Three into one Vito van
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by Toby Clark and Charles Young • The Vito offers a one-tonne payload and 4.9m3 of load volume on a GVW of 2,600kg. There is only one standard wheelbase, length and height.
The 78hp (58kW) diesel is from the 308 Sprinter but drives the front wheels via a new cableoperated five-speed synchromesh gearbox. The first major service is due at 28,000 miles (45,000km) with oil changes at 9,000 miles (14,500km). Servicing is free for 12 months.
Competition has hotted up in this part of the market with the introduction of the "mini-Sevels" (Peugeot Expert, Citroen Dispatch and Fiat Scudo). The Vito will also compete against the Transporter and the Transit.
The main sales drive will be in 1997 when Mercedes expects to sell 2,700 Vitos (just over 2% of the market). But it hopes this is substantially higher than that of the Fiat Scudo and its Sevel peers; almost as high as the VW Transporter's. The seats are large and comfortable—and the single passenger seat allows walk-through access to the load area—although the cab is more compact than the Sprinter's.
Controls and instruments are conventional except for the "joystick" gear lever mounted on the dashboard. Like the Sevel's arrangement this is very convenient, but the Vito's gearshifting seemed rather more precise.
Without a load it is difficult to judge the performance of the 78hp diesel, but the Vito is comfortable to drive despite rather tall gearing: the petrol variant should be blisteringly fast. Engine noise is well isolated and the installation is very smooth.
Unladen ride quality is good and the front-wheel-drive handling is predictable. But the exhaust is audible and there's a good deal of road noise at speed. Poorly-surfaced motorways also exposed a couple of rattles; otherwise the Vito's bodyshell seems solidly assembled. The loadspace is practical with twin side doors, wooden load floor and good width between the wheelarches. The Mercedes is certainly well designed and built—but the standards in this class are very high.