I quite like vans. I like the way they drive, the fact that they are purpose-built and of course the practicality of it all. It can fit plenty of people, a sofa or two and just about everything in-between – just not at the same time, though. Add to that upper-class luxury and the town of Sitges in Spain and you have yourself one excited motoring scribe.
I can trace my love-affair with vans back to 2015, when Mercedes-Benz first launched the V-Class on local soil. As it happened, it was also my first encounter with this species of MPV and, on a whim, I decided to take it on a cross-country trip for the simple reason of maximising my time with it.
At the time, it boasted unprecedented levels of luxury what with active cruise control, ambient lighting, digital interfaces, reversing- and surround-view cameras for manoeuvring … the list goes on.
Sure, it wasn’t perfect by any means of the imagination. Because this was the first of a kettle of van that boasted this elevated level of luxury, Merc essentially had to create the blueprint of all things nice-to-have. Little niggles like compromised ergonomics in the back and rattles all round was the result of this pioneering spirit.
Rattles and all, Mercedes-Benz still managed to sell 209,000 units worldwide since its international debut of the previous model. Simple deductions then will tell you that it has a lot going for it, especially when you consider the fact that these vans don’t come cheap.
But now, there’s a new one and the Stuttgart-based van-maker has learned from its shortcomings. It also built on the strengths of the old model and ingrained into it the undisputable Merc-genetic codon, like the turbine-look air vents that have become a mainstay feature with the brand’s new generation of cars.
There are also new material colours available for the upholstery with the addition of Tartufo Napa leather to the catalogue that is available in both black and silk beige, while a more hard-wearing Santos black fabric is also available with a choice of six colours.
According to Mercedes, interior trims of the piano lacquer, ebony wood, carbon fibre and brushed aluminium will remain available for individual specification while the interior highlight, as far as options are concerned, is new luxury seats for the first row in the back. These seats offer full reclining functionality and a back massage just like, those found the in S-Class, says the manufacturer.
It’s been updated on the exterior front as well with a new emphasis on elements that gift the V-Class with a wider appearance. Mercedes achieved this by restyling the front bumper and incorporating new air inlets into the more seamless design.
The updated V-Class range is also the canvas for several new body colours including ‘steel blue’ and ‘hyacinth red metallic’, while four new wheel designs ranging from 17 to 19” are doing service across the range. The result is a van that is quite the looker.
ON THE ROAD
As far as engines for the V-Class go, things are a little less peachy for the South African market. The big news leading up to the international launch of the luxury bus was that all 2.1-litre turbodiesel engines were primed for replacement by the more refined 2.0-litre oil-burner. However, as we found out after our first day of exploring Spain in style, SA will be one of the countries where the 2.1-litre will continue to live-on in the V-Class. The reason, Mercedes-Benz simply stated, is that South Africa has not yet adopted the WLTP testing cycle.
Another bolt from the blue was that like the new engines, we are also not getting the new range-topping V300d with its performance-car-matching 176 kW and 500 Nm of torque, 30 Nm of which is courtesy of its over-boost function. And that’s a pity.
I liked the V300. A lot. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best vans I’ve ever driven with its smooth and reasonably brisk acceleration, its direct steering and the overall plushness to be found in the front and back. While we didn’t try and provoke it at any stage, we were nevertheless pleasantly surprised by the little body roll it carried through some of Spain’s sweeps. Driving in a foreign country, though, I did find the on-board navigation to be intrusive, to the point where getting completely lost seemed like a preferable option.
It was much of the sameness at the helm of the locally-bound V250d. The engine was quiet and the gearbox compliant, but stepping out of the V300d, and into the V250d, the power deficit was painfully obvious since it produces a modest (compared to the V300) 140 kW and 440 Nm of torque.
This, however, did give me time to focus on some issues that were present in the previous generation V-Class. I’m happy to report that it looks like Mercedes-Benz Vans has addressed them. Despite the fact that the Spanish highways are silky smooth compared to SA roads, I couldn’t hear any rattles coming from the back on some of the rougher side-roads.
It also gets a tick in the ergonomics box with more available space in the passenger compartment, thanks to what seems to be significantly improved seating appointments.
It’s sad that the South African market will not see the more refined 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine. Not anytime in the near future that is. Ditto with the V300. For now, it seems that the local market will have to be satisfied with the 2.1-litre diesel that is, if we’re honest, starting to show its age despite the excellent NVH (Noise Vibration and Harshness) levels of the current V-Class.
Luckily, though, the already unmatched level of luxury has been upped, it boasts even more presence and while it won’t be replaced, the corresponding smaller engines in the overseas market boast the exact same power outputs as the engine line-up that will be available locally.
And, well, I like the new Mercedes-Benz V-Class. It served as a welcome reminder of where my love for this kettle of MPV first started. And now, it even comes with 4Matic all-wheel-drive.
Report by DEON VAN DER WALT | Images © DAIMLER AG