BY ANDY ENRIGHT
You probably have very firm views on whether the Mercedes Viano even counts as an MPV at all. There will doubtless be a large percentage of you who feel that this is nothing more or less than a glorified airport shuttle but keep an open mind and the Viano becomes a whole lot more than that. As a new buy, it's tough to make a case for the Mercedes as a practical family vehicle. It's just too expensive for most household budgets but as a used proposition it suddenly makes all kinds of sense. How often have we lambasted MPVs for having seats for a big family but not the corresponding luggage capacity. Seems the solution to that particular problem was right in front of us all the time.
Models Covered: 5-dr MPV standard, long and extra long wheelbase [3.2, 3.5 petrol, 2.0, 2.2 diesel, Trend, Ambiente]
The Viano's way was paved by the V-Class, a van-based MPV that had been with us since 1996. It never sold particularly well in this country. After all, the V-Class had a good deal too much Vito van in its genes to really duke it out with cars like the Renault Grand Espace and the Chrysler Grand Voyager. Despite an interior that makes the Millennium Stadium feel claustrophobic, it just wasn't, well, grand enough. Its long-awaited successor, the Viano was expected to really hit the opposition for six. After all, Mercedes had all the ingredients to make a stunning MPV. Great engines, state of the art production facilities, a track record for innovative design and packaging all backed up by some redoubtable marketing muscle. And yet when the first pictures of the Mercedes Viano fell on the desks of motoring journalists the length and breadth of the country, you could almost hear jaws clunking onto pine veneer. It was another van. The press release started bullishly but within the first paragraph it mentioned the two different wheelbases available and three different body lengths - prime evidence of a commercial vehicle background. Despite our disappointment at Mercedes not building the Mercedes of MPVs, the reasons behind the development of the Viano are actually very sound. It's only here in the UK that we adopt a snobbish attitude to this type of vehicle. In continental Europe, models like the Volkswagen Caravelle Limousine and the Mercedes V-class have been enormously successful. Forget about the commercial origins and you end up with a vehicle that makes an interesting used buy. In October 2004, the 218bhp 3.2-litre V6 engine was replaced by a larger V6 unit with 231bhp.
What You Get
Two trim levels are available, Trend and Ambiente. Whichever model you choose, common sense practicality comes as standard. The ergonomics are impressive and the dash-mounted gear lever is a nice touch. The passenger compartment features a rail system that allows for a wide variety of seating configurations. Fore and aft adjustment and flexible repositioning of the individual seats and benches is easily achievable while both the seats and the benches can be folded flat or tilted fully forwards. The 25mm hole pattern in the floor means that the seats can also be rotated to face in almost any direction, opening up the possibility of a cosy face to face seating position. If you want to cut a dash on your street, the Viano may well pull up short. It does look a little swoopier than a V-class, especially around the front end, but the silhouette is still a good deal more commercial than classy. Still, the front is nicely rounded and there are some rather extravagant swage lines along the flanks. The rearmost side window profile is also quite neat, but if it's smart aesthetics you're after, the Renault Grand Espace shows the Mercedes how things are done. The Mercedes counters by offering a more interesting range of engines and added versatility as well as that cavernous interior. Those looking for unparalleled practicality in a big MPV will celebrate the fact that Mercedes hasn't been tempted to follow a more ostentatious route.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Children, as we well know, are no respecters of title, and even a Mercedes Benz is not immune to their destructive tendencies. Many small hands make light work of a Viano interior, so check that the seats aren't ripped and that they still fix into their mountings properly. Similarly, check that the floor mounting points are not damaged or clogged, as this may affect the ability of the seat to stay attached to the vehicle in the event of an accident. The engines are tried and trusted units, and a full service history should be provided. Check for accident damage, though. For many owners, the Viano will be the largest vehicle they've ever had to drive resulting in knocks and scrapes to the bodywork.
(approx based on a Viano 2.0CDi) Parts for the Viano reflect its commercial ancestry, and are largely quite reasonably priced. Front brake pads are around £45 and rear units only a couple of pounds less. A new radiator will cost in the region of £260 and, should you find the Viano's turning circle to be marginally wider than you perhaps expected, a new headlamp unit would cost around £90. Spend too long revelling in the Viano's ability to make a quick getaway from the lights and a new clutch assembly will cost around £180.
On the Road
Three engines were offered from launch, two CDI diesel powerplants of 109 and 150bhp plus a six-cylinder 3.2-litre petrol unit of 218bhp. The 3.5-litre V6 engine replaced the 3.2 in October 2004. This 231bhp powerplant was badged up as having a 3.5-litre capacity but actually offers over 3.7 litres. Power is transferred to the back wheels via either a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission. You may be a little concerned about how the powerful petrol model will drive, the old 174bhp V-Class 280 felt as if it had a good deal more engine than either steering, handling or brakes. The Viano is different. The rear wheel drive layout gives better weight distribution and the brakes are reassuringly beefy discs all round, 300mm at the front and a barely smaller 296mm at the back. Standard specification of all models includes ESP dynamic handling electronics, anti lock brakes, ASR traction control, electronic brakeforce distribution and hydraulic brake assist system. Every occupant gets three-point seat belts with pretensioners and belt force limiters for the front occupants. A driver's airbag features on all versions with plusher trims getting a passenger airbag. The options list is where you'll find twin-sized airbags for the passenger side and thorax sidebags.
Although it may not be the obvious choice, a used Mercedes Viano is a pragmatic solution if you have a very large family and a commensurate amount of gear to lug about. It's better to drive than you'd give it credit for and it holds onto its value so well that, despite the big upfront asking price, typical pence per mile running costs are often lower than you'd get with something like a nearly new Grand Espace or Previa. The 2.2-litre model is the pick of the bunch but shop around and try to find a discounted example that's been generously loaded with options.