Bussing the crew

Bussing the crew

It’s a common sight on local roads in all its forms, and for good reason too. GAVIN MYERS feels FOCUS’ opening monthly LCV review is a fitting way to honour the Vito’s most recent milestone.

It was September 1995 when the Mercedes-Benz Vito first went into production, and by May 2011, the one-millionth vehicle bearing the Vito badge rolled off the production line at the Vitoria plant. It really is easy to see why the Vito, sold in 80 countries around the globe, has achieved this great milestone in just 16 years of production (that averages at 62 500 vehicles a year).

The second generation Vito received a bit of a nip and tuck in September last year, and the current package is one that makes this vehicle more difficult to ignore than ever before.

Let’s begin with the visual aspect. In terms of looks, the revised Vito fits perfectly into Mercedes-Benz’s current portfolio. Whether you compare it to the passenger vehicle range or the commercial heavyweights, the new frontal styling – including redesigned headlamps and a bolder, more angular grille and bumper treatment – gives the visage a more sophisticated appearance. The profile and rear end remain very much the same. The Crewbus Shuttle that FOCUS had for review comes with colour-coded bumpers and side strips and 16-inch rims to enhance the sophisticated look.

The interior treatment of the Crewbus Shuttle is as impressive. Space abounds and there is ample, spacious stowage space and cupholders around the cabin. The Crewbus offers seating for eight; each seat with a three-point seatbelt (and ISOFIX child seat anchorage) and armrests for both driver and front passenger, as well as the outer of the middle and rear rows of seats.

The rear passenger compartment has its own heating and ventilation system (rear air-conditioning is an option) and the cabin features a dehumidifier as well.

Bussing the crewBoth the second and third rows of seats can be folded over double or removed completely to increase load space with ease. Should bulky items need to be carried, anchoring lugs placed around the 1,34 m high rear compartment will assist in tying down the articles. The standard features list includes niceties such as an MP3 radio with Aux-input, Bluetooth connectivity for up to 10 phones, air-conditioning (and that dehumidifier), electric one-touch windows, a comprehensive on-board computer and daytime running lights. As expected, the options list can only be described as fit for a Merc.

The only criticism of the interior is that some of the more important buttons and switches on the dashboard are a bit of a stretch, though one quickly acclimatises. Otherwise, the fit and finish is excellent and the materials used are durable, yet look and feel of a high quality. Being a Merc, build quality is top notch with not a squeak or rattle anywhere. On that point, the interior is well insulated from all external noise, resulting in a smooth and relaxing ride for all occupants.

This also comes as a result of the Vito’s newly developed suspension system. New spring and damper tuning, transverse links and bearings contribute to the ride comfort, quieter road noise and good handling characteristics. For a vehicle of its size, the Vito is stable, sure-footed and agile.

In addition, the 11,8 m turning circle and good visibility (aided by the perfectly sized side mirrors) allow ease of manoeuvrability in low-speed situations and parking – the Vito really is no more difficult to drive than a normal passenger car. For added assistance though, Parktronic (Park Distance Control) is optional, as is a reversing camera.

On the open road, the 116 CDI motor proved more than capable in all situations asked of it. The four-cylinder 2,2-litre unit produces 120 kW and a solid 360 Nm between 1 600 and 2 400 r/min. Coupled with the new ECO Gear six-speed manual transmission, the 116 CDI proved a smooth and capable load-lugger, highway cruiser and day-to-day commuter.

Standard across the Vito range is Mercedes’ BlueEFFICIENCY package. This extends to aspects such as low rolling-resistance tyres and the ECO power steering pump, but what is really of interest is the stop/start function and gear up-shift indicator that comes with the manual transmission version. Taking your foot off the clutch pedal in neutral at rest cuts the engine and depressing it starts it up again. After a day of accustomising oneself with the routine, it becomes second nature even when at a traffic light. However, it is possible to catch the system out if you are caught napping and attempt to get going and pull off again with haste. The resultant stall causes much hooting.

A diesel particulate filter is standard and, all in all, Mercedes claims a combined fuel consumption of 7,2 l/100 km and emissions level of 190 g/km of CO2.

The all-disk brakes are responsive without being sharp, and do a good job of hauling the near 2-ton Vito to rest, without the ABS being called into action in all but the most extreme circumstances. Together with ABS, the Vito range also has an array of standard electronic safety aids as well as trailer stabilisation incorporated in the ESP system. The hill-hold function is most welcome.

Even at R489 500, the Mercedes-Benz Vito 116 CDI Crewbus Shuttle (to give it its full title) is a good buy. With a two-year/unlimited distance warranty, impressive five-year/90 000 km CharterWay service plan, and maximum service intervals of 30 000 km, there is added value to the package. It will doubtless serve anyone needing to ferry passengers around with a degree of luxury, comfort and practicality without disappointment. After all though, you don’t need us to tell you that – one million Vito buyers can’t be wrong.

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