What Car? says...
You have to feel for the Mercedes Vito. Here it is, working away to earn itself buyers in the face of strong competition in the medium van sector, while at the same time it's slightly overshadowed by a larger Mercedes stablemate.
Indeed, the Vito arguably has a tougher job than the bigger Mercedes Sprinter – which tends to get all the glory – because it goes up against big-selling rivals. They include heavyweights including the Ford Transit Custom and the VW Transporter.
The Vito has a reputation for being expensive to buy and run, and its model line-up isn’t quite as wide-ranging as rivals'. You do get the choice between panel and crew van body styles, as well as three body lengths, but there’s only one body height, and only two equipment levels – entry-level Progressive and more upmarket Premium.
What’s more, Mercedes has recently axed the front-wheel-drive version of the Vito, which means you’ll have to go for rear-wheel drive. That might not suit buyers who prize the added efficiency and increased payload you usually get with front-driven vans.
Having said that, you do at least get a choice of four 2.0-litre diesel engines, ranging in power output from 99bhp right up to 184bhp. The most powerful of the engines comes with an automatic gearbox (elsewhere, a six-speed manual is standard-fit).
So there are some good reasons to consider a Mercedes Vito, and the rest of this review will help you decide whether it's the right model for you. Read on to find out how well the Vito compares with its best rivals – and whether it can outshine them in terms of performance, quality, usability and, of course, its ability to haul cargo.
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Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The Mercedes Vito is available with a four-cylinder 2.0-litre diesel engine that comes in a choice of four power outputs.
The more affordable 99bhp (badged 110) and 132bhp (114) versions come as standard with a six-speed manual gearbox. A nine-speed automatic gearbox is available as an option on the 114, and comes as standard on the 158bhp (116) and 184bhp (119) models.
All versions are rear-wheel drive, and whichever you go for, the suspension is on the firm side for a medium van that's related to the Mercedes V-Class people mover. It stops short of being uncomfortable though, and the firmness makes it feel sportier than some rivals to drive.
True, the Ford Transit Custom remains more rounded, but the Vito's handling is sharp and the extra weight over the front axle adds more directness to the steering.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Inside, the Vito borrows heavily from the Mercedes V-Class MPV, so it’s very well put together. However, as a working vehicle where the priorities are durability and practicality, it falls short. The toughened versions of traditional Mercedes switches for example, make the already lacklustre interior feel downright dull in comparison with rival medium vans.
There are three open storage areas beneath the windscreen, and two cup holders, while a small tray beneath the gear lever is ideal for phones, keys, papers or notebooks. It’s just a pity the door pockets are narrow and there’s no overhead storage, because this means keeping things out of sight can be an issue.
The seats are firm and supportive, but it’s worth considering the optional and highly adjustable Comfort seats if you'll be doing big journeys regularly. A steering wheel that’s adjustable for reach and rake is also an option.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Buying a van at the right operating weight to suit your needs is very important, which is why the Mercedes Vito has a range from 2.5 to 3.5 tonnes for the front-wheel-drive version and up to 3.2 tonnes for the rear-wheel drive.
Despite the big difference between the highest gross vehicle weight vans, rear-wheel-drive improves the maximum payload by only 80kg, supporting a capacity of up to 1369kg. This is because of the additional weight of the rear-wheel-drive setup.
Front-wheel-drive Vitos are actually 120kg lighter than the previous-generation model, and 60kg lighter than the current rear-wheel drive, which gives them a maximum payload of 1289kg.
The three body lengths of Compact, Long and Extra Long mean the Vito can measure 4895mm, 5140mm or 5370mm, and carry maximum load lengths of 2586mm, 2831mm and 3061mm respectively.
Despite now being 140mm longer than the previous-generation model, largely for pedestrian safety, the Vito’s load space actually remains unchanged, with load volumes of between 5.8m3 and 6.9m3.
Sadly, the lack of a high-roof option limits practicality compared with the best rivals. For example, the largest VW Transporter can move 9.3m3 but still carry 1061kg, so anyone considering a Vito should carefully consider the type and weight of loads they are going to carry.
Twin sliding side doors are standard, and there’s the option of either 180-degree twin doors or a hatched rear opening.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The availability of front-wheel drive and a smaller engine may make the Mercedes Vito considerably cheaper to buy than it once was, but it’s still at the very top end of the medium van segment for price.
Parts, too, can be expensive, but running costs are some of the most reasonable around. The 116 CDI model is the most economical option, with official fuel consumption of 49.6mpg, while the 111 CDI we recommend returns a still highly commendable 45.6mpg.
Generous standard equipment also helps compensate for the high prices, with a multifunction steering wheel, cruise control, Crosswind Assist, Hill Start Assist, a speed limiter and a 6.0in colour display for the infotainment system all included.
That said, we’d recommend adding Blindspot Assist. And it’s worth noting that if reversing isn’t your forte, the optional reversing camera is particularly sharp.
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About the author
George Barrow is one of the leading van and truck reviewers, and is the UK’s only representative on the prestigious International Van of the Year jury. He has written about vans and commercial vehicles for the past 15 years, and can be found in titles including The Sun and What Van?, alongside What Car?.
Barrow is well regarded in the commercial vehicle industry, securing access to the latest models – and the people who made them – long before other titles.
Naturally, it depends which version you choose, but to give you an idea, unladen weights range from 1,999kg for the 110 L1 Progressive panel van, right up to 2,215kg for the 119 L3 Premium crew van.
No – all modern Vitos come with a timing chain, which should last the life of the van.
As standard, you get three seats in the Vito panel van, with a single driver’s seat and a dual passenger seat. You can upgrade to two single seats, and by opting for the Crew Van variant, you can also add a row of three seats behind the driver and passenger.
You can probably guess where the Vito sits relative to rival medium vans from the star rating at the top of this page. But for a more in-depth verdict, read through to the end of the review, where we sum up its strengths and weakness in greater detail.