At 5,370mm end to end, Vito Tourer Extra Long is aptly named

At 5,370mm end to end, Vito Tourer Extra Long is aptly named

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OEMs are increasingly tasking their light commercial divisions with responsibility for certain passenger models too. Mercedes-Benz Vans is no exception, with the V-Class and X-Class being two of the better known model lines. The Vito though, is a bigger seller than either, with the premium pricing of multi-occupant luxury variants and new electric LCV versions greatly assisting the rising profits of the Vans division.

Nutzfahrzeuge? Nein.

It took some years for a couple of the German makes to break out their pick-up, vans and passenger shuttles into separate businesses. Nissan, Groupe PSA, FCA (Fiat Professional) and others had begun to outpace the two German giants: Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz trucks, buses and vans division; and Volkswagen AG's Nutzfahrzeuge (light commercials for Europe and elsewhere) plus Volkswagen Volkswagen Truck & Bus AG, and Caminhões e Ônibus (heavy trucks and buses built in Brazil).

Ford, long the leader in the big UK market for light commercials, has been under attack across the greater European region, as various rivals created specific LCV divisions or pooled R&D and manufacturing operations, creating alliances, often with multiple partners and sometimes purely at model level.

Daimler AG decided that it would place all of its heavy vehicles into either Daimler Trucks or Daimler Buses, with LCVs folded into Mercedes-Benz Vans, making sure that each knew it had a responsibility to be or become a generator of strong profits. As an aside, Volkswagen AG resisted copying its rival's move to standardise a business name using the English language. Instead, there are two ways to refer to VW's LCVs business: Volkswagen Nutzfahrzeuge for German speaking markets and Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles for all others. Meanwhile, the former Volkswagen Truck & Bus AG is about to become TRATON AG.

Front, rear or four-wheel drive? How about all three?

As many OEMs are pouring vast amounts of money into developing architectures designed specifically for EVs with front-, rear- and/or all-wheel drive capability, quite a few vans and passenger vans already have that flexibility. And have done for many years. Ford was one of the first, with the previous Transit and Daimler is another. Whereas the old-shape Vito and its Viano passenger shuttle counterpart were FWD, the latest Vito can have either or both of its axles driven. The wheels and tyres which receive the torque delivery depends on the engine's cubic capacity.

Three lengths, two wheelbases, two diesel engines

Front-wheel drive Vitos have a 1.6-litre Renault diesel, with the 2.1-litre Mercedes engine reserved for RWD variants.

There are Compact (4,895mm), Long (5,140) and Extra Long (5,370) bodies with wheelbases of either 3,200 or 3,430mm. Each of these vans is 2,240mm wide including mirrors.

There is a choice of two engines with various outputs. The 1.6-litre variants use a Renault unit from the rival Trafic van and Trafic SpaceClass (as well as the Opel/Vauxhall Vivaro Tourer equivalents), while the 2.1-litre ones have Mercedes power. The five options are:

  • 109 CDI: 1,598cc, 65kW (88hp) and 230Nm, FWD
  • 111 CDI: 1,598cc, 84kW (114hp) and 270Nm, FWD
  • 114 CDI: 2,143cc, 100kW (136hp) and 330Nm, RWD
  • 116 CDI: 2,143cc, 120kW (163hp) and 380Nm, RWD
  • 119 CDI: 2,143cc, 140kW (190hp) and 440Nm, RWD

A six-speed manual transmission is standard for the 109, 111 and 114, while Vitos powered by the Mercedes engine can also be ordered with a 7G-TRONIC seven-speed automatic gearbox. As with multiple passenger cars which wear the three-pointed star, selecting P, R, N or D is done via small wand to the right of the steering wheel. This also means that there is a large piece of black plastic below the HVAC switches, where the manual transmission's lever would normally be.

The vehicle provided for assessment was the top-spec 119 CDI. Boosted by two turbochargers, it is more than a match for what is a long, heavy and not so streamlined body. There is no lag that you notice and it's even fairly quiet at idle.

So it drives like a wallowing van?

As for the Vito's anti-crosswind tech, in a word, it works.

All that thick glass, high and expansive metal sides, spare tyre slung underneath and heavy seats help to tie down the back end. Even when empty of passengers, and bearing in mind there is 440Nm available, the 119's rear tyres aren't prone to chirping. Impressive stuff.

No vehicle like this is going to be 100 per cent confidence-inspiring at higher speeds, especially on those long curves which can so often be part of entering or leaving a motorway. And yet the Tourer Extra Long is amazingly well tied down. Once you begin to test the limits of this big vehicle and see that it does not feel as if it's about to topple, the Vito can even be something of a treat for the enthusiast driver. Rear-wheel drive, lots of torque, granted a lot of glazing yet not too top-heavy, terrific steering accuracy and super-clever electronics to prevent much of the understeer before it appears - it's not without appeal on winding roads. Braking is very good too, and there are big discs on the back axle.

High, lengthy bridges such as the newer one over the Severn to Wales present no issues as Mercedes-Benz Vans has equipped this vehicle with anti-crosswind tech. In a word, this works. Perfectly. Never does this high-sided bus feel as if it is being pushed out of its lane and the precision of the steering is also a welcome surprise.

Just as impressive as the steering and stability is the comfort of the thing. A group of friends marvelled at how soft the ride was and two of them are Golf drivers - not a car which is known for having anything other than nicely compliant suspension. The adaptability of the interior layout is equally excellent and there are great touches such as ceiling vents and even a large air outlet on the floor between the front captain's chairs which will quickly chill the huge space where the up to six other passengers sit. Happily, there was no opportunity to test the climate control system's heating abilities.

A few faults worth mentioning would be the weight of the tailgate which, unlike the side doors, has no electric opening or closing. It is also all too easy to accidentally get items or people bashed by these sliding doors as, if there are any anti-collision sensors, on one occasion they failed to spot that someone's fingers weren't quite clear of the danger zone. Luckily, the potential victim pulled her digits clear in time.

Star quality

In summary, this has to be one of the best luxury minibuses available in any country. You can absolutely see why it serves so well as a shuttle for high-end hotels the world over. The van origins are well hidden and in the glossy black of the press vehicle, it even manages to look pricier than its GBP33,415 list price (before options). Examples of extra-cost items include GBP130 for each of the two heated from seats and GBP460 per motorised side door.

For around thirty five thousand pounds, any buyer gets one of the best-handling, engineered and equipped XL-sized passenger vans on the market. And one last thing. The Vito also has something which no rival can compete with: a three-pointed star on the tailgate.

Manufacturing and life cycle

The Vitoria plant in Spain's Basque region will likely manufacture the current Vito range until a successor arrives around 2022 or 2023.

The current shape Vito has been built in Vitoria since August 2014. Earlier that year, Daimler stated that it would spend around €190 million at this Mercedes-Benz facility in Spain's Basque region to manufacture a new family of medium-sized vans. Most of the money was for a new body shop and a new paint shop.

Almost 1.2 million previous generation Vitos were sold between the vehicle's market launch in 1995 and the end of 2013. Should the latest model remain in production for the same amount of time, it will almost certainly better that total.

A revised range, including a restyle for the front and back ends, as well as updated dashboard and much improved infotainment systems, is due for release in 2019. After this, Vitoria will continue to manufacture the refreshed range until a successor arrives in 2022 or 2023. That model is likely to be developed from the same base as the existing Vito.

The 62-year old factory in northwestern Spain originally belonged to the Auto Union company. What was then Daimler-Benz AG completely acquired the site in 1981. After several upgrades and expansions, manufacturing capacity is now more than 80,000 vehicles per annum. The complex covers an area of 600,000 m² of which the production activities take up some 370,000 m².

Vitoria is the world's second-largest Mercedes-Benz Vans plant after Duesseldorf and quite a bit bigger than the factories in Ludwigsfelde (Germany), González Catán (Argentina), Fuzhou (China) and North Charleston (USA) which also make or assemble the Vito and/or Sprinter.

UK - one of Mercedes Vans' best markets

Last year was the first time that Mercedes-Benz Vans had delivered in excess of 40,000 vehicles to British customers. That total made the local division one of the Daimler subsidiary's top markets, with more than 10 per cent of all production sent to the UK. In CY2017, M-BV produced a record 401,000 vehicles. The X-Class, which obviously skewed the results, being an additional model, didn't arrive until November, so 2018 looks likely to see the setting of a further new record. By year end, 3,000 units of the Nissan-based pick-up had been sold.

Vito sales, meanwhile, rose by 21 per cent year-on-year, reaching 111,800 in 2017 versus 92,100 in CY2016. That was also a record result for the model.

eVito

Mercedes-Benz Vans has been watching the progress of certain rivals' electric light commercials for some years. Now, it has decided the time is right to launch its own BEV model with a payload of up to one tonne. Earlier this month, a fully electric Vito was announced for series production.

The eVito's battery cells will operate normally even at temperatures as low as -30C.

The eVito has a minimum range of 100km, although should conditions be favourable, up to 150km is said to be possible on one charge, which takes six hours. The van's battery capacity is 41.4kWh, power is 84kW and torque is 300Nm. Because load capacity was the product planners' priority, the specified batteries are relatively compact and stored below the floor.

If the eVito will only be used in a congested city, a top speed of 80km/h can be selected so as to conserve energy and increase range. If motorways are also part of the vehicle's regular trips, the configuration can be adjusted, allowing the eVito to reach 120km/h.

The engineers who developed this new variant also made sure that the battery cells will operate as normal even at temperatures as low as -30C, it is claimed. As for hot weather testing, these took place earlier this summer in Spain, although the trials there were only at up to 35C in the shade.

UK pricing for the eVito is yet to be announced but in Germany, the van costs from EUR39,990 (excluding VAT). Next up will be the eSprinter, due for release in 2019 and followed by a new battery-electric Citan.

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