The launch by Mercedes-Benz last week of its new V-Class comes at an interesting time. Because, despite the government’s best attempts to put a spanner in the works of a burgeoning tourism industry, courtesy of new visa regulations, here is a vehicle that is primarily going to be found in the fleets of upmarket hotel establishments.
And just as the top end of the tourist industry demands the best when it comes to anything from accommodation to dining; it also puts a premium on transport. As was pointed out during the business presentation for the V-Class, the mode of transport used by an organisation, whether it be as an airport-hotel shuttle or VIP transfer, creates an impression. Indirectly, it’s a form of “business card”. And as we know, first impressions are lasting, and this new V-Class brings with it business-class interior styling and features, giving passengers the red carpet treatment. Replacing the long-standing Viano, The V-Class seats up to eight people and will be marketed as an upper-end people mover and a family hauler. But it is in the affluent hotel/company sector that this vehicle will truly find a home.
The vehicle will be available in the following guises and costs: V200 CDI Standard, R695 981; V220 CDI Standard, R726 875; V250 BlueTEC, R782 416; V220 CDI Avantgarde, R949 175; and V250 BlueTEC Avantgarde, R984 196. As is so often the case these days, particularly in the SUV segment, you can customise a vehicle with a variety of packages to suit your tastes, requirements and, more importantly, budget. Just one engine is available: a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel, which is tuned for different power outputs but is as powerful as the previous 3-litre V6 turbodiesel engine found in the Viano, once again an indication of how advanced engines have become.
The exterior design of the V-Class is modern and practical, but definitely van-like. Up front you have an upright radiator grille with LED lights and large windscreen, providing the driver with ample visibility. Passengers get in at the back by way of power-operated sliding doors, on the left and right sides of the vehicle, while the rear is dominated by a separately opening rear windscreen attached to the tailgate. The advantage of this is that if you find yourself in a confined space, it is easier to just open the top section to load goods.
But it’s when you step inside the V-Class that the level reaches luxury status. It’s all about keeping the passengers happy and there’s a hint of class wherever you look, which could also be due to the fact that several elements from the C-Class sedan have been included. The piano-lacquer-look trim instantly alerts you to the fact that a great deal of attention has gone into this interior. The three-spoke multi-function steering wheel is more sedan than van-like, and the free-standing 7-inch central display is identical to that found in the C-Class. Another feature passed over from the sedan is the rather controversial touchpad, which is operated in the same manner as an iPad. Maybe it just takes a bit of getting used to, but on the move it not the easiest of instruments to navigate. The styling, quality and features of the seats are most impressive (four-way lumbar support, Nappa leather in the Avantgarde, active seat ventilation, heating), while the multiple seating configurations will also be a draw card. You can arrange the second and third rows of seats as you like.
Six people will fit comfortably if that’s the number you need to move, but if the occasion arises that four passengers need a conference room on the move, then you can easily arrange to have the seats, along with armrests, facing each other, and finish it off with a pop-up folding table (an option) to accommodate your laptop. It was a rather abbreviated test drive that we undertook in the V-Class, with just the V220 and V250 on offer over a 50km round route through the back roads of Kyalami. These particular vehicles are coupled to a 7-G-TRONIC PLUS automatic gearbox (a six-speed manual is available in the V200 CDI and V220 CDI models with auto an optional extra). Ride height is good and although the V-Class is quite big, it’s also surprisingly nimble.
Four driving modes are on offer: economical, comfortable, sporty and manual; each having an influence over engine, accelerator and transmission response. On the automatic derivatives, paddle shifts on the steering wheel are easily accessed. A feature that will be welcomed by tourists is the front-to-rear voice amplification a microphone in the overhead control panel transmits conversations between the driver to the rear loudspeakers so that passengers sitting further back can also hear them.
With this particular category of vehicle, and its largely intended use, there is always a high emphasis placed on safety. The V-Class doesn’t disappoint with a full range of active safety systems, including ABS and EBD. There is a comprehensive list of features and packages available. Some (such as active parking assist, cross wind assist and hill assist) are standard through the range, whereas others (such as collision prevention assist) are available only in the upmarket Avantgarde models. In the coming months, expect to see the V-Class in drop-and-go areas of leading hotel establishments in areas such as Sandton and Melrose Arch. Let’s just hope we continue to have plenty of tourists to fill them.