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Mercedes-Benz Vito Sport-X (2013 - ) expert review

By John Fife

“Ludicrous. Preposterous. Silly. Just plain daft. All those things spring to mind when you first see the Vito Sport-X and read through its specification sheet. The trouble is, it is also one of the most desirable light commercial vehicles… in the world.”
Overall: 5 out of 5

Very comfortable
Still a very practical 5 seater LCV
Sheer joy of driving it

Fuel consumption
Ground clearance
Insurance costs for younger drivers

1. Exterior
Few light commercial vehicles have the street cred and appeal of the Sport-X. That’s down to the slightly lowered suspension and well-filled wheel arches, inside which are a set of full-fat, 18 inch Brabus alloy wheels. A deep front air dam, chrome sills and a set of matt black roof bars finish it off, while the three pointed star on the grille might just be enough to pull the birds when leaving a night club in the early hours. “Yes love, I’m driving a Merc,” and then show her your key fob… then your van.
Our rating: 5

2. Interior
The luxurious sporty look continues inside. The Sport-X is carpeted front to back and the five seats are leather trimmed as are the multifunction steering wheel and automatic stickshift. This being the Sport-X, Mercedes has fitted its ‘Command APS’ system with full mobile phone bluetooth functionality and SatNav system with a  6-inch screen and an overhead control panel with two reading lamps. Another neat touch are the floor level lamps so we can see the door step in the dark. In-cab storage is adequate, with front door pockets, each with a bottle shaped holder at the leading edge, but only one can/cup holder in the centre slide-out tray. The illuminated glovebox is lockable and there is one lidded box on the top of the dash to hide phones and stuff, plus a shallow depression under the window where paperwork can be left, but not while driving otherwise it will slide about annoyingly on roundabouts. The foot operated parking brake is also much handier than these new-fangled electronic push-button parking brakes while the lack of a lever also frees up floor space.
Our rating: 4

3. Practicality

The Sport-X gets two individual front seats (as opposed to a three seater bench)with individual arm-rests  and there is a folding ‘two plus one’ seat bench in the rear. The seat backs can fold flat on the squabs or can be tipped forward to maximise floorspace. As seems to be the case with German built LCVs, the seats are firm although decently shaped and there is plenty of leg room front and rear. If there is a niggle it’s the gearshift housing in the front driver’s seat which can irritate the driver’s left leg if he is taller than average. The top hinged tailgate can be annoying, but it can also be pretty useful. It’s great for standing under when it’s raining and changing your boots, but it’s not so good if you have reversed up to a wall and need to get in the back in a hurry. There’s a 12v accessory socket in the boot, but no load lashing tie-downs.  Although stylish, the Brabus front air dam is too low. I scraped it driving down a harbour ramp and then up on to a ferry ramp while trying ‘to get away from it all’ one weekend. On that basis, you can’t run it up on to kerbs either.
Our rating: 4

4. Ride and handling
The Sport-X sits on independent suspension all round and the ride quality is excellent even when running empty. The power steering is ideally suited to the wide and grippy Continental tyres. Big mileages can be dispatched with ease and in comfort, aided by the high LCV seating position and commanding view of the road ahead. The downside is that it becomes very difficult at times to resist the temptation to exploit all that power and performance. Remember, LCVS are restricted to lower speed limits than cars on some roads.
Our rating: 4

5. Performance
And then we come to the most outrageous aspect of the spec sheet. Nestled under the bonnet is a 221bhp V6 3 litre turbo diesel with 440 Nm of torque. This totally pointless lump of ironmongery up the front end is controlled by a 5 speed auto box, but will still dispatch the 0 to 60mph time in under 10 seconds. Mercedes claims a time of 9.1 seconds for the traffic light sprint, but even more impressive is the surge through the gears when on the move. Overtaking is an absolute doddle. There was only one drawback. It was too quiet. The subdued gruffle from under the bonnet is music to a petrolhead’s (dieselhead’s?) ears, but a volume control would have been welcome – to turn it up.
Our rating: 5

6. Running costs
And now the sad part. Yes, those of us with a light foot could extract in excess of 30mpg with this deranged commercial, and in fact 34 mpg is distinctly possible when wearing a sensible head. The trouble is, the performance is just so addictive that should the mental effort required to restrain the right foot be somewhat lacking, fuel returns of under 20 mpg are distinctly possible. Emissions are also quite high at 229 g/km, but ignore them and just think of the human emissions – whoops of joy.
Our rating: 3

7. Cargo area
Maximum payload on this short wheelbase van is 845kgs, but think of it more as a crew van than as a load lugger and it makes sense. Behind the rear seats the load floor length is a modest  1.3 metres long, but this can be extended to 1.6 metres by folding the rear seat forward, or use the ‘quick release system’ and take them out altogether for a 2 metre loadlength. Not only is the floor carpeted, but the loadbox is lined so no sharp edges and no oily toolboxes in here please.
Our rating: 4

8. Safety
When it comes to safety aids, this has them all. The Mercedes ESP system is just about the most advanced in the LCV world. The Adaptive ESP (Electronic Stability Programme) comes with ABS but also has ASR (acceleration skid control), EBD (electronic brakeforce distribution) and BAS (brake assist) and just to keep you extra safe it has adaptive brake lights so following traffic are made aware what you’re up to. ‘Start Off Assist’ is fitted too which is quite handy when moving off on hills.
Our rating: 5

9. Equipment

Phew. Where to start? Apart from the obvious leather trim and carpeted floors, there is air conditioning, with additional venting for the rear seat passengers, and heat insulating glass all round plus tinted windows on the sliding doors. Compared to other vans, the interior is well finished with luxury roof panelling and a fully trimmed loadbox at the rear, and no doubt this all helps to insulate the occupants from the great outdoors as the ride is remarkably silent at times. It might be a little thing, but it highlights Merc’s attention to detail – the uprated interior lamps are bright enough to read by. The dashboard display is dominated by two large dials covering speed and rpm, with a separate panel between them for the on-board computer functions. The Cruise Control functions are operated by a lever behind the steering wheel and there is an outside temperature gauge. This is particularly handy as it serves to remind the driver that unlike most other vans, the Vito is rear wheel drive. Outside there are heated door mirrors and auto-adjusting Bi-xenon lamps which have a cornering function. I used to think these were quite gimmicky, but changed my opinion one dark, wet night while driving along a narrow undulating single track road with a cliff face on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. There was one notable omission though. No parking sensors as standard.
Our rating: 5

10. Why buy?
“If a potential punter starts at the bottom of the spec  sheet where the price is listed, he/she may never look up, because the price is a sobering £35,553 (incl VAT), but that will be their loss. This is not just a van, this is an M&S van. Put it this way, if someone offered me a Mercedes-Benz E Class estate (more or less the same money) or a Vito Sport-X, I would have the van every time.”
Our rating: 5

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