Vans that drive like cars
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MERCEDES RANGE PASSES A TRICKY TRACK TEST WITH HONOURS
The latest Mercedes-Benz vans and minibuses are stacked with so many electronic driver aids they are safer to drive than quite a few cars on our roads.
The new Sprinter and Vito van range, and the Valente people mover are even fitted with Crosswind Assist as standard, an electronic aid that helps drivers cope with strong crosswinds.
When there are strong or gusty crosswinds, Crosswind Assist uses the brake system to help the driver maintain their intended course. Without any intervention from the driver, the vehicle self-corrects its direction of travel.
In addition, the new range of Sprinter and Vito commercial vehicles include Adaptive ESP, a dynamic handling control system that takes account of the van’s load — improving stability and traction.
This system in turn is supported by Disc Wipe, which removes the film of water from the brake discs, reducing stopping distance, and Electronic Brake Refill, which reduces the reaction time in the event of braking, which once again reduces stopping distances.
Driving them (fast) in atrociously wet and windy weather at Waikato’s Hampton Downs racetrack was a breeze.
All of the features are aimed at providing safer vehicles, says the national sales manager for Mercedes-Benz vans in New Zealand, Anthony MacLean.
Many of the electronic aids will help reduce driver fatigue while others, such as park assist, help avoid vehicle down-time by avoiding minor accidents.
The company was so confident about the advances in its new Vito medium panel van and Valente large MPV that it held a track day at the racetrack where fleet buyers and others could compare their handling with some of the competition.
The damp track was a real test.
It may have seemed a slightly scary prospect to be hammering a high-sided panel van and an eight- or nine-seater minibus around a race track at speed, especially in wild weather conditions. In reality, the new vans and minibuses drove as well as most modern cars, and they are so loaded with electronic wizardry that even a novice can drive them aggressively without fear of tipping over or spinning.
Constant and often heavy rain, driven by persistent and blustery winds, provided a fair test of their handling capabilities — the conditions professional drivers often face on the roads at this time of the year.
Helping guide us through the day were specialist driver trainers from the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy, including the firm’s chief driving instructor, Peter Hackett.
The new model Vito mid-size van range is available in two wheelbases, two lengths, and two weight variants, and for the first time in this segment Mercedes-Benz is offering a choice between front- and rear-wheel drive.
Front-wheel drive models are powered by a four-cylinder turbocharged 1.6-litre engine, putting out 84kW of power.
Rear-wheel-drive models have a 2.1-litre, four-cylinder engine with twin-stage turbocharging, offering three output levels.
The Vito 114 BlueTEC model puts out 100kW, the Vito 116 BlueTEC puts out 120kW, and the Vito 119 BlueTEC puts out 140kW.
New engines across the Vito and Sprinter ranges are between 20 and 30 per cent more economical than their predecessors.
Apart from Crosswind Assist, the models come standard with cruise control, daytime running lights, multifunction steering wheel and airbags for the driver and front passenger.
Optional equipment includes collision prevention assist, which provides visible and audible warnings if the Sprinter is too close to another vehicle or obstacle, and electronic help if the driver has to apply the brakes in an emergency.
Braking is truly impressive on the entire range of Mercedes models, with all of them pulling up quickly and reassuringly straight when the brakes are slammed on, even on a slightly uneven surface.
Competitor vans fitted with electronic aids also pulled up relatively quickly in an emergency stop during the track day, but with nowhere near the level of the Mercedes vehicles.
The Mercedes-Benz Vito: the driver’s area feels more car than van.
Just like Mercedes-Benz cars, the commercial vehicles have seven-speed automatic transmissions available, with Comfort, Economy and Manual modes available depending on the driving conditions and job at hand.
Direct Select steering wheel gearshift paddles allow the driver to manually change gears.
A six-speed manual gearbox is also available in the short wheelbase Vito 111CDI model.
Cruise control and an ECO start/stop function are also fitted to the Sprinters as standard equipment, providing for a more relaxed and less stressful drive at or close to the speed limit, and reduced fuel consumption and running costs.
Among the options available is Active Parking Assist, which will park the vehicle for the driver. Collision Prevention Assist helps to prevent accidents via rear-ending of other vehicles, and Lane Keeping Assist provides warning if any lane deviation is detected.
Mercedes-Benz says the optional LED Intelligent Light System available on the Vito models offers a lifespan of up to 10,000 hours, or around five times longer than a xenon bulb, while also offering improved low-beam lighting capability.
The Vito vans have a payload of between 1100kg to 1285kg, and a load volume capacity of between 5.8cu m and 6.9cu m.
The prices range from just over $47,000 to just over $64,000.
The Driving Assistance Package, which includes collision prevention assist, Blind Spot Assistance, Lane Keeping Assist, rain sensor and a leather steering wheel, costs an additional $1915.
The eight- or nine-seater Valente people mover is priced from $67,540.
The Valente MPV.
While the new Mercedes-Benz models may be pricier than some competitors they offer safety and other features that have migrated from the firm’s range of cars.