A recent facelift adds safety credentials and new tech to the badge cachet of the three-pointed star, and ensures that the 2021 Mercedes-Benz Vito 116 LWB appeals to van buyers looking for a touch of style to match the substance.
There is a bit to dissect in the Vito range, so for the full range breakdown and details, head to our pricing and specification guide. Here, then, it’s easier to focus on the one we’re testing specifically. The model that is the most logical competitor to the segment-leading Toyota HiAce, as a matter of fact.
The 116 LWB model we’ve got our hands on is a panel van, seats two, is RWD, and has a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine. The engine is mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission and it makes 120kW and 380Nm. The ADR fuel-usage claim on the combined cycle is just 6.7L/100km. The urban-specific figure is a claimed 7.9L/100km. On test, almost exclusively around town, we used 7.5L/100km, which is pretty frugal for a van of this space and practicality.
The big-ticket addition for 2021 is the inclusion of Mercedes-Benz’s version of AEB as standard – Active Brake Assist – which is standard across the Vito range. There’s a five-star ANCAP rating (from 2014) and plenty of standard kit including: Adaptive Electronic Stability Program, ABS, ASR, BAS, EBD, LAC, RMI, ROM, EUC, brake disc wipe and electronic brake prefill.
That’s a lot of acronyms, but suffice to say, the Vito has just about everything. There’s also Crosswind Assist, Attention Assist, Hold Function, blind-spot assist, lane-keep assist, and a rear-view camera with dynamic steering lines and three rear-view modes.
There are also some more minor exterior changes, which will make the 2021 model recognisable against the outgoing version. Inside, there is a new 7.0-inch touchscreen and multimedia system through which you can see the enhanced rear-view camera display.
Some of the options fitted to our test vehicle, which push the price from $56,100 to $64,815 before on-road costs, include an upgraded audio system and satellite navigation ($700), adaptive cruise control ($1500), cargo solutions pack ($3800) and comfort seats with lumbar support ($600).
Starting with the standard tech, everything that is fitted works, and works well. The quality of the rear-view camera is noteworthy, especially in low light or at night. It’s a real highlight that makes reversing into tight spots a cinch, and the sharp image is also capable of being shown as wide-angle.
The integration of smartphone connectivity makes a big difference, and the screen – while not the biggest we’ve tested – is a smart addition. It’s clear and responsive to inputs. While most of you, like me, will probably default to the mapping on your phone, the integrated navigation also worked faultlessly. The audio system is also a good one, and it sounds way better than most vans, especially with the optional partition.
On that note, if the partition isn’t standard, it’s an option you should almost always take with any van. It insulates the cabin from noise and that drummy, tinny sound you get from the empty space behind. It also makes the cabin vastly easier to heat up and cool down, and it means it’s much more pleasant to spend time behind the wheel. Money well spent, in other words.
The seats in our tester were excellent, and while storage is well catered to, there could be more smart storage on offer. Some of the dashtop storage, for example, doesn’t present as being especially useful, and the cupholders on top of the dash are quite small. The door pockets, though, and large centre storage area between the seats are both excellent.
Back to the seats, they were comfortable no matter how long we spent behind the wheel, and crucially, climbing into and out of the Vito couldn’t be any easier. Visibility is excellent, too, although a window in the passenger-side sliding door would make that even better.
There’s no doubt the partition makes the cabin feel smaller, but the counter is that it doesn’t feel cramped either. It’s often overlooked that people who buy vans spend long stints behind the wheel, so comfort shouldn’t be an afterthought, and the Vito takes the fight right up to the segment-leading HiAce. It’s pretty quiet inside the cabin, too, with road and engine noise insulated quite well.
The cargo space in our test Vito is flexible, well-appointed and useful – all traits you might expect but not always get with a van. The 6.6 cubic-metre cargo space is plenty big enough for most buyers, with 1270mm between the wheel arches opening out to 1681mm at its widest point, 1391mm height to the roof, and doors that open out to 270 degrees with clever magnetic latches to stop them from slamming shut once they are open.
The optional flooring, wall lining, and tie-down system in our test Vito were all excellent additions, and while that pack costs $3800, it’s worth getting for a vehicle that is a workhorse. As we stated in the video, we’d appreciate brighter lighting in the cargo area, but that’s the only real negative back there. The broad rear barn doors, and dual sliding doors, make loading and unloading as easy as it could be.
Unladen, the Vito weighs in at 1990kg with a payload of 1060kg. It’s got a handy 2500kg braked towing capacity, too, which sits it ahead of some of the competitors and is a useful point for those of you with a trailer. Our car trailer weighs approximately 600kg and is rated to carry 2000kg, so you could pull plenty of useful items around with that tow rating.
The Euro 6-compliant diesel engine requires AdBlue to get there, and as such it uses a 25L tank specifically for that. A clever readout tells you when the tank is getting low, so you know that you need to fill up. Its real-world efficiency means you won’t be visiting the service station with monotonous regularity either, which is also a positive for the van buyer. While filling up an AdBlue tank is an extra dimension some buyers might not want, 25L is enough to mean you won't be doing it too regularly either.
We found the engine to be punchy enough without pinning you back in your seat. It’s sharpish off the line and delivers a nice slab of torque with the peak coming between 1400rpm and 2400rpm, right where you need it around town. While it doesn’t feel especially formidable, it does feel effortless doing anything the regular buyer will expect.
Out on the highway for a quick run, the engine keeps boiling along nicely and holding 80km/h up to 110km/h on the freeway with ease. Thanks to the seven-speed automatic, the engine is barely even ticking over at highway speed – another tangible result of the more modern engineering that is going into these vans now. The engine will buzz right up to redline if you ask it to, but such is the torque delivery that you won’t need to. The drive experience is, in the main, quite relaxed and easy.
We know that the Vito is easily capable of hauling 400–600kg from the previous testing we’ve done, and for this update we looked more closely at the standard features and updates in any case. But it’s worth noting that like any van, when you add some weight over the rear axle, it settles the ride down and softens up the response over sharper imperfections on the road.
The suspension is, after all, rated to carry more than 1000kg of payload if called on. Plenty of van owners tell us they don't actually load theirs up to that level too often, with somewhere between 400–800kg seemingly to be the sweet spot. In any case, a few hundred kilos does soften the ride off a little.
That’s not to say the Vito rides poorly unladen, because it doesn’t. Thanks to a combination of RWD, the competent driveline, an 11.8m turning circle, and sharp steering, the Vito feels like a much smaller van to pilot around town. It’s nimble enough to get cracking off the mark, but the ride insulation, bump absorption, and quality of the steering response mean it’s actually quite enjoyable to drive.
The Vito gets a five-year/250,000km warranty and 24-hour roadside assistance as well. Services need to be booked in every 12 months or 25,000km, which makes it flexible for keeping your van on the road and lessening downtime.
While there’s no doubt the updated HiAce is now good enough to justify its segment-leading sales figures, the Mercedes-Benz Vito provides a compelling, if more expensive, option. There’s definitely value in the badge for plenty of buyers, and the quality of the drive experience and capability back that up. Some of the options will add to the price more than we’d like, but overall the Vito is a van that buyers should consider if it fits within the budget.