Stuttgart, Germany - Mercedes-Benz has always sold its Vito three-ton van on the basis of versatility, and the latest version, announced this week in Germany, stretches that concept even further with the basic van in either front or rear-wheel drive, the Crew - half van, half bus - and the Tourer bus in either Pro or luxury Select trim, when what you are delivering is not goods but discerning customers.
According to the maker the Vito is the first three-tonner van to be offered with front-wheel drive, recommended for stop-start city driving with light loads. A front-wheel drive powertrain is by definition lighter than its rear-wheel drive counterpart (no prop-shaft, Cyril!) and thus lighter on fuel, especially in an urban environment.
The front-wheel drive Vito has a transverse-mounted, 1.6-litre turbodiesel four mated to a six-speed manual gearbox and is available in two power ratings: the 65kW Vito 109 CDI and the 84kW Vito 111 CDI. Each
But when the going gets tough and the loads get heavy, there's the rear-wheel drive Vito, packing a 2.15-litre turbodiesel with a choice of three power ratings: the 100kW Vito 114 CDI, the 120kW Vito 116 CDI and the 140kW Vito 119 BlueTEC. Six-speed manuals are standard on the first two, with a 7G-Tronic Plus automatic transmission an option, while the self-shifter is standard equipment on the 119 BlueTEC.
Service intervals for the new Vito in Europe are 40 000km or two years, which ever comes first, although whether those will be tenable in a dusty, bumpy South African context is questionable.
BUT WEIGHT, THERE'S MORE
The new Vito comes in a choice of two wheelbases, three lengths and up to three weight variants - but in each case it's 140mm longer overall than its predecessor, mainly due to an extended front end to reduce the damage to pedestrians unwise enough to jaywalk in front of it, bring the overall lengths up to 4895mm, 5140mm and 5370mm respectively.
In each case cases the maximum unladen height is no more than 1910mm, keeping the Vito under the crucial two-metre mark for standard multi-storey and underground car parks and automatic car washes.
The permissible gross vehicle weight for the short wheelbase is 2.8 tons, and 3.05 tons for the long wheelbase - but there's also an upgraded, rear-wheel drive only, long-wheel base version rated for 3.2 tons, giving it a 1369kg payload.
The Vito panel van and Crew are designed for heavy loads, with suspension to match, but there is a 'comfort suspension' package available for the Crew (and standard on the Tourer) with softer springs and more sensitive damper control.
DRIVE EASY, DRIVE SAFE
The flight deck has been completely redesigned, based on a symmetrical dashboard, clear and uncluttered with lots of stowage; for many drivers the Vito cockpit is their office.
Safety kit includes airbags and a seat-belt reminder for both the driver and passenger; the Tourer also comes with windowbags and thorax/pelvis sidebags in the front.
Also standard across the range are attention Assist, crosswind assist and tyre pressure monitoring.
The new Vito will be released in South Africa in mid-2015; prices and local specifications will be finalised closer to the time.