wheelbase variants (the Vito 111, 114, 116 and 119), plus mid-wheelbase crew-cab models in the form of the 114 and 119. Only the 1.6-litre used in the 111 model is ranked at Euro 5, with all the other versions of the 2.2-litre diesel already set at conforming to Euro 6 emissions regulations.

The Vito 111 kicks off the product range with a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine with a Variable Nozzle Turbocharger (VNT) that drives the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox. The payload is 1285 kg, and with a double overdrive gear ratio for 6th speed it’s up to 19 percent more fuel efficient and manages to reduce its CO2 emissions by up to 20 percent when compared with its nearest previous model.

When moving into the 114, 116 and 119 models you shift the drivetrain from front-wheel-drive to rear-wheel-drive. And to answer the obvious question of why the 114 has a front-wheel-drive set-up, the official answer is that it’s cheaper and quicker to manufacture, enabling the 111 to be ultra price competitive.

When moving to rear-wheel-drive for your Vito van you go up in cubic capacity to 2.2 litres, move from a VNT turbo to a two-stage turbocharging system and get a greener result from running at Euro 6 emissions levels compared to the Euro 5 of the 1.6-litre.

Mercedes-Benz-Valente_1Two-stage turbocharging means that your engine has two turbos, one small high-pressure unit that spins up quickly to apply boost pressure from low revs, and a larger lower-pressure turbo that pumps in greater volumes of air at higher engine rpm. The combination of the two gives you smoother performance and a stronger torque capability right through the rev range.

The 2.2-litre engine is up to 30 percent more fuel efficient with a matching reduction of exhaust emissions when compared to the nearest equivalent outgoing models. The engine uses Selective Catalytic Reduction to achieve these cleaner exhaust levels, which simply means that a fluid based on urea is squirted into the exhaust system where it sets up a chemical reaction that reduces the emissions.

The urea-based fluid is called AdBlue in Europe and Australia, or DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluid) in North America, and it is stored in its own tank, accessed by a separate cap (coloured blue) that is mounted next to the diesel filler cap.

With a very narrow diameter pipe, the AdBlue filler pipe cannot be confused with the diesel filler pipe. The AdBlue/DEF tank capacity does need to be checked occasionally, but for most car and light commercial applications the vehicle manufacturers try to keep its replenishment a matter for your mechanic, when the vehicle is in for a service.

An engine like the 2.2-litre diesel in the Vito will consume AdBlue in a ratio of approximately 97/3 percent (diesel/AdBlue), so it’s no big deal. That said, if you run out while driving, the engine would reduce its power and performance and go into limp mode, enabling you to get to the local fuel stop.

As soon as you replenish the AdBlue supply it will be back to business as usual. One final point, only top up the AdBlue tank with AdBlue, and don’t try to use any other substitute as it will not work and will prove to be an expensive outcome, an experience much the same as trying to run a diesel engine on petrol.

With one 1.6-litre engine of fixed output, those looking for choice in different power and torque ratings will focus on the 2.2-litre engine, with the 114 offering 100 kW/330 NM, the 116 with 120 kW /380 Nm and the 119 with 140 kW/440 Nm. The previously available V6 in the old model range has been discontinued.Mercedes-Benz-Valente_3

The only manual gearbox option is for the 1.6-litre 111 and the 2.2-litre 114, but the 114, 116 and 119 all feature the seven-speed, full fluid 7G-TRONIC automatic transmission with individual ratio selection by steering column mounted paddles. The driver can also select their preferred driving mode for preferred ratio shifts to suit economy, comfort or manual.

For the design of the new Vito everything centres on safety. The ESP system (Electronic Stability Programme) is standard across the range, bringing with it anti-lock brakes, traction control, rollover mitigation, electronic brake force distribution, hydraulic brake assist, enhanced understeering control, automatic brake disc wiping in wet conditions to promote overall shorter stopping distances, trail stability control, attention assist and crosswind assist.

At the top of the options tree you’ll also find adaptive cruise control, lane departure assistance and collision prevention assist, all designed to stop you wandering about between lanes or running up the back of something.

The choice is almost limitless, offering wheel rim size and styles, LED headlamps that intelligently adapt to road conditions, and more airbags than you can probably locate and identify, with everything designed to reduce physical harm to the occupants.

The blind-spot warnings, reversing cameras, front and rear alerts and all the other amazing inclusions are superb technology. There are, however, some things in the Vito that niggle me, personally.

Call me old fashioned, but I prefer to be able to apply or release the park brake progressively, through a conventional handbrake lever between the front seats, rather than a foot-operated park brake. I also find the forwards/reverse automatic selector stalk positioned on the steering column annoying, as those used to indicator switchgear on the right-hand-side of the column can occasionally operate it by mistake, finding they have inadvertently selected neutral.

Having driven two different Vito van models, both being automatics, nobody is going to be upset finding that a Vito is their new form of company workhorse. They drive well, there’s no feeling of inadequacy in the engine and driveline, and they handle well. There is some surprisingly high road noise when running over course chip road surfaces, but this reduces on other surfaces.

The five-star crash safety rating is obviously expected and the options lists include pages of items that cover the way the lights work to the comfort levels of the seats, the interior cladding of the cargo area and the quality of the stereo and entertainment system. If there is a criticism to be made, it’s that of the thickness of the A-pillars, necessary to achieve five-star safety and rollover prevention, that can inhibit visibility when entering a junction to turn right or left.Mercedes-Benz-Valente_6

In all aspects, the Vito, and its passenger-carrying equivalent the Valente, drive exceptionally well. With an independent rear suspension the handling is devoid of clonks, and the rear-wheel-drive feels solid and predicable. These are not lightweight vehicles. The technology and crash protection require a solid construction, and here the standard van is weighing in around the 2.1-tonne tare weight, with the passenger-carrying Valente up around the 2.5 tonnes mark in tare weight, when devoid of its eight passengers but including the driver.

The passenger seating layout in the Valente can be altered to suit the vehicle’s purpose, be it moving the family or running hotel transfers. The 120 kW/380 Nm is standard fare in the Valente, and with a full compliment on board there is still room for luggage at the rear, accessed through a top-hinged tailgate.

Price is the big deciding factor when it comes to how many boxes you tick in the buyer’s column on the order form. The entry-level, 1.6-litre, manual, front-wheel-drive, 111 short-wheelbase van is $33,764 (plus GST). As you work your way up to the 119 2.2-litre with seven-speed auto long-wheelbase van or Valente you’ll be hitting the $51,000 mark (again plus GST).

Consider the end result, the safety inclusions and the technology, and by the end of the test drive you will probably be totally “star” struck.

One comment

  1. I think Mercedes Benz have lost the plot in the styling department!
    It might be the best van out there with the best technology but they have definitely lost the plot with styling !
    IT looks like Vw Transporter , Hyundai iload, and the list goes on .
    The Renault Traffic or Ford Transit look more stylish in comparison.

    Just my opinion of course!

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