Vans might seem to be a relatively new class of vehicle, dating back to the shaggy-carpeted versions of the 1970s. However, it was 120 years ago that Gottlieb Daimler built the first motorized truck and Karl Benz patented a combination motor bus and delivery wagon. Their companies went on to join forces and today Daimler AG is the world's largest manufacturer of commercial vehicles. Mercedes-Benz, a division in the Daimler AG portfolio, has now brought a modern-day meld of these vehicles to the U.S.; it's a mid-sized van that has the capability to be a "motor bus" or a "delivery wagon", with some tough, truck-like characteristics, but with car-like maneuverability and handling.
This luxury automaker has now entered a rapidly-growing segment of the U.S. vans' market - vehicles that have a small footprint, but a big mission. The 2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris Passenger van and 2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris Cargo van will go on sale in October, and Mercedes said the new models best the competition for cargo carrying and maneuverability, with a best-in-class turning radius. The vans also come with a notable array of standard safety features, class-leading safety technologies, and impressive pricing. Starting at $28,950 for the cargo van and $32,500 for the passenger model (plus $995 destination and delivery for both), Metris will be the least expensive U.S. offering in this German manufacturer's fleet.
Metris will compete in the work and people-carrier class of vehicles that are used for limousine, taxi and shuttle services, as well as for goods delivery and by service and maintenance companies. Other models in this set include the Ford Transit Connect, Nissan NV200, Ram ProMaster City, and Chevy Express.
The Metris is a popular model known as the "Vito" in all other global markets. As it comes to America, it joins its sibling, the larger Euro-styled Sprinter van that now comes in both 2WD and 4WD versions and in a number of variants. Mercedes-Benz has recently developed a separate Commercial Vans division and has appointed 200 dealerships to sell the Metris; it might even be seen on the same showroom floor as the upscale S-Class. While the cargo van will appeal to a wide variety of tradespeople and the passenger van will see most of its duty in livery services, it could be that some American families will find the utilitarian van, with a durable and easy-to-clean interior, an appealing alternative to minivans.
Designed with a T-square profile and a Mercedes tri-star in the swoopy grille, it has some minivan-like looks from the side. Metris has 202.4 inches of length and 75.2 inches of height and benefits from aerodynamic sculpting with a slightly nipped back end. Made mainly for metropolitan areas, the baby Sprinter has bigger dimensions than the Transit Connect and NV200, and is smaller than the Ram van; Metris carries more payload and has more cargo volume than all. It has been smartly-designed to fit into city and residential garages. The cargo version is windowless and can be upfitted in a wide variety of ways. A flat load floor can accommodate pallets and the 270-degree-opening, "barn-style doors" of the cargo van at the rear make it easier to load large and heavy items; it can carry up to 2,502 lbs., and tow up to 4,960 lbs. The passenger van has 180-degree-opening doors.
Inside, you'll find a bare-bones cabin that can seat up to eight, and notice that it's been constructed with a high level of craftsmanship, along with a few premium touches and top Teutonic fit-and-finish. Sure to be a hit with American drivers are large, dual cupholders. Advanced safety features are a trademark for all Mercedes-Benz vehicles, and the Metris gets six airbags for the cargo van and eight airbags for the passenger van. All models will feature standard Attention Assist, Crosswind Assist, and load-adaptive ESP. Optional safety features will include Active Parking Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Parktronic, Collision Prevention Assist, Blind Spot Assist, and a rearview camera. There are up to 100 options available for add-ons, including navigation, automatic air conditioning and electric sliding doors.
Under the hood of the rear-drive Metris is a 2-liter, 4-cylinder gasoline engine that produces 208 hp. and 258 lb.-ft. of torque mated to a 7G-tronic 7-speed automatic transmission, with an optional stop/start feature that improves fuel economy. A button on the dash allows the powertrain to be switched among Eco, Comfort, and Manual modes. Of importance to fleet owners, in particular, the van has a service interval of 15,000 miles.
We drove both the cargo and passenger pre-production models on dirt roads and on pavement in and around Durango, Colorado. Notable is car-like handling, with a low steering wheel position and heavily-weighted steering wheel. Even at high elevation, the vans had plenty of power, carved turns with ease, and were nimble, yet-planted feeling, as a result of the fully independent suspension.