Imagine creating one of the most elegant vans on the road and then having some backroom Johnny come along and forcing you to weld a great ugly blob on top of it to free up extra load space.
That’s exactly what has happened to the Mercedes-Benz Vito. In its standard format it is a stunner. In hi-roof guise – as with our test vehicle – it looks positively hideous.
But let’s be fair. Most fleet buyers count practicality as a much higher priority than sassy looks, so we’ll say no more about the Vito’s outer skin.
What I can say is that the Vito is THE best medium panel on the roads this year and that’s official – it won the medium panel van award at this year’s Fleet News awards in the face of some incredibly stiff competition. Just look at the rivals – Vauxhall Vivaro and its twin brothers the Renault Trafic and Nissan Primastar and Volkswagen Transporter, not to mention the new LDV Maxus. The medium panel van sector is a pretty crowded place to be at present.
So what sets the Vito apart from its rivals and allowed it to clinch the hallowed award?
Well for a start, there’s a large three-pointed star on the bonnet which carries an awful lot of clout. That badge not only promises quality engineering all round, but it also guarantees that at selling time, this van will be snapped up for a good price by an eager buyer.
Then there is a list of standard specification that would shame some other manufacturers, such as driver airbag, ABS brakes, CD player, six-speed gearbox, ESP traction control system, twin sliding doors and a rubber load floor.
Price, too, isn’t exactly extortionate. The Vito range starts at £13,331 and goes up to £18,086 for the top-of-the-range 150bhp long wheelbase hi-roof automatic. Our test model weighs in at £15,305 (all prices ex-VAT).
The Vito was first launched in November 2003, offering three lengths and two roof heights. Load volumes range between 4.65 and 6.49 cubic metres. All models are available with gross vehicle weights of either 2,770 or 2,940kg and payloads range from 855 to 1,025kg.
Vitos have the option of tailgate or conventional twin doors, which can either open to 180 degrees or 270 degrees. The sliding doors are big enough for standard Euro pallets to be loaded and the width between wheel arches – 1,277mm – allows up to three Euro pallets to be loaded one behind another.
There is also an extra load space beneath the front seats, provided of course that a full bulkhead is not fitted.
Under the bonnet, the Vito is powered by a choice of three diesel engines. All 2,148cc four cylinder common rail units, they offer power of 88, 109 and 150bhp and torque of 162, 199 and 243 lb-ft.
THE Vito may have had its good looks taken away from it in hi-roof format, but at least the Mercedes-Benz press office had the good sense to clad our test van in bright pillar box red. It certainly stands out in the crowd. Meanwhile, front and back are swathed in plastic to avoid annoying scuffs and there are thin rubbing strips down each side.
In the front
ENTRY to the cab is by remote plip locking. As soon as you climb aboard the Vito, its massive solidity soon becomes apparent.
The Germans in general and Mercedes-Benz in particular seem to go for this hewn-from-a-single-lump-of-metal approach and it certainly works. This van feels as though it will go on forever.
The Teutonic efficiency carries on with the driver’s seat, which is flat, hard and has lots of lumbar adjustment, just right for avoiding back twinges on long journeys.
Both the seat and the steering column adjust in all directions for the perfect position for all shapes of driver.
The knobs, switches and gear lever are contained in a bulbous centre console, which while it looks stylish, means legroom for the centre passenger is extremely constricted.
White van man will be pleased to discover large cola bottle bins in each door pocket and there is a receptacle for A4 sheaves of paper on top of the dash.
There are two drink can/cup holders but they are both located in the glovebox door so are too far away for the driver to reach on the move.
On the entertainment front, a decent quality CD player comes as standard.
In the back
THE superb list of standard kit continues in the back of the Vito. Double side sliding doors come as part of the price, together with a tough non-slip rubber floor, with countersunk load lashing eyes and ply lining for the van’s sidewall recesses.
Our test model also featured Mercedes-Benz’s excellent locking rail system for securing loads which comes as a £130 extra.
By specifying the hi-roof version, load volume goes from 5.19 cubic metres to 6.49 cubic metres. Mercedes-Benz might have been able to squeeze a bit more in but the van narrows as it gets higher – or in van parlance, the Vito’s ‘tumblehome’ is pronounced.
Load length is 2,667mm, width is 1,650mm and height is 1,745mm.
Gross vehicle weight is 2,770kg and payload is 903kg, although width different tyres fitted, this can be increased to 2,940kg and 1,073kg.
On the road
ALTHOUGH only one common rail diesel unit is available measuring 2.2-litres, it can come with power outputs of 88bhp, 109bhp and 150bhp.
Few fleets are going to order the top spec model – unless they are the blue light variety – but our test vehicle was plenty meaty enough with 109bhp on tap.
The common rail unit is as smooth as you’d expect from a Merc but the makers have managed to give it a bit of a growl too, which makes it sound quite sexy.
The dash-mounted gear lever is slick and sure but the clutch is as stiff as a board. Our van only had 400 miles on the clock so maybe it will ease up a bit in time.
A six-speed gearbox comes as standard and it proves quite a low-geared affair, so the Vito will happily take off in second gear unladen.
The real icing on the cake for the Vito is the standard spec that you WON’T see – ie ABS brakes and ESP traction control.
They are simply the best friends a van driver never knew he had. They will sit there quietly doing nothing – hopefully all their lives – but in an emergency will suddenly spring into life and help correct either a forward or sideways skid.
All the driver will notice when they are in operation is an orange light winking on the dashboard. It’s almost as if the van is saying: ‘Oi mate - I just saved your life!’
THE Vito has more standard specification than any other van on the roads today, bar none. That’s one reason it won its prestigious award this year. It’s also a cracking good vehicle to drive and a reasonably priced one too. What more needs to be said?
Model tested: Vito LWB hi-roof
Gross vehicle weight (kg): 2,770
Payload (kg): 903
Load volume (cu m): 6.49
Max power (bhp): 109
Max torque (lb-ft): 199
Price (£ ex-VAT): 15,305