In using it, you might be on a shopping spree, heading out for a mountain bike holiday in the Alps or driving prominent guests to a red carpet event. Either way, if you want to take up to eight people and their luggage in a vehicle that makes a very high quality statement, then it’s a difficult option to ignore.
Mercedes has tried hard to improve the ride and handling package that its biggest People Carrier can offer. Hence the standard ‘Agility Select’ system that allows you to tweak throttle response, gearchange timings and feedback from the ‘Direct Steer’ speed-sensitive steering to suit the way you want your V-Class to respond. Plus there’s ‘Agility Control’ adaptive suspension, a set-up able to tweak the damping to suit road conditions. Ultimately, all these efforts aren’t really enough to make the dynamic experience on offer here in any way rewarding, but the overall compromise is decently impressive by the moderate standards of the super-sized MPV class.
Under the bonnet, the V-Class range is based around Mercedes’ familiar 2. 1-litre four cylinder diesel, offered in 163bhp guise in the base V220d model or in 190bhp form in the top V250d variant we’re trying here. In this country, there’s no manual gearbox option, so users will find all models equipped with the brand’s smooth-shifting 7G-TRONIC PLUS seven-speed auto transmission. Use that in the ‘Agility Select’ system’s ‘Eco’ mode and the V250d variant will manage 44. 8mpg on the combined cycle and 166g/km of CO2.
Can the V-Class now really be ‘the Mercedes amongst MPVs’, rather than a minibus version of the brand’s Vito van with a bit of extra chrome trim? You certainly feel more inclined to believe that this time round, the designers having made more of an effort than ever before to differentiate this model from its commercial stablemate.
You’ll find the main changes at the front where a sculptured V-shaped bonnet merges smoothly into the chrome frame of the upright radiator grille with its three-dimensional centrally positioned three-pointed star.
Space is the true definition of luxury and on that basis, this MPV must be very luxurious indeed, given its enormous square dimensions. Just how much space we’re talking of here depends on the bodystyle you choose. The brand’s previous Viano model came in ‘Compact’, ‘Long’ and ‘Extra Long’ sizes but this time round, Mercedes is limiting the choice to the two biggest versions. Both are the same height, a 1,880mm figure that’s slightly lower than that of the old Viano to enable easier access for V-Class drivers into places like car washes and low-roofed multi-storey carparks. In terms of length, we’d want to super-size things with the Extra Long variant, which extends the 4,895mm length of the standard model out to 5,370mm. That makes all the difference, so while the standard version only comes in a seven-seat configuration, this longer derivative can, if need be, also be specified in eight-seater form by those with their own reserved parking bay at the local maternity unit.
So the Extra Long bodystyle’s 475mm of additional length gives you more options – not only in terms of the number of people you can carry but also in terms of being able to deal with everybody’s luggage without resorting to things like roof boxes and trailers. That’s the main difference between MPVs that are merely large – like Ford’s Galaxy or Volkswagen’s Sharan – and those like this one that are van-based and super-sized. Fill up a Galaxy or a Sharan with seven people and there’s only around 300-litres of cargo space to play with – not nearly enough for everyone’s baggage. In contrast, lifting the tailgate of this Extra Long V-Class model reveals a space more than four times bigger.
Not that you do have to lift it. For a start, the rear door is electrically-operated but quite apart from that, there’s the convenience of the separately lifting rear glass section if all you want to do is throw in a few lighter items – or perhaps you don’t have the space to open the complete tailgate.
If you go the whole hog and take second and third row seating out (not easy because the chairs are pretty heavy), your V-Class will be able to function as an impromptu removals van, in standard form taking up to 4,200-litres and in Extra Long guise swallowing up to 5,010-litres.
So, that’s covered packages. But what’s this Mercedes like for people? Well, let’s start up-front, where it’s very nice indeed. The fascia itself is a smart two-section design, with upper and lower parts separated by a three-dimensional trim element that tries to give the cabin a feel of width.
Look around you and the two staples of current Mercedes cabin style are present and correct. There are four round chrome-ringed air vents with metallic cool-touch finishing, while between the two in the centre sits a prominent iPad-style infotainment screen, its free-standing positioning smacking either of after-thought or inspired design, depending on your point of view.
Time to move into the second row, where in a seven-seat model, the standard electric sliding doors you get on both sides of the vehicle glide back to reveal two individual reclining chairs.
They’re reasonably comfortable too, featuring double armrests and reclining backs. Go for the larger bodystyle and the eight-seater cabin layout option will give you three slightly narrower seats in this middle row.
As you’d expect, these outer seats tilt forward to allow access to the very back of the vehicle and third row seating that accommodates three people and for once in an MPV feels spacious and airy. Large families will also like the fact that two childseats could be clipped into the two outer seats while still leaving plenty of room for an adult to sit between the kids in the middle.
This V-Class may occupy something of a forgotten backwater in the Mercedes product range but it’s still a model that makes a lot of sense. In fact, assuming that you can’t face budget-brand transport and don’t want something that’s very obviously a minibus, we’d argue that there aren’t too many options to V-Class motoring if you need to transport up to eight people in the kind of style to which they’d doubtless quickly like to become accustomed.
What it all boils down to is that if you want a car, buy a car. If though, you need a People Carrier, buy one that can really do the business. The V-Class is part of a small but very select breed of models answering that calling.