Being a commercial vehicle designer must be one of the world’s most frustrating jobs.
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 wheelarches – 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.