Benz fills R-Class void

words - Jeremy Bass
Mercedes' next-generation Vito/Viano to narrow the gap between vans and passenger cars

Mercedes-Benz will remodel its next-generation Vito platform to narrow the dynamics gap between its commercial vans and passenger cars.

With the Vito platform due for overhaul in left-hand drive markets next year and right-hand drive markets in 2015, the Viano people-mover in particular will benefit from new car-based technologies.

Mercedes-Benz Australia van division general manager Diane Tarr told the three-pointed star’s redesigned Viano will feature a range of “passenger car-orientated systems and technologies”.

She wasn’t prepared to elaborate, but suggested more details may be revealed at next month’s Frankfurt motor show.

This far ahead, however, the Vito platform appears to be gearing up for a similar makeover to the one just announced for the upcoming Sprinter, set for launch here in October.

Ms Tarr confirmed that while the next generation will retain some residues of the current one, the changes and upgrades will take it well beyond a mere facelift.

If the direction the company is taking with the larger Sprinter is anything to go by, it’s a good bet Benz the Vito and its passenger variants – the base Valente and the high-spec Viano -- will see major safety upgrades in the form of additional driver assist systems.

While the Valente is sold through Benz’s van dealer network, the Viano is sold as a luxury people-mover through the company’s passenger car showrooms.

Next-gen Sprinter models will get adaptive headlights and systems covering collision prevention, blind-spot monitoring and lane departure, plus an adapted electronic stability control package providing protection against crosswinds.

Giving the next-gen Vito/Viano platform more passenger car-like qualities will reinforce the strategy the company has embarked on already in subtly repositioning the Viano to join the GL-Class SUV in filling the gap left by the slow-selling R-Class, which was discontinued Down Under earlier this year.

A mild upgrade to the already high-spec people-mover arrived in May, carrying the Grand Edition label. As the Viano progresses towards the end of its model life, the features differentiating the current “limited” Grand Edition will make their way on to the base standard equipment list.

Unlike the R-Class, the Viano sits on a van rather than a passenger car platform, sharing its underpinnings with the Vito commercial and its base-grade bus, the Valente. As a result, its pricing starts around $14,000 below the previous R-Class pricetag, even though it offers more interior space from a smaller footprint.

It’s also more flexible in its interior options than the R-Class was, available in six-, seven- and eight-seat configurations.

The $79,990 (plus ORCs) base Viano’s standard equipment list already extends well beyond predictable elements like 17-inch alloys, all-electric front seats, cruise control with speed-limiter and automatic headlights and wipers.

It gets self-levelling rear air suspension and Benz’s COMAND central control system with sat-nav, operable through a combination of 6.5-inch centre screen and voice command for audio, phone and navigation.

The eight-speaker digital audio with 4GB hard-drive comes with all the normal inputs short of Bluetooth streaming – CD/DVD, iPod, AUX and USB ports.

It gets bi-xenon headlights with daytime running lights, foglights front and rear parking beepers, a reversing camera, ambient lighting, walnut-look trim, a sunroof and electric sliding doors. All three rows offer map lights and ventilation, the rear air ducts set in the floor.

The Grand Edition, starting at $81,940, adds 19-inch black alloy wheels, sports suspension, full leather upholstery, sports pedals and numerous trim and brightwork upgrades, inside and out.

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Published : Wednesday, 28 August 2013
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