Monday 11 April 2011
Mercedes-Benz has one of the most reputable used dealer networks within the UK. The European-wide Used 1 program was launched last May, with the aim of boosting the reputation of second hand vans and trucks from Mercedes-Benz and Mitsubishi Fuso. They invited us to test one of their refurbished Vito Traveliners, and to examine their new scheme.
Just south of Barnsley, off the M1, is Wentworth Park, a 37-acre site specialising in reconditioning used Mercedes-Benz and Mitsubishi Fuso trucks and vans. It is the temporary home to around 400 vehicles undergoing checks, repairs, replacements, and re-sprays, ready to hit the market again under Mercedes-Benz’ Used 1 programme. The 73 staff aim to turn around each of the 3,500 vehicles sold each year in around 45 days. Over 70% of the vehicles go on to be sold through Mercedes-Benz dealerships, whilst others are exported, hired out or used as courtesy vehicles.
The programme is great for those who, during the economic highs, became accustomed to the assurance and reliability of brand new vehicles that they may no longer be able to afford. The effect of a quality assured branded franchise has also aided Mercedes-Benz vehicles to retain their values by depressing the devaluation rate.
I was invited recently to appraise a refurbished Mercedes-Benz Vito Traveliner. As it’s been a while since our last review of the Mark II Vito, we saw this as a perfect opportunity to carry out a quick road test.
The Mark II was introduced back in 2003, and became an instant success with its elegant and sleek design and rear wheel drive train. The wide choice of engines was also a major plus point for operators at the time, offering power ranges from the basic 93 hp 2.1CDi, to the 204 hp 3.0 litre V6.
The Vito comes in a choice of 3 sizes; the compact, the long, and the extra long. Where the compact and long both share the same 3200 mm wheelbase (the Long extending 245 mm at the rear), the extra long features an extended 3430 mm wheelbase, which increases the load volume to 0.97 m³. However, for airport runs or ferrying tradesmen around, we found the 0.73m³ load space on the long Traveliner was more than sufficient to meet the needs.
As mentioned, unlike most other 9-seaters in the market, the Vito is rear-wheel drive, which ensures more stable and predictable handling. The 116 hp/290 Nm supplied by the 2.1 CDi engine provided ample power and torque for the Traveliner and we were impressed by the very smooth ride with minimal road noise.
Other impressive standard features include the rear tailgate, the ASSYST service interval indicator, adaptive ESP and a flexible, powerful 5 speed ventilation system with an air duct in the back. The Vito also continues to utilise the unconventional foot parking brake with the pull lever release!
Another nice touch is the dashboard mounted headlight switch, which allows the driver to select which sidelights to use whilst parking at the side of the road, thus preserving the battery charge.
Around town, we were experiencing a fuel economy of around 31.2 mpg, but this vehicle was an automatic. With that in mind, we filled up and headed for the M6. After a 63 mile round trip of free flowing motorway, we refuelled and discovered the figure had increased to 45.5 mpg. The gap between city and motorway economy suggesting that this vehicle is more suited to airport runs, or specialised trades where workers are ferried from one end of the country to another.
The Vito does have some unique advantages though. The prestigious silver star emblazoned on the grille is an assurance to the customer of quality. But it’s not just badge engineering that has brought the luxury feel about the Vito; there are many features that aren’t included on other 9-seater competitors, such as a separate central locking for the front and rear, a separate switch for the front and 3 rear interior lights, a 12v socket in the front and rear and side parking lights.
Many people say, other than the approximate five grand price difference on a 3 year old model, there isn’t a lot of difference between the Vito and the Viano. And in most instances, I tend to agree. But there is strong evidence that the Viano is trying to cover its commercial roots. Unlike the Traveliner, the Viano is not available via Mercedes-Benz’s commercial network, but is more widely available through their passenger car dealerships. The Viano sports luxury leather seats, whereas the Traveliner adopts the utilitarian cloth interior.
No one is ever going to accuse Mercedes-Benz of falling short when it comes to service and warranty packages. Not only do all Used 1 Commercials come with a 6 month mechanical breakdown warranty, with the option of extending to 3 year, but the flexibility of their financial services, Charterway, is equally impressive, offering Contract Hire, Finance Lease, Operating Lease, and long term rental agreements on all vehicles.
Whilst their basic 60,000 mile service plan will cost you just £450 over the 3 years, the Repair & Maintenance program, Mercedes-Benz’s flagship pay-monthly service contract is also offered on Used 1 Commercials, offering a wide range of assistances such as replacement vehicles, and the repair/replacement of mechanical and electrical components.
Both rows of rear seating can be removed from the load area to essentially give you a van. The middle row can also be taken out and replaced back to front, so the passengers can face and talk to each more easily.
However, for commercial use, care had to be exercised with the plastic flooring. Despite being very frictional (non slip) and easily cleanable, it was not as tough and hard wearing as, say, a typical non-slip resin birch plywood protective floor covering.
If the seats are removed, there are no fewer than 15 load hooks on the floor. If you are planning on regularly transforming your minibus to a van, a useful extra maybe the Cargo Equipment package, which offers cargo rail retainers, side wall anchoring and flexible cargo straps.
Since its birth in 1996, the Vito has always stood out as a sleek, premium quality vehicle in the van and minibus world alike. In terms of trim levels, ride quality and looks, there’s not a great deal of difference between the two generations, so the decision on which one to buy is based firmly on finance and services.
Whereas the Used1 network has made a great job of revolutionising customer support, it will always fall short of that offered on a brand new vehicle. The six month warranty will cost somewhere in the region of a £1000 to extend the cover to 36 months, equal to that of a new one. Another big difference is in the engines. The new engines are slightly more powerful and Euro-5 compliant - which could save you some money with the old HMRC!
But with the low service costs of the Mark II anyway, is all this extra assurance and support really worth £10,000 list price difference?
(Prices current as of March 2011)
Mercedes-Benz Vito Traveliner 111CDi
Engine: 4 cylinder 2148cc Common rail Direct Injection, Euro IV
Power: 116 bhp/290 Nm
Fuel Economy: 34.9mpg (combined)
Gearbox: 5 speed automatic
Brakes: Disc brakes front and rear
Wheelbase: 3200 mm
Wheels/Tyres: 205/65 x 16
Outside Height: 1902mm
Inside Height: 1259mm
Outside Length: 4993mm
Inside Length: 2667mm
Outside Width: 1277/1650mm
Inside Width: 1901/2241mm
Payload: 1030 kg
Kerbweight/GVW: 1910/2940 kg
Cargo Volume: 0.73 cu.m
Service Intervals: 18000-25000 miles
Warranty: 6 months