Whenever I walk out to the main driveway of the international terminal at the airport, any 5-star hotel, or any casino in Metro Manila, it's almost a certainty that I'll see either at least one Alphard or maybe a Hiace Super Grandia. Actually, make it at least 5 Alphards, and 20 Super Grandias.
There is no doubt that these two people movers geared for luxurious transport from market giant Toyota are selling very well. Outside of Japan, the Philippines is definitely the biggest sales market for the Hiace, and perhaps even for the Alphard too, so much so that the luxury sector must be feeling it.
The German auto brands generally don't have much experience in big vans or large luxury MPVs. BMW doesn't. A van doesn't have the identity geared towards the ultimate driving machine, sheer driving pleasure, or freude am fahren. Audi doesn't either. There's not much vorsprung durch technik about a people mover.
That isn't the case for Mercedes-Benz though. While they are a luxury automaker, Mercedes-Benz has a model range that is as wide as a volume automaker like Toyota, if not more so. Merc does have big trucks and powerboats (among other things) on top of their regular passenger car line.
In the Philippine setting, Mercedes did have a lot of success with vans in the 1990s. Yes, I'm referring to the MB 100. As a high school student back then, the MB 100 was about as ubiquitous as a Toyota Hiace for that single file line heading to our school's driveway. If a Hiace was the standard-setter, then having a van with a three-pointed star on the hood and tailgate was certainly a step up.
We are, however, not in the '90s anymore. People carriers have certainly elevated considerably since those days, and the expectations -nay, demands- of customers in the luxury sector have changed significantly as seen by the Alphard.
And that's why we're looking at the new V 220d from Mercedes-Benz. Maybe this can carry Germany's pride in what has become a class dominated by the Japanese.
First things first: the Mercedes-Benz V Class is not an all-new model. This generation (W447) has been around since 2014 and serves as the successor to the Viano, Vito, and even the R-Class from before. Last year the updated model was launched in the Philippines, and that's the one we're looking at now.
We reviewed this variant in 2017, and the new one does have a few albeit subtle updates. For starters, the bumper is unusually sportier with larger cutouts and new wheels, but really that's about it. Not that Mercedes needed to change much, as the V Class already looks rather stylish overall with the Avantgarde-style grille and those LED headlights. People carriers may not be known for their style, but the Mercedes design direction really does work well even for a van.
There was something a little confusing about the name though. Mercedes-Benz refers to this variant as Long, indicating that it's a long-wheelbase version. It measures in at 5.14 meters long, 1.928 meters wide (without the mirrors), 1.9 meters tall, and rides on a 3.2-meter wheelbase. In reality, however, it's not the longest version available; there's a variant that's even longer at 5.37 meters long with a 3.43-meter wheelbase. No matter though; it's still big.
There are 5 doors, as per usual. The front doors swing out very wide. Being that this isn't a cab-over type vehicle wherein the front row sits atop the engine, getting in and out is easy for the driver and front passenger. The rear doors don't swing out; these are sliding doors, and the motorized kind. The rear is a tailgate and opens up to reveal a two-tiered cargo area. Yeah, I like the idea of a parcel shelf so you don't have to stack everything up precariously.
From the driver's seat, the vehicle is clearly a Mercedes with that swooping dashboard, and I don't mean just the badge on the very nice steering wheel. I like the seating controls on the inner door panel, the metallic buttons, the round A/C vents, the armrests, the control assembly for the audio system that juts out from the dash, the leather, and a lot of other little things here and there. Despite being a people carrier, it doesn't feel any less compared to any other high-end model that wears a three-pointed star.
There is something I found odd, and that's the absence of a cupholder for the driver and front passenger. Foreign examples of the V Class have a center console with storage and cupholders in between the driver and front passenger, but it's strangely absent here. What you have is a bottle holder on the door panel. That makes this the first vehicle I've driven in a long time that didn't have a place for me to put my morning coffee in.
Like the Alphard, the magic isn't really about what's in front; it's about the seating behind. This V 220d is a 6-seater, with 4 individual captain's seats in the back. The odd bit about the rear seating and the vehicle, in general, is that the rear seats are more business-like, as the rear seats don't come with an ottoman so you can prop your legs up like you would if you were on a La-Z-Boy or Barcalounger. What you do get, however, is a nice table that lifts up and folds out from a center console that you can slide forward and backward. That way, you can work with a full-size laptop in traffic without having to put it on your lap.
The third-row seats are also the individual type, and there are armrests too. You can slide all the seats on the rails to distribute legroom all around, but for maximum legroom for all, you can remove the parcel shelf to give a bit more room to spread around.
Powering the model is a 2.1-liter CDI turbodiesel that makes 163 PS and 380 Nm of torque. It's not a high power turbodiesel by any means, but it's a decent match for something of this size, as that max torque comes in at a very low 1200 rpm. The vehicle comes with a 7-speed automatic gearbox called 7G-TRONIC.
The V 220d is a surprisingly nice drive around the city. The engine is eager to accelerate at low-speed driving, and the gearbox responds well to my throttle inputs; dropping a gear or two almost intuitively when I prod the pedal. And what surprised me was the fuel economy. While Alphard owners won't have a problem with a V6 that has a normal fuel economy of 4 to 5 kilometers for every liter of gasoline in urban conditions, this V 220 diesel easily does 9.5 km/l (driver only, 24 km/h average speed) in city conditions.
Big vehicles like this tend to be heavy and difficult to maneuver, but that's not really the case here. The steering is light and the turning diameter feels surprisingly small for such a long vehicle; negotiating 90-degree corners is not a problem. The windows are huge, and Mercedes even put little portholes to see through on the base of the A-pillars. Parking is easy thanks to a 360-degree camera system, and with audible sensors to match. The way the parking brake engages and releases could be better; it's a bit abrupt, but it's not bad. Something that needs changing is the side mirrors; the horizontal orientation seems to be more for passenger cars, not tall vans. More vertical van-style mirrors with auxiliary convex mirrors would have been a better match for the V Class.
Without passengers, you do feel a little more firmness in the suspension, but that goes away even with three people in the vehicle. One thing I'd note though is the thuds (albeit somewhat muted) from the tires and suspension when going over our far-from-perfect roads. At higher speeds on the expressway, that goes away; the V 220 glides nicely and quietly over asphalt and even concrete. Wind noise isn't a factor either. Overtaking from higher speeds takes a bit more planning as this is a heavy vehicle and the torque at higher RPMs isn't as high. Fuel economy on the highway is at a very respectable 14.3 km/l (driver only, 89 km/h average speed).
So yes, the V 220d has a lot going for it as a premium people carrier, and I envision this is as something that would do well in that role. There are some things that I found to need updating, the chief of which is the audio system. While good, the Audio 20 unit does feel dated compared to its touch-screen and gesture-controlled contemporaries. The premium Burmester speaker system does make up for it though.
But perhaps the most important thing is the orientation of the vehicle itself: V 220d Avantgarde Long should really be focused on whats in the back, giving more tech toys and control to the boss that will undoubtedly be riding in the back seat. It should have an ottoman, even if it's not motorized. The rear passengers should have more control of the audio system, and maybe even a 220-volt socket since the table is more for laptops rather than iPads.
With an SRP of PhP 4,890,000 (PhP 4,390,000 Special Offer for September 2020), the Mercedes-Benz V 220d Long feels more executive transport than a luxury family vehicle. Tech toys for the driver like automatic wipers, automatic headlights, and power adjustment for the seats are great features, but I have a feeling a vehicle such as this will be driven by a professional company chauffeur shuttling executives from one meeting to another or from the airport or the casino to the hotel.
This doesn't feel like the vehicle that a Dad would use to take his family on a road trip or a minivan a Mom would use to pick-up the kids from soccer practice, and that's OK. In typical German fashion, this Mercedes seems all business for that.