by Brad Leach - 04/03/10
In August 1999 Mercedes-Benz began a revolution in the light commercial van business. While the three-pointed star was familiar across Europe on the nose of delivery vehicles, it represented quite a novelty in Australia, where the Vito was immediately successful.
The second generation model, looking much like the first but employing drive to the rear rather than the front wheels, arrived here in April 2004. Now coming up to six years of age, the design still looks fresh and the Vito delights commercial operators with its carlike driving dynamics and low running costs. In August 2009 it became the first commercial van available in Australia to gain a five-star ANCAP safety rating.
The Euro 4-compliant diesel engines remain unchanged for 2010. Daimler offers three different versions of tune on the 2.1-litre turbodiesel four, each being linked to a different equipment level to ‘reward’ buyers who choose more expensive variants.
Thus the 109 CDI compact van makes 70kW at 3800rpm and 250Nm at 1400-2600rpm, while the 111 CDI version has 85kW at 3800 rpm and 290 Nm at 1600-2600 rpm and gets cruise control.
The 115 CDI (110kW at 3800rpm/330Nm at 1800-2400 rpm) comes with a five-speed automatic transmission as standard fare.
Choose that same compact van with the 3.0-litre V6 (120 CDI) and you have a seriously sporting van with 150kW of power at 3800rpm and 440Nm at 1600-2400rpm, with 17-inch alloys, colour-coded bumpers, passenger car style dashboard, leatherbound wheel and gearknob.
The 109 CDI comes as a six-speed manual only.
Automatic transmission is a $2500 option on the Vito 111 CDI.
Fuel economy ratings range according to model from 8.1l to 9.2l/100km and carbon emissions from 227 to 252g/km, unladen.
The fact that so many vans now have habitable interiors which put the driver first is attributable to the 1999 Vito, which changed the way consumers thought about their work vehicles. Until then, with the exception of the Volkswagen, delivery vans were basic vehicles which were short on comfort, driving dynamics and safety.
They were built down to the lowest price and it showed clearly, especially in the cabin. There is a new understanding, driven principally by Volkswagen and Mercedes, that for commercial drivers the vehicle is their home office. One of the first things you notice inside a Vito is how good the driving position is. The wheel is nicely angled. All-round vision is good.
The materials used are of good quality and the seats are more comfortable than in some sedans (including a few current Mercedes models). A passenger’s airbag, which was an $800 option, is now standard and this is reflected in a price rise of $500. Even the entry level 109 CDI model feels like a luxury van.
The Vito is a neatly styled and eye-catching vehicle. Its stance on the road is strong, thanks to a wide track and what appears to be a low centre of gravity for a commercial vehicle.
Alloy wheels, which are standard on the V6 (120 CDI) and optional on the less expensive models, suit the Vito to a tee. So do brighter colours; the pillar-box red of the Australia Post vehicles has drawn new attention to the marque and its fleet applications (Mercedes-Benz Sprinter wagons dominate the nation’s ambulance force).
‘Carlike’ is a favoured word for wagons, utes, SUVs and vans, but the original Vito was the first vehicle in the last category to justify the adjective. Steering feel is just like any rear-drive Mercedes sedan and the Vito’s rear-wheel drive configuration will please enthusiasts because torque steer, by definition, is impossible.
Even without a load in the back, ride comfort is good. And the agility of the handling was amply demonstrated when Daimler Australia entered a Vito 115 CDI in the 2009 Classic Adelaide road rally, where it performed impressively. The entry level van performs quite well, but for those who regularly carry a full payload, perhaps the extra torque of the 111 CDI model, allied to the optional automatic transmission, is a better bet. An unladen 120 CDI is a true sports van with more urge than many mid-sized sedans.
If you are not careful you can option a Vito up to the point where the price bears little resemblance to the entry point of $39,990. You have to add the optional side curtain airbags ($800) for the vehicle to achieve its 5-star ANCAP rating.
The new Daimler Australia advertisement for the Vito -- ‘you only live once’ -- sums up the vehicle’s appeal with the double meaning: live life to the full by buying an aspirational vehicle; give yourself the maximum chance of staying alive.
The Vito’s main rivals are the other European brands, chiefly Ford, Fiat, Citroën, Renault and Peugeot. Hyundai’s iLoad is a less expensive but worthy contender.
Great style, safety, driver appeal and value (especially less expensive variants)
Entry level 70 kW engine has to work hard
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