FIRST DRIVE | 2019 Mercedes-Benz V-Class offers space & luxury aplenty

Design changes are minor, but the bump-soaking ability has improved. Picture: MARK SMYTH
Design changes are minor, but the bump-soaking ability has improved. Picture: MARK SMYTH

The multipurpose vehicle (MPV) market has dwindled since the popularity of models such as the Renault Scenic and Toyota Verso in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Many have opted for SUVs instead, but where once we had the humble but practical minibus, some manufacturers have adopted the term MPV for their more luxurious versions. A prime example is Mercedes-Benz. It has its Vito-derived minibus, a practical no frills multipassenger vehicle, and the V-Class. It’s more luxurious and so Merc calls it an MPV.

We’ve just driven the latest version at its international launch outside Barcelona in Spain and it should be in South Africa in the third quarter of 2019.

The latest V-Class is more a facelift than a new model and sadly SA won’t get the thing Mercedes is shouting about the most, the inclusion of the diesel engine offering 176kW power and 500Nm torque in the V300D model — and Mercedes SA won’t say why.

It’s odd because the same engine is used in other models in SA so it doesn’t really make sense, but after driving both the V300D and the V250D, which is coming to SA, we realised that we won’t be missing out on that much.

Design changes include a larger grille courtesy of removing the wide chrome strip that used to surround it and there are new headlights, more in keeping with Mercedes passenger car models.

There are also different trim designs, most notably the AMG Line, with its diamond-style grille and slightly more dynamic overall frontal appearance.

Inside, the V-Class gets an updated infotainment system and the option of the latest MBUX connectivity package. It also gets the turbine-style vents common in the passenger cars.

Proper luxury comes with sumptuous leather, the ability to recline and multiple massaging and heating settings. Picture: MARK SMYTH
Proper luxury comes with sumptuous leather, the ability to recline and multiple massaging and heating settings. Picture: MARK SMYTH

A welcome change is upgrades to the suspension. The V-Class previously suffered from a firm ride on the rear axle, not ideal for a vehicle that is designed to carry passengers in comfort. Our drive on the roads around Sitges, near Barcelona, showed a far more comfortable ride in the updated model, even with just a driver.

The V300d provided excellent pulling power, but the V250d with its 140kW and 440Nm seemed more than up to the task, in many ways actually providing a smoother delivery of power throughout the rev range.

The V220d that is also heading to SA provides 120kW and 380Nm. This one also coped well on regular roads, only really showing a bit of strain at highway cruising speeds, something many a V-Class taking tourists to the Kruger Park or along the Garden Route will have to do.

While the V-Class is more about passengers than the driver, things were also comfortable behind the wheel. The steering has a good feel about it and the visibility is excellent.

Push things even a bit and things can get slightly yacht-like, with the V-Class rolling around more than the Hyundai H1 or Ford Custom Tourneo even when put into one of its dynamic modes. It’s also prone to a bit of understeer in both the two-wheel drive and 4Matic all-wheel drive derivatives.

Keeping things in check though are up to 13 safety systems, from electronic stability control to lane-keeping assist and traffic sign recognition. There’s also Crosswind, which we know from past experience is a brilliant feature, and Distronic Plus active radar cruise control.

Many seating options are available to suit most applications. Standard is a six-seater with four individual seats behind the driver and front passenger. You can opt for a two-seater bench in the middle and a three-seater one at the back. There is also a special three-seater rear bench that you can sleep on.

A model that will not be coming to SA is the Marco Polo, a great-looking motorhome version with a sleeping area in the rear and an additional one in the pop-up roof. It has a kitchen, table, an awning and many practical storage areas.

There’s also a seating configuration option that is for real luxury travel. You can opt for just two seats in the rear, both reclining individual chairs upholstered in luxurious leather with pillows attached to the headrests.

Designed to make it the S-Class of MPVs, they feature not just their own climate control settings, but also different massaging settings to allow VIPs to relax in comfort as they are shuttled around. A nifty divider is available that can include two fold-out storage bins, which would probably be useful in the boot of any car.

Mercedes might not have done much to change the V-Class but the suspension changes enormously improve it and it has even more of a Mercedes feel about it, although despite the S-Class-inspired rear seats, don’t expect a proper S-Class level of ride comfort.

Pricing has yet to be confirmed for the new range but you can expect a bit of an increase over current models.