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October 8, 2015

The Metrics of the Mercedes-Benz Metris

Mercedes bills its new van with the tag line “The next big thing is right-size.”

The mystery of the launch of the new mid-sized Metris van and passenger vehicle is not the name change that the rest of the world knows as Vito, but the fact that the vehicle has been in The Mercedes-Benz lineup around the world for years. 

But it has taken til October 1 this year to make it to American dealerships. The name change of course is to avoid any identification with the Mafioso Vito Corleone, the Godfather immortalized by Mario Puzo and played so well by Marlon Brando.

But for Americans, it likely could not come at a better time.

The cargo van market has been overtaken by “the big white van” from Europe in the shape of Mercedes’ own Sprinter, the fast-selling Ford Transit and the Ram Promaster (nee Fiat Ducato in its native Italy) and in there, too, is the cavernous Nissan NV.  The alternative size is the Transit Connect type of van that is also seeing some new entries from Renault/Nissan and Fiat with GM and Ram badging.

But in the middle, there’s still the aging GM Express and Savanna with their oversize engines and poor fuel consumption. Now come Metris, which offers good capacity, gross weight and towing ability with up to 22 mpg in a package that will fit into any garage or parking structure.

Mechanically, the Metris is based on the Mercedes C-Class platform, sharing the turbocharged 2-liter direct-injection four-cylinder gasoline engine and 7-speed G-tronic automatic from the car side, though with lower commercial ratings of 208 hp and 258 lb-ft of peak torque. While all Vitos are diesels, the Metris will only be available with gasoline power as the product planners see the applications for Metris as urban and stop-start hauling.

But it hauls a fair amount: the payload capacity is a shade over 2,500 pounds and it can tow very nearly 5,000 pounds. The passenger van has seating for eight. And Mercedes-Benz anticipates selling half the production as vans and half as passenger vehicles. In all, Metris is a very capable, right-sized commercial vehicle.

Logistics track is available, as are D rings in the floor for tie-downs.
It’s a versatile vehicle, too, with sliding doors both sides and 270-degree opening rear door or a single lift-up rear door. Logistics track is available as are D rings in the floor fpr tie-downs. The upfitters that provide racks and other internal modifications for the vans use these to mount their equipment, saving drilling through the structure of the van. And a factory-fitted bulkhead is also available.

The bulkhead somewhat reduces the seat slide and results in a slightly cramped driving position for a tall driver. However, without the bulkhead or in the passenger vehicle, the seat slides are generous and tall drivers are well accommodated. It will be interesting to see if an upfitter will come up with a bulkhead that is less demanding of driver space, albeit at the expense of the load space.

As for the rest of the driver comfort, the Metris is exceptional for a commercial vehicle. For one thing, despite the vast empty space in the rear, the vans are quiet and the passenger vehicles whisper quiet. The passenger vehicles, with the weight of the seating, carpeting and other comforts show the ride is firm without the mild bump-thump of the empty van.

As befits a vehicle that will fit in to a regular garage, the handling is very car-like with nice, precise steering, virtually flat cornering and powerful, well-modulated braking.

The dashboard is complete without offering quite the features you may expect in a Mercedes-Benz sedan. But it has others you don’t get in many cars. It comes with crosswind stability, load adaptive stability control, attention assist and up to six airbags. Available as options are collision prevention, lane warning, blind spot detection a rear view camera, parktronic backup warning and, best of all for a city-type van, active parking assist.

This was demonstrated during the Los Angeles-based ride ‘n drive with the van parallel parking itself. In operation, the driver cruises slowly past a parking spot and the system will signal on the dash a space if it spots anything 18 inches or longer than the van or bus. The driver selects reverse and the park assist takes over the steering while the driver eases the throttle to slide back into the space.

When the distance to the vehicle behind has closed, the driver selects drive, the steering turns to the opposite lock and the van and eases forward into the parking space. According to the demonstration driver, the van will also park itself in a regular side-by-side space.

The parking assistant, blind spot and backup camera will be a boon to drivers using these vans and passenger vehicles in crowded city applications and should see a lot less damage to the vehicles.

Damage prevention is just one of the features that makes the Metris top in class for total cost of ownership. Other contributing factors are its good fuel economy, service intervals of 15,000 miles and award-winning Mercedes-Benz retained value when it comes time to trade.

The Metris, like the Vito, is manufactured in a plant in Spain and the passenger vehicles come into the ‘States fully assembled. However, because of the “chicken tax” on imported vans, the van derivative is shipped to the same German facility that takes fully assembled Sprinter and kits them for shipping and reassembly in the Charleston, South Carolina, plant.

Metris actually helps in the shipping of Sprinter as the long wheelbase Sprinter bodies today need a dedicated container where shorter vans ship two-at-a-time. Now, the Metris allows for two-body shipping with one Metris and one long wheelbase Sprinter in a container.

That will change with Daimler’s announcement of a $500 million investment in South Carolina to build a manufacturing plant for both Metris and Sprinter that will see an end to the need − and cost − to kit the vans. Construction of the plant is scheduled to start in 2016 with US-produced Sprinter and Metris vans and passenger vehicles rolling off the line a year later.


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