What Car? says...
A mid-sized model with a big reputation to live up to, the Mercedes Vito has many of the strengths expected of a van wearing the three-pointed star, but has failed to secure the same market dominance as the larger Sprinter.
Why? Well, in a highly competitive sector, the Vito has a reputation for being expensive to buy and maintain. Plus, its traditionally been rear-wheel drive – a configuration that increases weight and made it an anomaly in a class dominated by the likes of the Ford Transit Custom and Volkswagen Transporter.
This latest Vito has been built to change the negative perceptions, though, with front-wheel drive variants and the option of a smaller engine that makes the starting price much cheaper.
The 1.6-litre diesel in question is sourced from Renault, meets Euro 6 emissions standards and develops 87bhp or 113bhp, with a six-speed manual gearbox fitted as standard but the higher-powered version also available with a seven-speed automatic.
Alternatively, you can still have rear-wheel drive, combined with Mercedes’ own 2.1-litre diesel in 134bhp, 161bhp or 188bhp forms.
Compact, Long and Extra Long body lengths are available, but unlike many of its rivals, including the Citroën Dispatch and Nissan NV300, there is no high-roof option. Vito Crew vans can carry up to six people and Tourer minibus options for transporting up to nine passengers are offered alongside the panel vans.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
While the 161bhp 2.1-litre diesel is the most frugal engine option (at least officially) and the 188bhp 2.1 is certainly the most powerful, it’s actually the 113bhp 1.6 (badged 111 CDI) that we would opt for.
Unlike the 87bhp 1.6, which feels right at its limit, the 113bhp variant provides enough grunt to move a fully laden Vito with ease. What’s more, the 1.6 is a quieter engine than the 2.1.
Whichever you go for, the suspension is on the firm side for a van that plays a dual role as a people mover, but it stops shot of being uncomfortable and that firmness delivers one of the most dynamic driving experiences of any vehicle in the class.
True, the Ford Transit Custom remains more rounded to drive, while the rear-wheel-drive Vito feels that bit more assured than its front-wheel-drive sister, but the handling in both is sharp and the extra weight over the front axle adds more directness to the front-wheel-drive Vito’s steering.