By Andy Enright
There's a certain commodity quality about panel vans that Mercedes is keen to dissuade us from. By and large it has succeeded, which is why, despite its premium pricing, the Vito van consistently outsells cheaper rivals. Buying a used van can be a minefield as servicing can be hit and miss and they can lead hard lives, driven by operators with no mechanical sympathy and who aren't footing the bills. With that in mind, it makes more sense than ever to seek out quality when buying used and the Vito should be one of your first ports of call.
Panel van (Mk1 108, 110, 112, Mk2 109, 111, 115, 120)
The autumn of 1996 saw the arrival of the original Vito in the UK and the vehicle quickly established a strong following among van buyers. Badge prestige and an options list brimming with lavish add-ons meant that the Vito appealed to retail customers for whom cost was less important than comfort and the 'right' image. Perhaps the fact that this was effectively a rebadged Volkswagen Transporter was lost on many but sales proved strong. Decent reliability and buoyant residual values helped soften the blow of the Vito's premium pricing in the eyes of fleet customers. That Mk 1 model was built to 2003, whereupon a second generation model with a more streamlined look and rear- rather than front-wheel drive chassis architecture. Imbued with more typical Mercedes design values, this second generation Vito was capable of heavier lifting and was manufactured at Mercedes' plant in Vitoria, Spain - hence the name. Around 70% of total sales are to retail customers but the vehicle is not without appeal for more thoughtful fleet managers willing to take the longer view. The range was facelifted in September 2010, the restyle incorporating front and rear lights and front bumpers. More efficient diesel engines adapted from the Sprinter range made their debut, too.
What You Get
The Vito's designers can give themselves a pat on the back and a big Christmas bonus for shoehorning the van's rear-wheel drive transmission under the floor without pumping up the loading height (562mm in the long wheelbase model) by too much. Space must be at a premium down there but drivers benefit from the improved handling and the tighter turning circle associated with rear-wheel drive as well as the vertebra-friendly access for hoisting gear into the rear. This second generation Vito panel van, with its wedge-shaped front, eye-shaped headlights and gently sloping roofline, is offered in three load lengths - compact, long and extra long. The first two sit on a standard wheelbase of 3,200mm but the largest model gets an extension between the wheels to 3,430mm. Then there is the high-roof model that's available in long wheelbase form only and pushes the load height up from a standard 1,902mm to 2,328mm. The upshot of all this is a potential load volume spread from 4.65 to 6.49 cubic meters. There's 1,277mm between the wheelarches, so that Europallet will fit. All Mk 2 Vito panel vans share the same permitted gross vehicle weight, 2,770kg. The largest payload potential of 980kg comes in the most compact Vito and the smallest - 850kg - is in the extra long model. The Vito range is completed by the Dualiner and Traveliner derivatives, the former adds an extra row of seats behind those in the front, while the later is a fully-fledged minibus with an increased 2,940kg gross vehicle weight.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The engines are tried and trusted units but not without issues. If the injectors are loose or not sealed properly, a carbon build up like hard tar forms which saps power. If the diesel glow plug light comes on and stays on that will mean a new set of plugs. The boost control valve has also proven to be a common fault which leads to low or non-existent turbo pressure. Brake light switches and intermittent switching into limp-home mode have also been reported. Check for accident damage, as for many drivers insurance is somebody else's concern.
(approx based on a Vito Dualiner) Parts for the Vito are just one area examined by fleet managers so they need to be priced competitively. 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 Vito'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 Dualiner's ability to make a quick getaway from the lights and a new clutch assembly will cost around £180.
On the Road
Beneath your Vito's sharply sloping bonnet line will be one of four versions of the same common-rail direct injection diesel engine. The 2,148cc oil-burners produce abundant maximum torque of 250Nm, 290Nm, 330Nm, or 440Nm, depending on whether you go for the 95, 116, 150 or 204bhp versions. Noise in the cab grows incrementally as you descend the range of engine options but even the 88bhp model is relaxed enough and the addition of an optional bulkhead goes a long way toward cutting the rumble to a whisper. The free-flowing power keeps the number of gear-changes required to a minimum but if you really want to work the Vito, the 6-speed manual transmission is solid, if a little notchy. Pick the petrol option and it comes equipped with an auto 'box.
The Mercedes Vito van is a tough and durable thing. The first generation model is perfectly fine for lighter duties, especially if you can track down a well looked after example, but it's the second generation model that really gets the job done. Whether you choose a compact, long wheelbase or one of the Traveliner/Dualiner models, the Vito is built to last the course. As with any panel van, it's not 100% bombproof and check the vehicle over carefully for faults. The engines should pull cleanly and be sure to give clutches, brakes and tyres the once over. A good Vito will make a faithful workhorse that keeps going long after cheaper rivals expire.