REVIEW DATE: 06 Mar 2006
Wave Goodbye V-Class And Say Hello Viano. Mercedes Has Given Its Big MPV A New Direction. Andy Enright Reports.
Mercedes' previous weapon of choice to go head to head with the cream of the MPV crop was something of an anomaly. The V-Class had a good deal too much Vito van in its genes to really duke it out with cars like the Renault Grand Espace and the Chrysler Grand Voyager. Despite an interior that makes the Millennium Stadium feel claustrophobic, it just wasn't, well, grand enough. Its long-awaited successor, the Viano was expected to really hit the opposition for six.
After all, Mercedes had all the ingredients to make a stunning MPV. Great engines, state of the art production facilities, a track record for innovative design and packaging all backed up by some redoubtable marketing muscle. And yet when the first pictures of the Mercedes Viano fell on the desks of motoring journalists the length and breadth of the country, you could almost hear jaws clunking onto pine veneer. It was another van.
The press release started bullishly but within the first paragraph it mentioned the two different wheelbases available and three different body lengths - prime evidence of a commercial vehicle background. Despite our disappointment at Mercedes not building the Mercedes of MPVs, the reasons behind the development of the Viano are actually very sound.
It's only here in the UK that we adopt a snobbish attitude to this type of vehicle. In ContinentalEurope, models like the Volkswagen Caravelle Limousine and the Mercedes V-class have been enormously successful. On the other hand, we perpetually grouse about the fact that MPVs never make that much sense in the real world because when full of people, there's nowhere for the luggage to go and yet the solution was right there in front of us. Mercedes V-Class and now Viano.
So, we can't expect stratospheric sales from the Viano, but for those who take a more enlightened view what else is on offer? There's certainly a good deal of choice and a far broader Range of applications compared to the V-Class. The three vehicle lengths (standard, long and extra-long) Range from 4,748 to 5,223mm long and the two different wheelbases (3,200mm and 3,400mm) point to the fact that as well as regular and long models, there's also a long overhang version that will be utterly vast inside.
Three engines are offered, two CDI diesel powerplants of 109 and 150bhp and a six-cylinder 3.7-litre petrol unit of 231bhp. Power is transferred to the back wheels via either a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission. You may be a little concerned about how the powerful petrol model will drive, the old 174bhp V-Class 280 felt as if it had a good deal more engine than either steering, handling or brakes.
"Most MPVs never make that much sense because when full of people there's nowhere for the lugagge to go. No such problem exists with the vast Viano"
The Viano is different. The rear wheel drive layout gives better weight distribution and the brakes are reassuringly beefy discs all round, 300mm at the front and a barely smaller 296mm at the back. Standard specification of all models includes ESP dynamic handling electronics, anti lock brakes, ASR traction control, electronic brakeforce distribution and hydraulic brake assist system. Every occupant gets three-point seat belts with tensioners and belt force limiters for the front occupants. A driver's airbag features on all versions with Plusher trims getting a passenger airbag. The options list is where you'll find twin-sized airbags for the passenger side and thorax sidebags.
Two trim levels are available, Trend and Ambiente. Whichever model you choose, common sense practicality comes as standard. The ergonomics are impressive and the dash-mounted gear lever is a nice touch. The passenger compartment features a rail system that allows for a wide variety of seating configurations. Fore and aft adjustment and flexible repositioning of the individual seats and benches is easily achievable and both the seats and the benches can be folded flat or tilted fully forwards. The 25mm hole pattern in the floor means that the seats can also be rotated to face in almost any direction, opening up the possibility of a cosy face to face seating position.
If you want to cut a dash on your street, the Viano may well pull up short. It does look a little swoopier than a V-class, especially around the front end, but the silhouette is still a good deal more commercial than classy. Still, the front is nicely rounded and there are some rather extravagant swage lines along the flanks. The rearmost side window profile is also quite neat, but if it's smart aesthetics you're after the latest Renault Grand Espace shows the Mercedes how things are done. The Mercedes counters by offering a more interesting Range of engines and added versatility as well as that cavernous interior. Those looking for unparalleled practicality in a big MPV will celebrate the fact that Mercedes hasn't been tempted to follow a more ostentatious route.
Lovers of slick packaging and Avant-garde exterior styling are going to view the Mercedes Viano as a huge disappointment. Sniffy motoring journalists will resent the fact that it betrays its commercial origins so shamelessly. Ignore this criticism if you merely want a well-built vehicle that offers flexibility and practicality. The Viano ploughs a refreshingly confident furrow but it's one that - in this country at least - doesn't promise a lucrative return for Mercedes. What it all boils down to is that if you want a car, buy a car. If you need an MPV, buy one that can really do the business. The Viano is part of a very small breed that answers that calling.
|For VIANO RANGE|
|OVERALL||6.2 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||10|