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Mercedes-Benz is confident its new-generation Vito will enable the model to emerge from the long shadow cast by its big brother, the Sprinter, and enable the brand to take centre stage in the medium-van sector.
Jorg Zurn, Mercedes' head of engineering for LCVs, spells out the firm's ambitions for the new van: "We want to be the market leader in Europe with the Vito. It's a medium-sized van, but it's not a medium-sized solution. Nothing about our new mid-size van can be called 'average'."
UK customers will, for the first time, be able to choose front- as well as rear-wheel-drive Vitos. We tried both, a rear-drive 116CDI with a 163hp 2.2-litre and a front-drive 109CDI with the 88hp 1.6 engine. All engines get a six-speed manual transmission as standard apart from the range-topping 190hp Bluetec 119, which has the 7G-tronic Plus auto as standard. With the BlueEfficiency package, a 116 CDI should be the most fuel-efficient van in its class, achieving an impressive 49.6mpg.
Mercedes claims to have improved the Vito's suspension and upgraded the steering with electro-mechanical power assistance. New spring and damper tuning aims to improve ride quality and, while the panel van and crew van are designed to carry heavy loads, a comfort suspension system with softer springs and more absorbent shock absorbers is optional on the crew van and standard on Tourer models. It's not the most prepossessing van to look at but it does have a neat and tidy appearance, although in standard spec the unpainted bumpers render the Vito fairly utilitarian. But the design allows it to achieve a low coefficient-drag value of 0.32. The cabin is not as attractive or stylish as that of the Ford Transit Connect, although the quality of the materials is high and sturdy throughout.
It's stuffed with safety kit - Collision Prevention Assist, Lane Keeping Assist and Mercedes' Intelligent Lighting System are all options, and Mercedes claims it's the only panel van with airbags and a seat belt reminder for the driver and passenger as standard.
Our 163hp Vito was easy to drive and well-mannered in the city, and with a half-load in the back the drivetrain provided plenty of power. The optional 7G-tronic transmission was impressive, whether taking the strain out of negotiating city traffic or providing smooth, precise performance on winding roads and long motorway stretches. We found the steering to be sharp, if a little light when tackling bends, but the suspension kept body roll to within comfortable limits and rear-wheel drive made accelerating out of bends impressively dynamic.
The front-wheel drive 1.6 emphasised the strengths of the more powerful rear-drive version. It struggled a touch with steep hills, with the six-speed manual gearbox requiring some stirring. For operators who need a van to soak up plenty of punishment and who cover long distances heavily loaded, the rear-drive 116CDI is the Vito to choose.
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No indication from Mercedes
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No indication from Mercedes
group 6 (est)
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High-quality, capable van but can't quite match the best rivals