First Drive

FIRST DRIVE: 2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris mid-size van

New mid-size Metris fills niche below Spinter in commercial van market

2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris

TORONTO, ON – The plumber may soon be rolling up to answer your service call in a Mercedes. Not the premium luxury sedan we typically associate with the tri-star marque, but a new mid-size commercial van from the same manufacturer.

Having revolutionized the large commercial van market in North America with the Sprinter, Mercedes-Benz is invading the mid-size van market with its kid brother – the new 2016 Metris.

Like its bigger sibling, the Metris will be offered in both cargo and passenger configurations, although the wheelbase and height will be limited, with one size fitting all.

Reliability plus payload capacity

While the Mercedes-Benz nameplate is synonymous with luxury and prestige in Canada, those attributes aren’t the prime attraction with its vans. Reliability is what commercial users seek – and it’s a key reason why many opt for the M-B brand.

For example, the new Metris has been engineered to operate with extended service intervals – it only needs maintenance every 25,000 kilometres, which means it will be spending more time on the road earning its keep and less time sitting in the shop.

The Metris will be attractive to users looking for a smaller commercial vehicle, but one that still has good payload capacity. M-B says the maximum payload of the Metris (1,135 kilograms/2,502 lb in cargo trim) is 52% greater than competitive small commercial vans on the Canadian market.

Its cargo volume of 5.27 cubic metres (186 cubic feet) is 46% greater than that of its competitors. The cargo bed in the cargo van, which features a wood-covered floor with tie-down rings, is 283.1 centimetres long and 168.5 cm wide, while the width between the wheelwells is 127 cm – large enough to lay 4X8 sheets of drywall flat on the floor.

An optional rail system on the floor and sidewalls is available and the low rear bumper with low load sill makes loading cargo a breeze.

Passenger version too

If you’re looking for a vehicle to carry people instead of stuff, the Metris passenger van will accommodate up to eight persons with space behind the rear bench to store their luggage.

The rear bench seat and the middle row, which can be either a two- or three-person configuration, are adjustable or removable using a quick-release rail system if more space for cargo is required.

The passenger version is offered with double rear doors that swing open a full 180 degrees, or one can opt for a manually-operated liftgate (no power option is available.)

The double-wing doors on the cargo van can be opened 270 degrees – ideal for loading from a dock. The side door on both models slides open easily, although a power option is available on passenger vans, which also has a sliding door on the driver’s side.

A word of caution, though: I did notice when the sliding side door is open and the rear door is swung to its full extension, there’s the potential for contact between the two, which would leave a nasty chip (or worse) on the otherwise pristine finish.

Visibility limitations

While we’re picking nits, it should be noted that there are visibility issues that may irritate some owners, although most are characteristic of the vehicle type, not just the Metris.

First, the power-adjustable exterior mirrors, which are standard equipment, could be larger – I didn’t feel they provided an adequate view along the sides of the van.

That point became more critical in the cargo version I drove, which had an optional partition behind the front seats that limited the view rearward to whatever one could see in the smallish side mirrors. Backing up to a loading dock or into a parking spot could become a “Braille” exercise – using touch instead of sight.

Curtis Calwell, the product manager for M-B vans, said there were a couple of alternatives to remedy this situation – the partition can be ordered with a window and an interior rearview mirror, or one can opt for a rearview camera. I suggest the latter should be standard on the cargo van.

There were visibility issues with the passenger van as well. When equipped with the double doors, the middle door post obstructed the rear view. Also, the middle headrest on the rear bench blocked the driver’s view rearward. I'd order the van with the one-piece liftgate and ull the headrest out when there is no centre passenger to open up the viewing lane.

Agility an attribute

One key advantage the Metris holds over larger vans is the fact its size makes it more agile. When maneuvering through alleyways and congested downtown Toronto streets, I found the Metris can slip into gaps and spaces that will leave large van drivers green with envy.

Its agility was enhanced by a speed-sensitive electromechanical rack-and-pinion steering system that was very responsive at low speeds, but needed little input on the highway. The turning radius was impressive – just 11.8 metres, which makes U-turns an easy maneuver, even on urban roadways (which I had to do a few times after misreading route directions.)

In addition, the rear-wheel-drive configuration of the Metris improves its traction capabilities when loaded and its maneuverability in confined spaces, compared to a front-drive van. It also enables the Metris to haul up to 2,250 kg (4,960 lbs.)

Three fully independent suspension systems are available: the base suspension system, which is standard on the cargo version; a base-plus, which is fitted to the passenger model and adds a rear anti-roll bar, mounts and bearings for enhanced comfort; and an optional comfort system for the passenger variant with additional dampers for improved ride.

One powertrain package

The Metris, which is marketed in Europe as the Vito, comes with just one powertrain package. It’s a 2.0-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged gasoline engine, fitted with direct fuel injection. It smoothly generates 208 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque.

This output is channeled to the rear wheels through a seven-speed 7G-TRONIC automatic transmission that features Eco, Comfort and Manual modes. The main gear choices are directed through a single stalk mounted on the steering column, although one can shift gears manually using paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.

There were no complaints with the powertrain. It performed flawlessly both in stop-and-go city traffic and on the open road. The power was certainly adequate to move the van smartly when overtaking or trying to catch a break in city traffic.

While official NRCan fuel ratings are pending, Calwell says the Metris is expected to deliver a combined consumption rate of 10.5 litres/100 km in cargo configuration. The passenger version, which is heavier (2,200 kg versus 1,915) will consume fuel at a rate of 10.9 L/100 km.

Fuel efficiency can be improved further by opting for the available ECO stop/start system, which shuts the engine off when the vehicle is idle, then restarts when it’s time to go. Mercedes recommends 91 octane grade gasoline be used, but the Metris will run adequately on 87 octane, though the power output will be reduced. 

Features and appointments

Some exterior features worth noting include a heater for the windshield washer fluid, halogen reflector-type headlamps with integrated daytime running lights and a fuelling door that’s hidden behind the driver’s door to thwart fuel thieves. Seventeen-inch steel wheels with covers are standard, while five-spoke alloy rims are available. Both are fitted with 225/55 R17 tires.

The cab is nicely appointed and includes a three-spoke steering wheel with multi-function buttons, a lockable, illuminated glovebox, three large storage bins on top of the instrument panel that are ideal for a clipboard or other items for the working driver, plus bins and bottle holders in the door panels. There are also two cupholders built into the top of the instrument panel at its outer edges, plus a couple cupholders in the console.

There’s a USB port and auxiliary input jack, plus an Audio 15 Telematics system with high-resolution 5.8-inch display, borrowed from the Sprinter. A navigation system is available.

The seats are covered in black Tunja fabric and are available with a heating function. There’s a comfort option that adds tilt and lumbar support. The designers have thoughtfully raked the upper section of the optional partition in the cargo van to allow the seatbacks to tilt back. Leatherette coverings on the seats are also available.

A full suite of safety features are fitted, including a full complement of airbags on both models, crosswind assist and attention assist, which detects when the steering inputs suggest the driver may need to take a break. Available technologies include blind spot monitoring, collision prevention assist, active parking assist and a lane keeping monitor.

Several upgrade packages are offered for both models – in fact, there are about 30 options buyers can consider.

The Metris is arriving now at Mercedes-Benz dealerships across the country.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Model: 2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris Van

Price: Cargo van, $33,900; passenger van, $37,900

Engine: 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine with direct fuel injection; 208 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm, 258 lb-ft of torque @ 1,300 rpm. ECO start/stop function available.

Transmission: Seven-speed 7G-TRONIC PLUS automatic with Eco, Comfort and Manual modes

Length: 5,141 mm

Width: 2,244 mm (including side mirrors)

Wheelbase: 3,200 mm

Height: Cargo van, 1,890 mm; passenger van, 1,910 mm

Maximum payload: Cargo van, 1,135 kg (2,502 lbs.); passenger van, 850 kg (1,874 lbs.)

Towing capacity: 2,250 kg (4,960 lbs.)

Competitors: Ram Promaster City; Ford Transit Connect; Nissan NV200; Chevrolet City Expres; Chevrolet Express; GMC Savana; Nissan NV

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