FAMILY OUTINGS

Stuart Martin looks at the benefits of the new Valente from Mercedes-Benz

Commercial people-moving for eight (and up to nine) occupants behind a three-pointed star has been revamped as Mercedes-Benz brings a new Valente into its line-up.

The Valente brings a market-specific features list and upgraded drivetrain, delivering outputs from the Vito LCV’s second-most powerful version of the 2.2-litre turbodiesel via the seven-speed automatic to the rear wheels.

The asking price has risen to $56,380 – up from $54,490 – with a host of active safety features now standard, but absent from the standard list are a reversing camera and parking sensors.Mercedes-Benz_Valente_2

Mercedes-Benz Van managing director, Diane Tarr, said a rear camera as standard was a topic of wider discussion of giving customers the option of extra safety features without increasing prices.

“The camera has been discussed with Germany and we are trying to put it in the market in the right position, part of that is to also monitor the requests and uptake – we will continue to look at that,’’ she said.

“We have increased the price by around 5.0 percent but the value addition is greater than that – with the seven-speed auto and the standard safety features, we think we’ve got a good balance between safety features and value,” she said.

The additional safety gear and upgraded drivetrain are expected to improve the sales performance over the outgoing model, which has a tally of 72 YTD, well down on the 2014 rate that totalled 323 sales.

The $900 reversing camera is part of a list of options that includes metallic paint for $1490, $500 worth of roof rails, and sat/nav (the Becker Map Pilot system) for an extra $900.

The camera can be had as part of a parking package that includes an auto parking system, parking sensors and the reversing camera for $1700, or add sat/nav for a $2400 increase.

The two front seats can be equipped with heating and power adjustment, but are only offered with the Presafe accident preparation system for $5700.

The driver can also have collision warning, blind spot, lane departure and a leather wrapped steering wheel for an extra $1600, or a second package that drops the collision warning and costs $1300.

The LED lighting pack option also includes a rain sensor for the wipers and will add $2800 to the asking price, or dual electric sliding doors ups the price by $2490.

The Benz people-mover has grown in overall length by 132 mm to 5140 mm (due to pedestrian impact crash requirements according to Mercedes-Benz), and it also boasts two rear three-seater bench seats, which slide and fold.

The kerbside middle row seat also flips forward for access to the third row; both rows have child seat tethers (at the rear of the backrest to keep all seats useable) and ISOFIX points, the latter only missing from the two kerbside seats.

Mercedes-Benz_Valente_8The seats can be removed (albeit likely a two-person task) for additional luggage space – it boasts a maximum 3.6 cubic metres of loadspace. It sits just under two metres tall – even with the optional roof rails – which the maker says is vital for underground and multi-storey carpark access.

Rear seat occupants also get a dedicated climate control system (vital given the absence of moving rear glass) as well as curtain airbags stretching across all three rows of seating.

Infotainment is controlled by the colour non-touch screen (Benz engineers don’t believe in touchscreens) and steering wheel buttons, and features USB and auxiliary inputs, as well as Bluetooth link.

Valente is powered by the 2.2-litre, four-cylinder, common-rail, two-stage turbodiesel (one small turbo teamed with a second larger turbo) engine that’s shared across the broader Mercedes-Benz range, and the first in the segment to meet Euro 6 emissions. This engine brings with it 120 kW and 380 Nm of peak torque, the second highest tune of the engine, calmed by two counter-rotating balance shafts and a dual-mass flywheel.

The addition of a seven-speed paddleshift auto (up from the outgoing five-speeder) helps reduce fuel use by around 23 percent.

The powerplant also features emissions reduction selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology, which uses the AdBlue additive common in large trucks to reduce oxides of nitrogen emissions in exhaust gas, converting the mix into water and nitrogen.

The features list includes a USB and Bluetooth-equipped infotainment system, 16-inch alloy wheels, auto-dimming centre mirror and folding exterior mirrors.

Active safety is a key selling point of the new Valente, which Benz expects to be endowed with five stars and says sets new safety standards for the segment with the latest adaptive Electronic Stability Program Version 9i.

Added to the normal suite of safety features (anti-lock braking, traction and stability control, hill-start assist and rollover controls) are enhanced understeering control, automatic brake disc wiping in wet conditions and preparation of the brakes in critical driving situations.

Also on offer is trailer stability assist if a tow bar is ordered to take advantage of a 2.0-tonne braked towing capacity (or 2.5-tonnes if the appropriate option box is ticked).

The standard safety features list includes dual front, front-side and front and rear curtain airbags, but it’s the inclusion of attention assist driver fatigue system and crosswind assist (which uses stability control sensors to counter crosswinds) as standard that also sets the Valente apart from the rest of the segment. LED headlights are optional as part of the adaptive heaMercedes-Benz_Valente_6dlights system that provides an auto-highbeam that’s able to adapt the light distribution to the type of roadway and the prevailing driving conditions.

While the Valente might not be a challenge to the Kia for leading the segment in sales, it is aiming to gather a fan base from those interested in active safety, space and a three-pointed star.

The passenger-focused Valente offers a spacious and solid people-mover, with the ability to tailor the interior for loads or passengers.

For those looking to carry loads, and the large brood out of hours, a pleasant surprise was found in the form of six child seat anchor points at the base of the backrests in both rear rows. Such a feature is one purpose-built people-movers from several manufacturers are yet to conquer, putting tether straps in places that render third rows nigh on useless for passengers. The rear benches are also equipped with four ISOFIX anchorages – the two kerbside seats are left without for easier access to the remaining seating positions.

The absence of a standard rear camera and parking sensors front and rear is a little perplexing for a company spruiking safety credentials and family-transport capabilities, leaving it to personal buyer selection to tick the appropriate box on the options list.

The rear rows can be removed, folded or moved along the floor rails, but with more effort required than might be easily exerted by some.

First impressions suggest the new Valente won’t disappoint those looking to transport passengers in the domestic or commercial realm, with a composed ride quality and a quiet interior, solid active safety features list and roomy interior.

Frugal fuel use will also appeal to commercial operators, as will the ability to expand luggage space, tempered by the lack of flexibility to fold the third row away but keep it in the vehicle.

Sitting in the same price range as the top-spec Kia Carnival and the mid-spec Volkswagen Multivan range, not to mention the aged Toyota Tarago, the Valente has some strong selling points to make more of an impression than it has thus far in the Australian market.

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