ON THE BUS

Delivery’s people-mover category brought an interesting variety of options, some of which are totally unique in appeal and practicality.

For Rob Randazzo, the thing that sets people movers apart from other load carriers is that your load has the ability to express its needs and opinions – and does! The only real unique advantage is that it self-loads (or unloads) without much intervention on the part of the driver.

It says something for the degree of importance of this segment of the industry that out of five vehicles, three were from Mercedes-Benz, the biggest being the Sprinter MWB Transfer Bus.

The 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine produces 120 kW and 360 Nm, and the bus’s 7G-TRONIC automatic gearbox is one of the best on the market, meaning the lightness and agility as it buzzed around our test loop defied the bulk of this Sprinter-derived people mover.People_movers_6

Merc’s class-leading safety features play a big part in making the Transfer Bus a desirable option. However, the most desirable aspect to influence a potential buyer would have to be the ability to carry 11 passengers (plus driver) and still have space behind the last row of seats and cargo barrier for their luggage. This bus would effectively do away with the bag-damaging trailers we see bouncing along behind less safe, and less efficient, sardine-can vans doing hotel and airport transfers.

The ‘bus’ is not cheap at $93,639 (drive away as tested), but you would be carrying 11 passengers.

Moving down to the next Benz entrant and we come to the Valente at $76,544. This is a smaller van, and it certainly didn’t butter my muffin. The Valente has the same willing turbodiesel engine and transmission as the Transfer Bus, and it could squeeze in eight passengers, but would realistically carry seven. To me, this van seemed dark and gloomy inside and certainly did not feel as composed as other competitors over rougher sections of the Delivery test loop.

The final Mercedes-Benz entrant was the luxury-class V250. This van is the top of the range and carries a price tag of $96,172 (drive away as tested) to prove it. The V250 uses the same capacity engine, but pumps out 140 kW at 4200 rpm and 440 Nm of torque, thanks to its twin-turbo design.

On the road, it is smooth, quiet, responsive, and purrs at 1900 rpm at 100 km/h. The V-class is loaded with a mass of safety, technology, and comfort features, based on the luxury Mercedes C-class sedan. I am not sure that I would choose the test van’s light-beige coloured leather seats in a commercial people move, as it would be a case of cleaning them every five minutes, rather than every five days.People_movers_13

After a hugely disappointing drive in the VW T6 Transporter, I was not expecting much from the Volkswagen Multivan Generation Six. How wrong I was! This luxury version of the Transporter punches out a segment-leading 150 kW of power and 450 Nm of torque from its 2.0-litre engine and seven-speed DSG, yet fuel consumption is just 6.5 l/100 km. It can carry six passengers on its luxury leather seats and includes a myriad of features including sat/nav, camera, electronic diff lock, power side door on each side, a sliding multifunction table with drink holders and storage for rear passengers, pull-up window shades in all rear side windows, and much more.

People_movers_12In appearances, the Multivan is far less “extravagant” than the V250, but it drives as well (and better on rougher sections), moves the same number of passengers in a very safe and pleasant environment, and, at $86,271 (drive away as tested), it costs $10,000 less than the V-class.

The final people-mover to brave the Delivery test track was Hyundai’s iMax Series II. It was the cheapest people mover tested, but its 2.5-litre CRDI engine matched to Hyundai’s five-speed auto gearbox develops 125 kW of power and a burly 441 Nm of torque.

The iMax doesn’t have the bling of the V250 or ride quality of the Multivan, but it carries seven passengers (one more than the other two) and will only cost you $51,915 (drive away, as tested). This is $24,629 leaner than its nearest rival, and $44,987 cheaper than the Benz V250. It is great to drive and completes its task as a people mover safely and efficiently.

People_movers_10The cherry on the cake for the iMax, and its buyers, is Hyundai’s five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty.

It is difficult to compare like-for-like when prices and seating capacities are so broad. However, by dividing each van’s price by its passenger seating capacity we arrive at a common parameter for comparison – the cost of each passenger seat in each van.

Each passenger seat in the V250 will cost the buyer $16,029, the Multivan will take $14,378, the Valente is $10,934, and the Transfer Bus sets you back $8512 for each seat. However, each iMax passenger seat will absorb only $7416 (less than half V250’s cost), which means owner/drivers could probably afford to have an occasional weekend off and still keep the banks happy, and this would make it my People Mover of the Year 2016.

Counterpoint

Chris Gable compares the extreme-luxury of the V-Class to the honestly capable Hyundai iMax, the popular people-mover class looks healthier than ever before.

The genuine surprise in this category – especially given the disappointing reception given the T6 Transporter van on which it’s based – was the new VW Multivan.

Even a brief drive of this top-shelf Transporter revealed where the T6 development money had gone. Refined where the Transporter was course, quiet where its light-commercial sibling was raucous, the Multivan was refreshingly impressive. And its floor-mounted sliding table and storage compartment for centre and rear-seat passengers was a clever modern feature that impressed even our resident VW collector. People_movers_3

If you were lucky enough to sample it at night over Delivery’s test route, roos excepted, the experience was, well, illuminating. Static cornering front foglights give a wide, white beam that frankly should be mandatory in all vehicle lighting systems. Pedestrians and even the roadside roos become more obvious. Standard on top-spec Multivan Highline and activated by steering wheel movements, the VW’s system works a treat.

Combined with VW’s top-level active and passive safety spec, the Multivan made a convincing claim for best people-mover status – or, it at least looked like giving the Benzes a run for their money.

What to say about the Valente? And especially its decidedly upmarket Mercedes-Benz people-mover flagship, the plush V-Class?

‘Sensational’, ‘next-level’, ‘a class above the rest’…..take your pick. They all describe the genuine class act in this people-mover category. For corporate transportation and multi-passenger hire-car work – even luxury family transportation – the cloth-trimmed Valente and, especially, the luxurious V-Class tick all the right boxes.

If money’s no object, the decision to opt for one of those Benzes is a no-brainer.

Perhaps less pretentiously than either of the Benzes or VW’s top-shelf Multivan, Hyundai’s updated iMax people-mover offered a more affordable alternative to the European category kings. Its commendably new mid-dash rear-view camera – shared with its iLoad commercial variant – won the iMax universal acclaim from Delivery’s judges, too.

At the other extreme of people-mover capability was another Benz, this time the Sprinter Transfer. Dubbed ‘The Party Bus’, it’s a formidable people-mover category entrant if ever there was one.

Fleet Thoughts

Terry Bickerton weighs up the qualities of Delivery’s line-up of people-movers, but finds it hard to stray far from Benz’s Vito-based benchmark.

“I like the fact the V-Class has the full C-Class entertainment and communication system in it. It’s really got everything. The Valente has the old audio-vis system in it, but it still works well. And it’s got a fair bit of fruit in it. There’s not much I don’t like about this vehicle. And, of course, both Benz people-movers come with Benz’s impeccable suite of safety features.

“If money’s not an object, the V-Class – or the lower-spec Valente – is the obvious choice in this category. However, it is twice the price of the Hyundai iMax.People_movers_8

“If I were cost-conscious I would certainly look at the Hyundai. It’s way better than I thought it would be. It’s a good, honest van. It’s a decent price point vehicle,” said Terry.

Time to Travel

Editor Chris Mullett enters the fray with some additional thinking about how to move human beings in comfort and safety.

Having our five contenders in the people mover category might make it sound like an easy equation to sort out the wheat from the chaff. The reverse was actually true, due to the extensive differences that surfaced as we drove each of the individual models, despite the fact that the intended application was basically identical.

The transportation of around seven or eight people between airports and hotels involves adding luggage that can cut the available interior space down by one third, or, to avoid that dilemma, means the towing of a noisy encumbrance of a trailer stuck on a tow bar behind.

Given that some novice members of the concierge team might still be relatively inexperienced in their driving skills, adding a trailer might preclude them from actually reversing into a position to park, unless they have been given the opportunity to practice in the underground car park.

And, having mentioned car parks, we have to consider roof heights. Is a low roof height an advantage for entry to a car park, or is it an annoyance when trying to speed ingress and egress of the customers where there is always a risk that one might impact their head on a door opening or roof?

People_movers_5Despite the attraction of the Valente, a previous category winner, the latest 2016 version came with a very dark, well, black really, interior that reminded me somewhat of a bat cave. The enveloping darkness wrapped around the occupants, and, despite the engineering ability, excellent matching of the diesel engine and the seven-speed, full-fluid automatic transmission, it made for a sombre driving experience.

The lower-priced iMax from Hyundai was the total opposite in terms of creating an internal atmosphere. Light grey colours and a bright interior made for a happy place, improved for the driver by the recent addition of cruise control and a very clear, large-screen display for the reverse camera. The ride comfort is also slightly better than the iLoad due to a coil sprung rear end, in place of the van’s rear semi-elliptical leaf design.

Admittedly, the 2.5-litre CRDi engine from Hyundai is not as sophisticated as the latest Mercedes-Benz and VW offerings, it nonetheless punches above its weight in terms of performance and smoothness, with well matched ratios in the fluid auto transmission.

The corresponding competitor from VW for the iMax and Valente is actually the Caravelle, but without one submitted for test we now move straight on the VW Multivan, a higher spec alternative that shares with Caravelle the same 2.0-litre, 103 kW/340 Nm diesel four cylinder designated the TDI340. The TDI450 ups the output to 150 kW and 450 Nm thanks to the addition of a second turbocharger, but all three versions share the same seven-speed DSG twin-clutch automated manual transmission driving through the front wheels.

The VW Multivan did not present such a dark interior as the Valente, despite having black leather seats and dark carpets. Feeling higher off the ground and with seating positions that were catered for by “Captain” style seat designs, the occupants sat more as they would while enjoying dinner rather than reclining for coffee.

Clever features included concealed sunscreen panels in the door that can be raised to cover the interior window glass to prevent heat soak and also to add to privacy.

A word here about ride and handling for a vehicle where passenger comfort is a major consideration. The standard wheel and tyre combination is for 16-inch rims with 215/65R16 tyres. Optionally available are 17-inch or 18-inch rims with tyre aspect rations dropping to 255/45R18 in the extreme case.

As the driver is not going to be cornering on the ultimate edge, the rest of the time the passengers have to accept a harder ride through the lower aspect ratio tyre and more road noise. A prudent buyer would aim for the higher aspect ratio and smaller rim size and forgo the cosmetic attraction. The upshot would also include longer tyre life.

When driving the Multivan it actually felt more composed, especially on rougher road surfaces, and as a dual-purpose vehicle it completes its task better than the Valente.

The V-Class V250 is like a rat with a gold tooth, all looks and flashy gear with overtly impractical, but lovely to look at, creamy white leather upholstered seating.People_movers_9

Ride and handling are more akin to a prestige sedan, and from a luxury perspective it’s got every other contender beaten at the starting gate. But, and it’s a big but, as the pricing structure skyrocketed to $100,000 it’s a lot of money for what most lower-class, servant-level observers would call a Mum Bus.

Finally, fully loaded with advanced safety features intent on preserving life while avoiding accidents comes the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Transfer Bus. Unlikely to ever engender a feeling of awe and inspiration when purchased, it nonetheless treats the objective of moving passengers comfortably, easily and safely as a matter of high importance.

While my colleagues will undoubtedly be looking at the fun-to-drive aspect of vehicle ownership, my view will be on whether it can contribute strongly to business cashflow as a people shifter that’s easy to access while providing space onboard for luggage. The slide-out side step that works in unison with the powered sliding side door is also a strong advantage.

The engine produces sufficient power, the 7G-Tronic fluid automatic transmission is seamless and the available safety features, including cross wind assist, adaptive cruise control and blind spot assist reduces risks of accident and injury. It may not have the wow factor in terms of looks, but it does ring to the sound of a cash register and gets my vote as the safe solution.

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