First Drive - Mercedes-Benz V250 CDI BlueTEC 7G-Tronic LWB

Mercedes-Benz is becoming a dab hand in building excitement around its new products. Last year we were exposed to the S-Class in stages – first the interior, then the exterior, then the drive. It seems to work – keen anticipation for the S-Class has led to a full order book. It helps that the car’s rather good, too.

Now the Stuttgart sages are repeating the trick with Mercedes’ other chauffeur special – the V-Class, the replacement for the popular Viano MPV. Only this time there’s a problem – the carefully planned launch schedule has been planned around left-hand drive Continental markets. Right-hand drive production won’t start until next year, so don’t expect to be able to buy a V-Class until March 2015.

PD website road test  Mercedes V-Class header

We’ve another problem too – a German airline pilots’ strike curtails our scheduled lengthy drive around northern Germany – instead, we’re confined to the area around the bustling city of Hamburg. It’d have been nice to stretch the legs of our V250 BlueTec test car, but instead we put it through its paces on the sort of jobs that are meat and drink to the V-Class – shuttling around from airport to city centre, through busy city traffic and smoother-flowing suburban dual carriageways. Hamburg airport, where our launch is based, is close to the city centre – so we spend the sort of day a London-based chauffeur might spend.


Exterior styling

Mercedes still makes considerable use of the Viano in its corporate fleet – so we get plenty of opportunity to see the current model next to its V-Class replacement. The basic template hasn’t changed, but the V-Class certainly looks less boxy, less van-like. We haven’t yet seen the next-generation Vito, though Mercedes claims the differences between cargo-carrying Vito and luxury V-Class is more marked than on the previous generation. We’ll see later in the year when the new Vito is revealed.

V-Class takes a lot of styling cues from the new S-Class, the car that defines the latest phase of the Mercedes family style. The bolder grille, bigger headlamps and sculpted side panels create a vehicle with considerable presence, and which hides its basic boxy shape well. Height is 1.88m, 40mm lower than a Viano, which should allow V-Class into most standard-height multi-storey car parks, garages or car washes.


Interior and loadspace

The biggest changes are inside the car – we’ve already described the new interior in detail – you can see from the photographs that it’s a significant upping of the stakes in terms of luxury, quality and finish. Mercedes has cleverly used parts from other models to create a sweeping, elegant dashboard – the instrument cluster is from the new C-Class, as is the flat screen sat-nav and central ‘Comand’ controller. Classy, circular metal vents are straight out of the S-Class – as is much of the electronic content. You even get a cut-down version of the S-Class’s lovely ambient LED lighting, with a choice of colours.

PD website road test  Mercedes V-Class dashboard

PD website road test  Mercedes V-Class comand controller

The front seat is a nice place to be – and so is the rear compartment, accessible through electric sliding doors. It’s configurable with swivelling second-row leather seats, and finished to a high standard, with wood-effect side cappings. A three-person bench seat is available as a no-cost option. The ambient lighting extends into the rear cabin too.

PD website road test  Mercedes V-Class cabin

The seats are mounted on rails and can be removed. The rail system allows flexibility – for example, the third row of seats can be moved forward to expand the luggage area. We also like the flexible tailgate system that allows the rear window to open independently of the tailgate – helpful in tight parking spaces. The rear parcel shelf is load bearing too, and can carry small cases. Alternatively, fold-away storage boxes can be added on the parcel shelf to hold loose items securely.

PD website road test  Mercedes V-Class rear window

PD website road test  Mercedes V-Class tailgate


New powertrains

V-Class comes in three lengths, though we’re only taking the LWB and extra-long versions. And engine choices have been cut too – the 3.0-litre V6 has been axed and only 2.2-litre four-pot diesels remain, in varying power outputs. We’re driving a more powerful V250 model, though the slightly more frugal V220 is likely to be the best seller.

Don’t mourn the V6 – the V250 has less power, 190bhp against 224bhp, but similar peak torque of 440Nm. It boasts a brisk 0-62 time of just 9.1sec. And it puffs out just 157g/km of CO2, much better than the V6’s 224g/km. And a claimed combined fuel economy of 46mpg is a significant improvement of 28% over the old 3.0-litre V6.

We didn’t have enough time on enough different roads to get a meaningful economy figure – but our mainly urban drive yielded about 32mpg. This suggests real-world mixed motoring in the high 30s and motorway cruising perhaps into the 40s – decent performance for a hefty eight-seater with a footprint the size of an S-Class.

With the refined interior comes refined cabin comfort. Noise levels have been cut substantially over the Viano. The cabin is very quiet, with very little engine noise. A seven-speed automatic gearbox certainly help keep the revs low – while the transmission is basically the same as that of the E-Class, the gearing is different, with more low-end torque to cope with higher payloads.


Driving dynamics

It certainly responds well to being driven smoothly – heavy on the throttle and the engine growl makes itself known. There are four driving modes, switchable using a toggle switch on the centre console. These are Eco, Manual, Comfort and Sport. Eco promises optimised fuel economy, but at the expense of more sluggish throttle response, making for a heavy and uncomfortable drive. Sport is way too eager for this vehicle, leading to too many gear changes and harsh engine tone under acceleration.

As you might expect, Comfort is where it’s at – ride is soft and smooth, while the 7G-Tronic gearbox is optimised for slick upshifts as soon as the revs can handle the longer ratio. The V-Class is pretty nimble for a big vehicle, with a decent 11.8m turning circle, while ride is extremely solid, with minimal body roll in corners, even on the softest suspension settings.

V-Class hasn’t just gained interior benefits from the likes of E-Class and S-Class. It comes with a full suite of safety systems, including Distronic Plus adaptive cruise, blind spot warning and collision prevention. From the bigger Sprinter van comes an additional stability feature designed to minimise the effect of crosswinds – ideal if you’re using the Dartford Bridge in the Winter!


Verdict

The Viano had few competitors – only Volkswagen’s Caravelle, and more recently, Ford’s Tourneo, have posed a challenge. And neither of those have the prestige that comes with the three-pointed star on the grille.

This prominent market position hasn’t stopped Mercedes from making serious improvements to its big MPV. The big leap forward is inside the car – the interior is a massive upgrade, and compares extremely well with Mercedes’ car models. Powertrains are more familiar – V-Class basically uses E-Class mechanicals, tuned for a bigger vehicle. No surprises there.

Your customers will appreciate the plusher rear cabin environment, and drivers will welcome the added flexibility of the luggage compartment, especially the neat through-the-window access.

Best-seller is likely to be the V220 CDI, with slightly less power and slightly better fuel consumption than the V250 BlueTec we tested. The V220 CDI offers 163bhp at 3,800 rpm, with peak torque of 380Nm available between 1,400 and 2,400rpm. This is 20Nm more torque than the equivalent Viano, while fuel economy has been boosted to an impressive 49.6mpg combined, a claimed improvement of 15mpg.

All UK versions will be the higher Avantgarde trim level. This represents an upgrade on Viano, where more than 90% of sales were of the lower, now discontinued, Ambiente trim and only 9% were Avantgarde.

The V-Class is still, essentially, in a league of its own. The big decision you’ll have to make is whether or not you’re prepared to wait until next year for one. Mercedes is planning a careful run-out of Viano, so there might be deals to be had. But if you want to upgrade your customers’ experience, it’s probably worth the wait.


 

DATA

V250 CDI BlueTEC 7G-Tronic LWB

Price  £39,000 (estimated, from March 2015) 
   
Specification  
Engine 2,143cc four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission 7G-Tronic 7-speed automatic
Max Power 190hp @ 3,800rpm
Max Torque 440Nm @ 1,400-2,400rpm
0-62mph 9.1sec
Top speed 128mph
Fuel economy 46.0mpg
Combined CO2 157g/km
Length 5,140mm
Wheelbase 3,200mm
Width 1,928mm
Height 1,880mm
Loadspace 1,030 litres (with third row of seats)
Turning circle 11.8m
Fuel tank capacity     67 litres

 

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