Inside, the cab has been totally restyled with a new dash and instrument panel. There is a large stowage area for A4 paper on top of the dash and White Van Man will be able to stash his 1.5-litre cola bottles in each door. There is an enormous 11-litre glove box and a can-holder incorporated in the ashtray.A driver's airbag is standard, along with adjustable steering wheel and driver's seat, heated mirrors and a single CD player.In the back, load lengths vary from 2,422mm to 2,897mm while load width is 1,650mm. Load height is either 1,338mm or 1,745mm. Load volumes vary from 4.65 cubic metres to 6.49 cubic metres and payloads from 863kg to 1,100kg. Gross vehicle weights are 2.7 tonnes or 2.9 tonnes.
Unlike its competitors, the new Vito features two sliding doors, a non-slip wooden floor and side protection panels to half height as standard. Options include a choice of bulkheads and a rail-mounted cargo restraint system.Under the bonnet, the new model features a 2.2-litre common rail diesel unit offering either 88bhp, 109bhp or 150bhp and torque of 162lb-ft, 199lb-ft or 243lb-ft. An automatic option will be available on the lower- powered models but there will be no petrol engines, effectively quashing any hopes of an LPG-powered version. Big news too is that transmission has changed from front to rear-wheel drive. Mercedes-Benz director of sales and marketing Peter Lambert said: 'Rear wheel drive offers better handling, tractability and a smaller turning circle. Normally, it means a higher load height but the new Vito's is only 30mm higher than the old one.'More controversially, the new model features a foot-operated parking brake that drivers will find takes some getting used to.
Lambert said: 'We hope to see sales of the new Vito rise by a third in three years. At present, we only sell 30% of Vitos to fleets but we see this figure rising dramatically as rental and leasing companies see the van's benefits.'Warranty for the new model is three years/125,000 miles.Behind the wheelThe elegant setting of Stapleford Park in Rutland was ideal to show off the new Vito for the first time to an eager gaggle of van journalists, for if nothing else, this van is a most elegant beast.It has to be to succeed, as it will be going head-to-head against the combined might of the Renault Trafic/Vauxhall Vivaro/Nissan Primastar, the present queens of the light panel van catwalk. So which is the prettiest? In my book, the Vito has the edge. It also has that coveted three-pointed star on the front too.
But we must remember that while looks may count for a little, most van fleet operators will be studying the price lists and here the Vito may have problems. Its cheapest variant comes in at £12,995 ex-VAT, exactly a grand more than the cheapest of the Renault/Vauxhall/Nissan triplets.Mercedes-Benz would of course argue that the three rivals don't have ESP (more of which later), a standard six-speed gearbox and all the other goodies the Vito has, but company Scrooges may say they don't want it all anyway. It's very much a case of paying your money and taking your choice.My first drive was in a long-wheelbase 88bhp version, which is likely to be the biggest fleet seller. Climbing aboard, the cabin looks as smart and upmarket as you'd expect from a Mercedes car with hard, flat seats that the Germans make so well and knobs and switches all having that rare quality feel. The dash-mounted gearlever means space is limited for a second seat passenger but for the driver there is plenty of adjustment on seat and steering wheel to get the ideal driving position – provided a bulkhead isn't fitted. My second drive had this option and my 6ft 3in frame didn't feel half as comfortable as the bulkhead takes up valuable legroom.The load area was almost as impressive as the cabin. That standard non-slip load floor not only means the van won't get scratched badly in its working life, but it also enables the load-lashing eyes to be countersunk into the floor. It might seem a small point but how many large loads get snagged on these pesky little items when being pushed into a van? Having driven both 88bhp and 109bhp versions at the launch, my advice to fleets would be to go for the lower-powered model. OK, so both were tested empty and may behave differently fully laden, but the 88bhp powerplant is a lusty one which will pull willingly with the minimum of fuss. The extra bhp will cost £900 – a hard figure to justify in fleet terms. As for the blistering 150bhp version, don't even think about it unless you happen to be buying vans for the police or ambulance service. Mind you, your drivers would love you to bits if you did.