When the name Mercedes-Benz comes to mind, I normally think of luxury sedans bringing captains of industry around the bustling metropolitan. Of course, Mercedes-Benz goes beyond the luxury sedans and crossovers. The three-pointed star has been offering commercial vehicles for nearly as long as they've been around. This brings me neatly on to the V-Class.
This isn't the brand's first attempt at selling luxury vans in the Philippine market. Not including the Ssangyong-built MB100, there have been two other Mercedes-Benz vans sold in the country. The Vito of the late 90's and the Viano of the 00's were offered here but didn't make much of an impact. Now, Mercedes-Benz hopes to change that with the new V-Class.
The variant we have here is the V220d Avantgarde in long-wheelbase guise. Despite the design limitations of this body style, it's a pretty handsome-looking people carrier. At the front are the signature headlights packing the brand's Intelligent LED Light technology along with a wide grill proudly showing off the three-pointed star.
As for the rest of the body, it's traditional van with slab-sided doors and upright windows. The rear does have an interesting design touch, namely, the rear windshield that cuts well under the V220d's middle section. In all fairness, the design works and the public seemed to agree. As I was driving around with the V220d, it drew a lot of stares. Be it because of curiosity or amusement, this van is for those who don't mind being visible. Speaking of being visible, this shade of Jupiter Red really made the V-Class stand out.
Climb aboard the V-Class and you're greeted by an interior that you expect from a Mercedes-Benz. You get generous lashings of wood on the dash, the COMAND infotainment system and high-end soft touch materials all around the cabin. The highlight of this van however is the rear section. Aircon vents all the way to the back, six captain's chairs, plus a neat stowable table in the center. Ambient lighting boosts the interior ambiance and, of course, it's got acres of space.
As mentioned above, the V220d is strictly a six-seater. While it limits practicality, it does mean more room for those inside. Speaking of the seats, each is adjustable but I do wish it came with an Ottoman function. There's also a Burmeister sound system to please the ears of both the driver and five other occupants although another feature I wish the V-Class had was a rear entertainment system. Besides those however, the V-Class does luxury pretty well.
Under the hood of the V220d is a 2.1-liter diesel motor packing a two-stage turbocharger. It then produces 163 PS and 380 Nm of torque and it shifts via a seven-speed automatic dubbed 7G-Tronic. For the Philippines, we get the V220d in rear wheel drive form while other markets get the option of front wheel drive or 4Matic all-wheel drive.
So how does it feel on the road? From a driver's perspective, the V220d isn't a daunting van to drive. It feels narrow and the large windows were a big help in visibility. This makes this van surprisingly maneuverable, even on relatively tight streets. Do be aware about the van's height, especially in low level underground carpark. The vertical clearance signs are your best friend when driving the V220 around.
I will admit that the 163 PS and 380 Nm figure didn't impress me on the spec sheet. On the road however and it feels more than the figures suggest. It won't push you back into your seat but for its purpose, it picks up speed in impressive fashion as the needle creeps up the speedometer. Fuel consumption isn't so bad either. Considering the engine has to lug around three tons worth of power motors, leather, metal and passengers, 9.2 kilometers per liter at 18 km/h is a pretty good figure.
As for handling, one doesn't expect a lot from a vehicle like this but it is worth noting that the steering is eager to get back on center and is devoid of feel. It does steer well for a thing that measures well over 5 meters long and the turning radius is impressive for its length. Make your chauffeur drive it and they won't be needing a lot of adjustment.
However, your driver might be confused about the COMAND system. I made a real driver try it out and it took some time for him to figure it out. A quick tutorial will help and I wish there was also a COMAND scroll wheel and touchpad at the rear. To those who have handled old Mercedes-Benz cars, the switches and dials will be familiar to you but will be a little alien for the first timers. Do note that the stalk on the right hand side isn't the wiper controls but the electronic column gear selector.
Of course, a luxury van is best experienced when seated at the back. So is the the S-Class of vans? First impressions of the ride is that it is a little on the firm side, but not uncomfortably so. You feel the bumps but it gets rid of minor road imperfections with ease. There is no impact harshness to jar you and, at high speeds, it goes from firm to rather floaty. On to the third row, more of the bumps can be felt but that is expected given that you're seated on top of the rear axle. That's not to say it's harsh at all and it is more comfortable than mainstream people carriers. I reckon the ride will be better if it were on smaller rims with higher profile tires.
That said, it's still a very comfortable place to sit in thanks to the La-Z Boy-like seats. Soft and generously padded, these seats are what you expect from a luxury van. Plus, you can dial up the air-conditioning up to seven with a low setting of just 15 degrees, keeping all six on board cool in the blazing heat. Also, remove the rear parcel shelf and you can slide the last two chars all the way back, allowing for maximum stretch out room for the second and third row occupants. With the shelf, third row room is still good but it's not the most generous for taller folks. If you need even more space, one can specify the extra-long wheelbase variants which gives it a more practical bench-type third row.
The Burmeister audio system is impressive when you're seated in front with clear and crisp sound delivery. At the rear, it's still good but it could be even better coming from a hi-fi system. As one of my passengers put it, it floods the rear section with music, but it doesn't let you 'feel' the sounds. Again, I wish for a rear entertainment system and perhaps more expansive and extensive audio tuning.
At Php 3,990,000, the V220d stirs up an interesting value proposition. On one hand, it's not the most practical offering around due the comfortable captain chairs. On the flipside, I reckon that it was built for an entirely different purpose. It's made to bring VIPs and captains of industry in style and maximum presence.
So no, it's not the S-Class of vans but the V220d is one of the most comfortable ways to be shuttled around the city. Think of the V220d as a substantial statement - a bold one at that. A Mercedes-Benz limousine for under four million? Now it starts to make more sense. Besides, an S-Class doesn't come with a pop-up table.