By Andy Enright
The Mercedes Vito is a spacious medium-sized van that knows its business, offering quality and distinctive rear wheel drive engineering to LCV buyers looking for a durable long-term solution to their transport needs. Here, we're looking at the second generation version - and specifically at the facelifted model that arrived in 2010, bringing with it a more efficient range of more powerful Euro V-compliant engines, a fresh face, a smarter cabin, revised chassis settings and increased payload capacity. As a result, Stuttgart's medium-sized panel van contender was better equipped than ever to take the fight to an increasingly impressive array of Volkswagen Transporter and Vauxhall Vivaro-sized rivals. How will it fare as a used buy? Let's find out.
Panel van (110, 113, 116, 122)
One of the things you learn early on in business is that the cheapest options aren't always the best ones. And that the way you deliver your goods says plenty about them. Both things explain the appeal of the Mercedes-Benz of medium range vans, this model, the Vito, which slots in just below the larger Sprinter model in the German brand's LCV range. It was first launched in 1996, but the version you're most likely to see is the second generation version that dates from 2003. This also formed the basis for Mercedes' Viano luxury MPV. In 2010, this vehicle was substantially updated into the form we're looking at here, with changes that made it smarter, more practical, better to drive and crucially, less costly to run. There were restyled front and rear lights, restyled front bumpers, and more significantly, more efficient diesel engines adapted from the Sprinter range. As well as the standard diesel and petrol engines, the Vito was also offered in E-CELL electric guise, the first factory-made battery-electric van to be introduced into the LCV market. The model updates and design innovation were needed in the face of tough rivals as diverse as the Vauxhall Vivaro / Renault Trafic design, the Peugeot Expert / Fiat Scudo / Citroen Dispatch collaboration, the Volkswagen Transporter and of course the ubiquitous Ford Transit. All these alternatives were also made in people carrying form - as was this Vito. We've already mentioned that this basic design sired the Viano MPV but the Stuttgart brand also offered customers a Vito people carrier called the Traveliner - essentially a stripped-out Viano. There was also a Dualiner model - a panel van with second row seating. The brand went further too, also developing a purpose-designed taxi version which debuted in March 2012 and sold strongly.
What You Get
The face of this improved second generation Vito has a chunkier, more robust look that takes its cues from the contemporary Mercedes passenger car line up. The simpler, two slat grille, for instance, is flanked by restyled headlights that feature a larger reflectors to increase light output, plus have integrated daytime running lights and fog lamps. If a lot of night driving is on the agenda, try and find a version fitted with the optional Bi-xenon headlamps. These featured a cornering function and came with LED daytime running lights and a washer system - both welcome on a murky winter's day. This facelifted model's redesigned bumper came with a hard-wearing grained finish but if you want a smarter-looking Vito, find one in which the bumpers have been optioned up to body colour. More importantly with this van, Mercedes pulled off the neat trick of shrinking the size of the door mirrors (so drivers didn't have to fold them so often going through narrow spaces) yet somehow at the same time, widening the mirrors' field of vision. The Vito's wide door opening and well placed step mean that getting in is a simple enough manoeuvre and once seated aloft, you'll find a cab with three-abreast seating that's close to Mercedes-Benz passenger car standards of finish thanks to high quality fabrics (or optional artificial leather) and an anthracite-based colour scheme for the interior. It helps that the smart steering wheel isn't set at such a bus-like angle as you'll find in some competitors, with further car-like cues found in the way that most of the controls are located on a neatly presented centre console with the neatly shaped gearstick protruding from the dash below. The thoughtful, uncomplicated layout looks great, feels great and is a pleasure to use. Particularly so in this facelifted MK2 model in fact, since here, wider functioning push buttons replaced the previous rocker switches on the upper section of the centre console. All very smart, but when it comes to the smaller everyday bits and pieces that'll tend to clutter up your cab - map books, McDonalds wrappers and thermos flasks - we have to say that this cabin isn't exactly overflowing with stowage capacity. No passenger seats folding to reveal work tables, no clipboard holders popping up into your line of sight - not even cupholders convenient to the driver's reach. This is one area where the Vito's rivals get the better of it. Still, you do get a large storage compartment on the centre top of the dash which will accommodate most of your day-to-day paperwork. And, of course, it all feels extremely solid, durable and well screwed together. Squeaks and rattles? Even on higher-mileage models, we'd be surprised if you find many.
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 110 CDI) 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 Vito's ability to make a quick getaway from the lights and a new clutch assembly will cost around £180.
On the Road
Slide behind the wheel and it's immediately clear that this is going to be rather different to the usual LCV driving experience. Though the high-set driving position may be familiar to commercial vehicle users, a four-spoke multi-function steering wheel lifted straight from a luxury Mercedes C-Class saloon certainly won't be. This is a cabin crafted to please people spending up to £35,000 or more on the MPV version of this design, Mercedes' Viano people carrier, so it goes without saying that for a van user, it'll feel very nice indeed. The driver's seat's firmer than the norm but offers good support under the thighs and in the small of the back, which should mean fewer aches and pains at the end of a long drive. Just how long a drive you'd want to undertake, however, will depend very much on the engine you choose for your Vito. The powerplant that forms the backbone of the range is a redesigned Euro5 version of Mercedes' stalwart 2.1-litre four-cylinder common rail diesel borrowed from the larger Sprinter model, an engine which has gained a good reputation for its combination of performance, economy and refinement and, almost uniquely for a four cylinder LCV diesel of the period, is fitted with balancer shafts to eliminate vibration and create class-leading levels of refinement. This unit comes in three states of tune, the options beginning with the 95bhp 110 CDI entry level version. It feels a little faster than the quoted 18.1s rest to sixty time would suggest thanks to a useful 250Nm of torque which offers an unusually broad operating range between 1,000 and 4,000 revs and will probably be quite sufficient for urban-based users not carrying really heavy loads or tackling too many long distances. Most businesses though, will need a van more easily able to deliver both, so will be looking closely at the two more powerful four cylinder Vito diesel options, the 136bhp 113 CDI or the 163bhp 116 CDI, these variants offering either 310 or 360 Nm of torque respectively and able to sprint to sixty in as little as 11.1s. Competitor van ranges would end the choice there but thanks to the need for engines suited to a more car-like passenger carrying remit and an audience angled more towards retail than fleet, the Vito doesn't. So, unusually for a van in this sector, there's also a V6 CDI diesel option offering so much torque (440Nm) that it has to be channelled through a standard automatic gearbox. The Stuttgart engineers developed this unit to offer as much as 258bhp, but most British buyers were quite satisfied with the 224bhp on offer from the 122 CDI model - enough for the vehicle to make 62mph from rest in only 9.1s. So overall, what are these Vito models like to drive? Well, some writers criticised the foot-operated parking brake but we rather like it - another up-market touch. The 6-speed manual gearbox that's standard on all four cylinder Vitos has the usual Mercedes precise, well engineered feel, a little notchy-feeling at first but lovely to use on prolonged acquaintance. Mercedes calls this transmission 'ECO Gear', labelling that refers to the way that its ratios are widely spaced for efficient running, topped and tailed by a very low-geared 1st for snappier hill starts fully loaded and a long-striding top to massage economy and refinement on the motorway. Around town, it's also helpful to note that with an overall height of just 1.90m, every version of the Vito with a standard roof should fit easily into a regular garage, limbo beneath the height restriction bar in multi-storey car parks and sail through car washes unscathed. And over bumps and around corners? Well, as usual, the load you're carrying does of course make quite a difference - and if that load happens to be people rather than packages (as would likely be the case if you'd opted for the Dualiner or Traveliner rear-seated versions), you'll want the response to be a little softer and more cosseting than it would be in a panel van variant. So the settings for the fully reconfigured chassis have been fine-tuned for different models, according to their remit, with detail changes to everything from spring rates to support bearings and strut towers, from dampers to anti-roll bars and bearings. The result of all this might be a slightly firmer ride than you're used to but it's an undeniably supple and well-controlled one you'll quickly adapt to and appreciate. There's also the fact that, a little unusually in this class, this van is rear rather than front driven, meaning more rewarding handling than you might be expecting and a tighter turning circle.
With this improved post-2010 second generation Vito van, Mercedes managed to meld the toughness and durability of the old Vito with a bit more polish and liveability in the cabin. Of course, used vans are often only as good as their previous keepers and even Mercedes Vitos can feel tired if they've been abused, so look for a low mileage example that's been obviously cared for and it should serve you for many years to come. Get yourself something like that and you'll get yourself a benchmark among LCVs and a vehicle you can buy with head as well as heart. Here's a model that can carry heavier loads with more speed, less noise, greater comfort, sharper handling, reduced fuel consumption and cleaner emissions than most rivals. Customers in the medium range segment will always have cheaper options of course - Fiat Scudos, Vauxhall Vivaros, Renault Trafics and so on. Nearly all though, are lacking this van's one most crucial ingredient: Star Quality.