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January 21, 2016

The Metris – Mercedes-Benz Perfect Package

The new Mercedes-Benz Metris was the perfect people-mover
on Chicago's snowy streets over the holidays.

Mercedes-Benz Metris is a new right-sized van and bus range fitting in below the big Sprinter and is just now reaching the dealers. The Metris is styled right-sized by Daimler because it is larger than the small vans like the Transit Connect and the newly introduced Nissan NV200 and smaller than the large vans that are seeing major action with the introduction of the Ford Transit and the Ram (Dodge) ProMaster.

The Metris has a high cargo/towing capacity at an attractive price, especially given the Mercedes quality, fit and finish of the vehicles. It is targeted at users in large metropolitan areas offering an agile package that will fit into a suburban garage or parking structure. The Cargo Van starts at $28,950, and the Passenger Van starts at $32,500 (excluding $995 destination/delivery charge for both vans). There are hightop variants and chassis cabs as well in the five-model range.

But I didn’t have to spend anything to wheel a Metris around Chicago for family transport over the recent Christmas holiday period. I borrowed one from Mercedes-Benz!

Doors on both sides slide and can be powered from the key fob,
It was a great idea. The Metris in its passenger configuration has generous, comfortable seating for up to eight big adults – though ours was a 7-seater -- and as we had places to go and people to see it was ideal as a carry-all family transporter.

The Metris has many of the rugged characteristics of the bigger Sprinter including advanced safety features -- a big plus on the snow covered Chicago streets over the holidays. Safety features are a promise on any Mercedes-Benz and the Metris is no exception with six airbags for the Cargo Van variant. 

Our passenger van featured eight for additional passenger protection along with standard Attention Assist, standard Crosswind Assist, and standard load-adaptive ESP stability control. Optional safety features included active parallel parking assist with Parctronic, lane departure warning, collision prevention, blind spot warning, and a handy rearview camera that shows the travel path as the steering wheel is turned.

Many of the interior features are taken from other models in the Mercedes-Benz lineup, such as premium touches and overall fit-and-finish. Large cupholders have also been added to the Metris’ center console on the dashboard to meet North American customer needs for long-haul as well as local driving. 

The Metris is Americanized in other subtle ways, not least in its name. The vehicle, while new to North America, has been available in the rest of the world as the Vito since 1996 but the latest model was facelifted in 2014 and that is the model introduced here as the Metris. Mercedes-Benz thought Vito was too evocative of the character Vito Corleone, played by Marlon Brando in The Godfather.  

While Vito has a range of engines around the world, for America the Metris has only a gasoline engine: the highly efficient 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder from the C-Class cars, though with commercial vehicle ratings of 208 hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. This is mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission as in the C-Class with rear-wheel drive. 

This powertrain application, with optional ECO start/stop, was developed specifically for the U.S. and Canadian commercial vehicle markets and also comes with a service interval of up to 15,000 miles.
While undoubtedly a commercial vehicle, Metris is a well equipped,
comfortable passenger vehicle that will accommodate up
to eight big people easily

Inside

While much of the Metris mechanicals derive from the C-Class, the interior is a lot more Spartan than MB customers are used to.  But then, this vehicle is a commercial one. In other markets there is a far superior upfitted Viano, but so far there are no plans to extend the Metris into a higher series. But never mind. If your task is to haul around seven or eight people on a regular basis for not too much money and better comfort than competition, this is a good option.

Controls feature the usual center cluster of sophisticated climate and infotainment stuff with a handy storage bin and cupholders below. The steering wheel and column feel as though they’re straight from the C-Class with available tilt but no telescope. The driver’s seat slides are generous in the passenger van so a comfortable driving position welcomes the driver, with no significant step-up to get into the vehicle.

Seats are vinyl, in our case black and there’s quite stylish trim over all surfaces. With the added driver comfort option there’s added adjustability in both front seats.

In the rear, seats are respectable – we heard no complaints from back there and all enjoyed joining in with conversation as the sound levels are really quite amazingly low. Despite its somewhat humble four cylinders, the engine is remarkably unobtrusive, helped in part by the seven speed transmission that always has the right ratio for whatever is demanded.

In fact, the performance is pretty darned good with acceleration to 60 mph well under 10 seconds and a top speed in excess of 100 mph, based on out experiences with Vitos on German Autobahns.

Matching this performance, the Metris stops extremely well although without a lot of feel at the brake pedal. It takes a little familiarity, because the brake has to be eased as speed comes down to speeds below 30 mph. Still, better to have more brake than you need than the other way around.

The safety systems are noticeable but again unobtrusive. The lane departure warnings come through the steering wheel with a gentle reminder that you’re stepping out of lane, the blind side warnings are useful though and the mirrors give a good spread view to the rear. The backup camera shows where the van will go rather than just a view to the rear. 

Other systems like the crosswind correction are in the background, but having experienced the technology on special Mercedes’ demonstrations on the Sprinter van, it is a system that works extremely well and is highly useful on these slab-sided vehicles.

The automated parallel park option should prove highly popular with
households – and businesses – not used to the size of the Metris.
The most amazing feature, and one highly useful in downtown Chicago, is the self parking of the Parctronic with park assist. With this, you motor reasonably conservatively along a line of parked vehicles. When the side sensing monitors spot a parking space large enough for the Metris an arrow appears next to the “P” symbol appears in the dash. 

All you have to do is pull ahead of the space, engage the automated parking by using the OK button on the steering wheel, engage reverse and back in letting the vehicle do all the tricky steering stuff. You still have control of the accelerator, brake and shift and you can go forward and back until the van is tucked in tight to the curb – though mostly the operation takes just one go to park perfectly.

This is extremely useful for someone not used to the bulk of even this smaller van and it protects the van from the unwary who might inadvertently turn too tight and score the side of the vehicle. That would be perfect in a commercial situation where the vehicle may be driven by several different drivers in a day.

There’s a lot of practicality in the rear seating. They are flat looking but quite reasonably comfortable even for longer journeys, and there’s even quite a lot of space behind the third seating row for luggage. The track-mounted seating is removable for cargo carrying, too. 

Carpeting and the side trim make it feel quite civilized. Both side doors can be powered and can be operated by the key fob. While there’s not a lot of window opening, the side glass is large so there’s no claustrophobic sensation back there and the climate system is controlled separately front to rear.

Conclusion

The Metris may cost a little more than the new competitive commercial vehicles that also trace their heritage to European models, but it is way more technologically accomplished. Along with the safety and convenience that this brings, the Metris is also exceptionally well mannered on the road requiring little effort to give passengers a comfortable ride in its quiet interior.

And the size is just right to accommodate those passengers and still fit into the garage. Altogether a right size, right now sort of vehicle.


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