No, its not called the Vito or Viano, although you wouldn’t be wrong – in some markets the Vito is sold as a panel and semi-panel van or as a passenger carrier, known as the Vito Tourer, which minus some differences in the body panels, looks almost identical to the MPV you see here.
This is called the V-Class – Mercedes-Benz luxury that can be experienced by seven at-a-go, which is as you might surmise, a really good thing.
But while Mercedes-Benz commands a rich history of building highly-dependable commercial van and trucks, a heritage almost as illustrious as its passenger cars, it is the new ‘kid-on-the-block’ when it comes to the Malaysian market.
When the first-generation Vito van/MPV was launched in Europe in 1996 – the Toyota Estima was already gaining widespread acceptance among more affluent buyers in Malaysia, especially ones with larger families.
Over the years, MPVs have become a popular mainstay of the Malaysian motoring landscape, encouraged no less by the hundreds, if not thousands, of grey-importers flooding their showrooms with MPVs such as the Toyota Wish, Estima, and Vellfire.
Even UMW Toyota Motors developed a good business case of it – choosing to officially import its large MPVs starting off at 2.5-litre Vellfire at RM355,000 and the RM408,400 for the Alphard 3.5 (Alphard 3.5L Executive Lounge: RM505,700).
So, besides the on-road presence, exclusivity and obvious prestige that comes with the badge – does the V-Class have something more to offer than its well-established Japanese rivals?
- Engine: 2.2-litre inline-four, turbodiesel
- Power: 163 hp at 3,800 rpm
- Torque: 380 Nm between 1,400 – 2,400 rpm
- Transmission: 7-speed torque converter automatic (7G-Tronic Plus)
- Safety: 6 airbags (front, side curtain), ABS, ESC, Attention Assist, Crosswind Assist, reverse camera.
- Price: Est. RM430,000 (custom order), without insurance
- Origin: Fully-imported from Spain
The V-Class was officially offered by Mercedes-Benz Malaysia starting Q3 of 2015 on a custom order basis. There are two variants, an entry level variant and the Avantgarde (as tested) on a custom order basis.
The Avantgarde variant comprises 5-twin-spoke light-alloy wheels with 245/45 R 18 tyres, brake calipers with Mercedes-Benz lettering and sports suspension. The Avantgarde interior package also lists luxury seats in Nappa leather, a leather-look instrument panel with decorative topstitching, and brushed aluminium sports pedals.
Additionally, the car you see here is specified with the AMG Line body kit (first unveiled at the 2015 Frankfurt Motorshow) which includes the aggressive front bumper, pronounced side skirts and rear bumper with a diffuser-like insert. The 7-spoke, 18-inch wheels are exclusive to AMG kit as well. On the inside, this car is also fitted with the matt-anthracite dashboard trim which is an optional extra too.
Prices start off in the region of RM430k sans insurance for the Avantgarde model.
In terms of size - the V-Class measures 5,140 mm in length, 1,880 mm in height and 1,928 mm in width, by comparison, the Toyota Alphard measures – 4,915 mm in length, 1,895 mm in height and 1,850mm in width. Hence, if size truly matters, the V-Class is thus significantly longer than an Alphard/Vellfire MPVs, and more importantly, has a lot more shoulder room and functional luggage space.
Arguably the most instantly rewarding feature of the V-Class is how it performs on the road. The turbo-diesel four-pot produces 163 hp and 380 Nm. The flat torque curve gives the V-Class a great deal of immediacy when accelerating from standstill to highway limits.
Keep your foot planted though and the V220d will keep accelerating with gusto to around 175 km/h, which is plenty for a car of its stature, in my opinion. It tracks the road tremendously well, unlike the Japanese offerings such as the Alphard, whose steering can get slightly wayward at speed. That being said, the 3.5-litre V6 in the Alphard does muster quite a bit more power and puts it to the road effectively as well.
I had an opportunity to take the V220d down the tight twisty backroads of Janda Baik. Regardless of carrying six persons – the V220d was nippy enough around the tightest bends and maintained its composure on big undulations and the large cracks that litter those well-traversed roads. Not to mention the steering system is very capable of placing the car down a chosen line.
One could argue that handling isn’t the most crucial traits of evaluation for an MPV, but where these attributes come into their own is on longer trips. The V-Class excels at making light work of long journeys, especially on rough roads, where its composed ride means fewer forces are subjected onto the passengers, which ultimately results in a less tiring journey.
Controls in the V-Class Avantgarde trim bare much resemblance to the C-Class sedan, mostly due to the Comand controls and climate control switches making up the central area of the dashboard. Elsewhere the dial clusters look the same too.
Once buckled in, the front seats offer a birds-eye-view of the outside with all-round visibility being another strong selling point of the V-Class. Regardless of the vehicle’s size, it does shrink around you after some time – making tasks such as navigating a tight shopping mall carpark rather easy. With some practice – one would find it easier to park the V-Class, versus a Vellfire or Aplhard, despite its greater width and length.
Comfort and Practicality
The Avantgarde trim enlists Nappa leather seats, which are offer nice tactility and luxury. The individual seats up front and in the second row which offer a comfotable, personalised space.
The third-row seats are a superb place to be in as well, much of this has to do with where the seats are in relation to the rear wheels. Positioned just after the rear tyres, forces from the road are not directly transferred towards the cabin – such as the case in other MPVs and seven-seater SUVs such as the Isuzu MU-X, in the V-Class, they’re spread across a wider zone at the rear section of the car, improving comfort levels.
The seats themselves are very supportive, but be mindful, they take some effort to slide, front to back.
Also, if you notice that one of the second-row seats is facing rearwards – the V-Class allows for seats to be arranged facing the third-row, like a moving meeting room - but this requires the rear row to be slid out first.
In there lies the double-edged sword, while the V-Class offers a large luggage area with all three-row in place, if more room is needed, such as for a bicycle, the third-row seats have to be slid forwards, almost into the default position of the second row.
The other option involves removing the third-row altogether, which can be cumbersome if owners don’t have the extra storage space. Likewise, the Toyota Alphard allows the third-row seats to be folded and fastened to the C-Pillar, and second-row seats to be tumble-folded, which is much easier on a day-to-day basis.
However, with second and third row removed, the V-Class essentially becomes luxury goods van, capable of moving everything from groceries to a chaise lounge.
It all bodes rather well for this new luxury seven-seater from Mercedes-Benz, it’s a well-placed product which offers up a blend of subtle style and far more exclusivity than its Japanese rivals.
Spec-wise, it measures up to the rest in the hotly contested luxury MPV segment. And, thanks to its utilitarian origins, offers added practicality with fully removable seats, to owners who might need to carry more than just people.
However, the real competitor to the V-Class doesn’t come from the Toyota Alphard or Vellfire, but from Mercedes-Benz itself.
I mentioned the Vito Tourer at the start of the article – the V-Class’ more utilitarian sibling, which is officially on sale here through Mercedes’ commercial vehicle importer Nusa Otomobil, at around RM287k. The Vito Tourer offers the same turbodiesel four-cylinder, seven-speed gearbox and plus three extra seats – in a '2-3-2-3' arrangement.
The Vito Tourer is classified as a commercial vehicle and hence has conforms to a differing tax structure to the V-Class. Of course, for RM140+k less, the Vito Tourer loses the swanky dashboard and dial clusters, Avantgarde exterior and interior trim, a shorter warranty package and Mercedes-Benz Malaysia’s superb aftersales support.