By Jim Bray
If your company is looking for a utility van that rewards the person behind the wheel, look no farther than Mercedes-Benz new Metris.
It's a work van that takes a lot of the work out of driving, offering a more compelling experience behind the steering wheel than I expected out of a utility vehicle. And it starts at a reasonable $33,900 CAD ($37,900 when you configure it as a passenger van).
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Sure, that starting price is higher than the Ford Transit Connect ($27,300 CAD), the Nissan NV200 ($23,650) or the Ram Promaster City ($26,000) - and I must admit I've only driven the Ford of this bunch - but we're talking a Mercedes-Benz here and all that means - a higher end vehicle than you might expect from what's basically a straightforward van, whether used for delivery, hauling tools, shuttling passengers or whatever.
My recent week of Metris seat time was actually my second time behind the wheel of the van, though it was also my first opportunity to drive it for more than a few minutes. The Mercedes-Benz folk invited me to the model introduction in southwest Colorado last year, where we got to sally forth through and around the Rocky mountains in a high altitude adventure that convinced me the van would be a pretty nifty vehicle for those contemplating such a product.
After a week in it, however, my opinion has changed - but for the better. If I were 10 years younger (well, 15), I might just run down to the local Mercedes-Benz dealer and use a Metris to start a tourist shuttle business taking folks out to visit the sights of Banff National Park, which sits less than an hour from my word processor. Yep, it's so nice to drive I'd contemplate dragging my posterior out of the home office and putting it to honest work.
No, I haven't had a stroke. But I did enjoy driving the Metris that much. And I've never been a van guy; heck, I avoided minivans when my kids were of the age that such a vehicle would have been worthwhile. The Metris is definitely not a minivan, and is not designed to be one, but when I got out of the Metris and hopped immediately into a Toyota Sienna (which is definitely a minivan - and a darn fine one) I was more than a tad surprised to find that - strictly as a driving machine - I preferred the Metris. By a large margin.
Hence my crack up top about rewarding the employee who haul your stuff around town all day. And if you're a single operator, you'll get the driving benefits yourself.
Mercedes-Benz Canada's sample Metris was of the cargo/work van persuasion. It featured two seats up front, backed by a bulkhead that separated a basically blank and empty cargo compartment that can be configured pretty well any way you can imagine it. You can add racks, seats, whatever - hell, you could make it a camper van - so if you're a plumber or carpenter, a delivery company, or some budding entrepreneur whose delusions include taking tourists to the mountains, there can be a Metris for you.
One of the first things I noticed about the Metris is the power and torque of its two litre turbocharged four, the same engine that's in the CLA sedan and GLA SUV. The gas engine (no diesel is available, at least yet) puts out 208/258 horses/torque, which isn't a huge amount but which I found to be perfectly adequate for tooling around the city. Granted, I never had the Metris loaded and that will undoubtedly make a substantial difference depending what you're carrying, but unladen the van drove more like a tall sports car or SUV than it had any right to.
As for the competition, Nissan's two litre four puts out 131/139 horses/torque, and Ram claims 178 horsepower and 174 lb.-ft. of torque from its van's 2.4 litre four. Ford offers two engines, a 2.5 litre four rated at 169/171 hp/torque and a 1.6 litre EcoBoost rated at 178/184 hp/torque, so when it comes to straight oomph, the Metris has the mettle.
Mercedes-Benz gets the Metris' power to the rear wheels via a seven speed transmission and there are handy paddle shifters so you can downshift on hills, etc. Steering feel is great considering what this vehicle is;d the disc brakes work well when the Metris is empty and I have no reason to think they wouldn't be great when it's loaded too, remembering of course Newton's laws of motion.
Though fairly Spartan in the sample's configuration, there was still Bluetooth capability for phone and tunes, though it wasn't configured for voice recognition, which meant I had to scroll through phone books and the like using the tiny LCD on the audio system's head unit. Thanks to this system, if you want to make a call you'll be best served pulling over first, or making that call before you head out. If it were my van, I'd get the voice control working.
I'd probably add a rear view camera, too, though in the multi-windowed configuration of the sample unit visibility was pretty darn good anyway. But not all Metrices have all those windows, nor - depending on what you have stored inside - would you want them.
The audio system is basic for a Mercedes-Benz, but it's still better than I expected to find in a utility van. The sound is very good, though it ran out of steam when I really had it cranked. Still, I had to really crank it for that to happen and by that time the van was rocking as if, well, you know the old joke about vans and rockin'.
The standard interior fabric is something called "Black Tunja" and for an extra hundred bucks you can get fake leather. The seats are comfortable, the driving position feels a tad like you're sitting on a bar stool (not that I'd know anything about that…) but which gives you a great view of the road ahead as well as making it easier to get in and out of the seat.
The sample had a few optional niceties on it, including wide-opening rear doors with wipers that clean the rear windows really well. It also had the optional bulkhead behind the front seats, a rear view mirror in the usual location, and more. You can also option the Metris up to a dizzying degree, adding just about anything you could want in a modern vehicle, including driver nannies like blind spot detection, lane departure warning, parking assist, navigation, heated/power mirrors, eco start/stop, security alarm and plenty more.
Mercedes-Benz says you can carry up to 1,113 kilos of stuff in the Metris and it's small enough to keep in your garage, which could make it a pretty compelling choice for those who work out of their homes.
Metrises - or is it Metri? - can be serviced at any Mercedes-Benz dealership and the company says its service interval is "up to 25,000 kilometres."
I've never been a truck or van guy, but I can see the Mercedes-Benz Metris being a fine choice for those shopping in this niche. It's a vehicle that, were I such a customer or employee of such customer, I could see spending eight hours driving without complaint. Well, no complaints other than having to work for a living…
Does that make it a better deal than the less expensive (at least sans options) competitors? I suppose that depends on how much you have to spend and how much you care about your driver.
Copyright 2016 Jim Bray
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