Viva the Vito

Mercedes-Benz shows it means serious business as it grows Vito appeal in the medium van segment – Report by Stuart Martin.

Working hard means any chance of respite is worth taking, so getting from job to job in relative comfort is a plus.

How much you pay for it and what it’s worth to have safe, comfortable and capable transport for you and your equipment is also a question asked by tradespeople and fleet managers across the country on a daily basis.

The Mercedes-Benz brand has several examples of Delivery Magazine’s silverware in its trophy cabinet, thanks to standard safety equipment and car-like driving manners key to the vans’ solid performances in the judging each year.

The Vito won the 2011 title, but in its current guise is playing second fiddle to the larger Sprinter when it comes to racking up awards from this publication.

We’re revisiting the big load-lugger in its 114 long-wheelbase form, this time sporting Continental tyres instead of the Hankooks that were wrapped around the wheels when the Vito rolled up for final award judging and attracted criticism for excessive road noise when travelling on typical course chip Aussie roads.

A list price prior to on-road costs of $46,400 isn’t bargain-basement – it’s in the Ford Transit ballpark on price alone – but the standard inclusions offset the top-end tag.

Tick some option boxes and the price tag won’t take long to top $60,000 as the road test vehicle’s $61,350 demonstrates. For that outlay the maintenance schedule runs at 12 months or 22,500 km service intervals – with service plans on offer – and there’s a warranty of three years or 200,000 km, whichever arrives first.

The road noise criticism was one suspected of being more a tyre than vehicle issue, so the first impressions behind the wheel of the Continental-shod Vito were better than we had previously experienced. There was still some road noise – even more so when traversing the traditional Australian coarse-chip rural roads – but it was not as intrusive as the Hankook’s howl. This earlier concern is indicative of just how a particular spec of tyre combination that works on European roads needs to be certified before releasing a vehicle onto a new market.

The Continentals did feel stiffer in the sidewalls and passed on more smaller road imperfections to the chassis and cabin, but not to the extent of being difficult on a daily basis. Larger road undulations were absorbed with aplomb when laden, and it was not unruly even when the payload of 1130 kg was taxed only by the weight of the driver.

The 3430 mm wheelbase of the LWB model, which tips the scales at 1920 kg, boasts a 6.9 cubic metre payload and able to be restrained using eight load anchor points. The optional auto boosts the braked towing capacity of 2500 kg, a 500 kg increase on the manual.

Shorter and 50 kg lighter, the SWB variant claims 5.8 cubic metres and 1180 kg payload for the body that sits on a wheelbase of 3200 mm. Propelled by the double overhead cam 16-valve 2.2-litre turbodiesel four-cylinder engine, the Vito wears the BlueTEC badge and claims Euro 6 emissions compliance.

Using common-rail direct-injection fuel delivery and turbocharging, it sends 100 kW at 3800 rpm (revolutions to which the engine is not overly averse) and 330 Nm to the rear wheels, the latter from just above idle through to 2400 rpm.

Fuel use is a claimed 6.1 litres per 100 km for the optional auto (complemented by a stop-start fuel saver system), 0.3 better than the standard six-speed manual model. Emissions are 161 g/km of CO2 and an AdBlue-fed selective catalytic reduction function converts nitrogen oxides into water and nitrogen.

Our time behind the wheel yielded a trip computer figure of 7.8 litres per 100 km from the 70-litre tank, at a 46 km/h average speed, which is commendable fuel economy given the city bias to our driving pattern and the highway bias of the ADR laboratory test.

The power plant prefers a leisurely pace on the torque band rather than at peak power, but there was rarely a need for the redline as the torque – while not overly abundant – kept more than adequate forward momentum.

The test vehicle’s seven-speed auto, for the most part, delivered smooth, if not super-swift changes, and wasn’t prone to hunting trips for the right ratio. With comfort, economy and manual modes, the driver gets the option of ‘manual’ shifts, but our stint in the vehicle did include a brief refusal to switch to manual mode or change gears with the paddles – the function returned eventually, but it was a curious change of heart.

The cabin is austere but effective, although it misses out on some of the more creative touches seen in the some of the recent Renaults. Folding seat backs with mini ‘desks’, and overhead and underseat storage are largely absent from the Vito, in which the occupants make do with some dash-top document storage, a small conventional glovebox and several different-sized door pockets.

The Vito 114’s features list also includes air conditioning, a two-speaker sound system, Bluetooth, auxiliary and USB inputs, 16-inch steel wheels (optioned up to alloys), power windows, heated power-adjustable exterior mirrors, cruise control with speed limiter function. What’s there all works well enough but the versatility factor is a little lacking.

The driver can get comfortable behind the leather-wrapped (an optional upgrade) reach and rake adjustable wheel. The driver’s seat provides plenty of height adjustment behind a dashboard and centre stack that have been inherited from previous generations of Mercedes-Benz passenger vehicles, and it makes the van’s cabin a decent place to be – the optional Becker satellite navigation (which is small of screen and low-res) isn’t too difficult to use.

Instrumentation is all clear and simple, with the centre display controlled by steering-wheel-mounted buttons – some of the centre display menus are a little convoluted. For example, changing music tracks via the steering-wheel buttons when the digital speedometer is displayed takes a few more button pushes than it should.

The test van had the optional bulkhead with window, which kept ‘booming’ from the cargo area down.

Neither the optional rear barn doors nor the also-optional bench seat’s middle headrest do much for rearward vision.

The rear doors open to 180 degrees or disconnect to 270 degrees to be held by magnetic catch on the side – the standard twin sliding doors can clash with the barn doors if folded to that point.

While a useful cabin, cavernous loadspace and decent drivetrain are among the Benz highlights, the safety features list has enough to make an OH&S rep almost smile.

The Vito is now an ANCAP five-star vehicle with standard (from mid-2016) front and front-side airbags, as well as a stability and traction control system that also contains the effective crosswind assistance system.

There are also sensors front and rear, as well as a reversing camera that gets a welcome wash if the rear windscreen washer-wiper is used. The rear towbar package also include a feature that sees the camera view tilt downwards onto the tow ball when coupling up to a trailer, and this is a major benefit for drivers that need assistance when reversing.

The Vito also gets driver attention assist to detect inattention or fatigue, with the safety options list also including side curtain airbags. Additionally available in Australia is the optional collision prevention assist system that monitors the distance from the vehicle ahead and warns the driver if there is a danger of a collision and boosts braking force accordingly. Also contained within that package is the blind-spot and lane-keeping warning systems.

The Vito is a comprehensive and compelling package in terms of loadspace, access and driveability, and is the pick of all the entrants for those looking for the best in class. But sharp pricing from other German brands and an entrenched Japanese entrant that’s tough to dislodge means the Mercedes has its work cut out as it mounts its campaign to increase market share.

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