The medium panel van sector is a pretty crowded place, with a host of new models recently launched and more to come.
Firstly, Ford wowed the industry with its new Transit Custom in 2013, picking up Fleet Van’s title of medium van of the year.
Then, the new Vauxhall Vivaro/Renault Trafic made an appearance last year, once again upping the ante in the sector with new technology and more cost-effective engines. Later in 2015, we’ll see a new Volkswagen Transporter hitting the roads.
However, the Mercedes-Benz badge counts for quite a lot. As with the car division, it denotes top-notch quality and guaranteed high residual values.
The Vito has rather been left in the shade of its bigger brother the Sprinter of late, but the German manufacturer is hoping that this new model will come more into its own, with new looks, a dazzling array of safety systems and – first in the sector – the choice of front- or rear-wheel drive.
Our test model is the long wheelbase low roof 114 BlueTec RWD variant, offering a 2.1-litre turbodiesel powerplant with 136hp on tap. With standard stop-start on board, this model is slated to return a creditable 44.1mpg on the combined cycle, although this figure is somewhat behind our rival long-term Renault Trafic, which gives 47.9mpg.
At £20,860 ex-VAT, the van is reasonably priced against the opposition and the list of standard spec is impressive, including adaptive electronic stability control, ABS, ABR, an anti-rollover system, twin airbags, crosswind assist, attention assist, hill-start assist and a tyre monitoring system. If your drivers crash this van, they really shouldn’t be working for you.
Sadly, air-conditioning remains on the options list – it comes as standard on rival Renault Trafic – and, once our van was specced up with extras such as a Becker sat-nav system, metallic paint and a reversing camera, the price rocketed to £25,648.
As you’d expect from a Mercedes-Benz product, everything on the build quality front is superb, with doors shutting in a most upmarket manner and the dashboard looking as if it may have been carved from a single lump of high-grade plastic.
The driver’s seat, meanwhile, looks as though it comes from a sports car. It’s hard and flat but with lots of side support and, after a three-hour journey during our test week, it proved highly supportive.
On the road, the Vito is quiet and smooth, with nice slick gearchanges. But the clutch is rather heavy and the power steering too light, giving an unnervingly vague feel, which rather spoiled an otherwise pleasant driving experience.
We had been hoping that Mercedes-Benz would ditch its much-maligned foot-operated parking brake for the new model but, sadly, it remains. It’s a good job hill start assist comes as standard – without this gadget, starting on a hill is nigh on impossible.
When it comes to build quality, the Vito shines out above most of the opposition. It remains to be seen whether or not the multitude of improvements will translate into extra sales.