CAPE TOWN – Would you pay R1,2-million for a van? It's a lot of money and few are in the enviable position of having to make such a decision. But if you want the most luxurious people carrier in the shape of a mini-bus on our market, then the Mercedes-Benz V250d Avantgarde is that option. And a recent family weekend with the vehicle revealed a few interesting surprises.

The concept

Having spent a year with Volkswagen’s Caravelle 2,0 BiTDi 4Motion, the only opposition to the Benz in this segment, I see this type of vehicle as the ultimate family car. Forget about "spacious" SUVs, as once you have experienced the volume inside what is essentially a box with a low floor, high roof and lengthy frame, there's no going back.

In the V-Class, there's no need to plan packing for weekends away as the sliding rear seats and split-boot section swallows all. Even the in-laws can join at short notice without any additional strain on the marriage.

Styling

Mercedes has done an excellent job of lending the V-Class the latest company identity. This is especially true when viewed from the front, thanks to the prominent star supported by the two slats on the vast grille, and the signature headlamps. The raked windscreen adds a sporty persona, which is amplified by roof rails and the slightly sloping rear roof line. Somewhat impractical low-profile tyres (245/45 R19) on 19-inch wheels complete the look.

Inside

On the inside, it's familiar Mercedes fare with a sweeping facia, free-standing infotainment screen and "Comand" controller complete with roller switch. In short, the set-up at the front would not look out of place in any of the brand's upmarket SUVs. Luxury continues at the rear in the guise of thick carpeting, plush leather seats and styling lines in the door panels accentuated with ambient lighting.

Family vehicle or hotel shuttle?

Although the V-Class can fulfil both roles, it is more suited to executive shuttle use. Why? Well, the lower roof line (compared to that of the Caravelle) enhances the sleek look but limits headroom and interior space when it comes to winning a game of trump cards. And, up front, the lack of storage space is evident as only a single glovebox is provided with an awkward centre console sited low on the floor.

The seating arrangement at the back can be changed as per user requirements (for example, forward-facing seats or the popular “lounge” arrangement as pictured), but it takes considerable effort to accomplish. The seats need to be removed whereas the opposition vehicle's perches can swivel on their respective bases. There are also no blinds provided for the side windows (that cannot open) although the dark standard tint does prevent excess light shining into the occupants' eyes.

Saying that, my family absolutely enjoyed the vehicle, and its cabin complete with folding table provided an impromptu picnic spot at Misty Cliffs when the inclement weather did not allow walks on the beach. The electric boot and side-door operation is slick and effortless and the vehicle comes with all of Mercedes' usual safety systems.

How does it go?

Firstly, the driver’s position is much more car-like than you might expect, with the steering wheel almost vertical rather than upright and bus-like, although the shift-paddles behind the tiller are rarely needed. We have tested a V220d before and found it to be underwhelming, with the 120 kw/380 N.m outputs just about adequate. In V250 form, however, the 2,1-litre engine delivers 140 kW/440 N.m to the rear wheels only (unlike the Caravelle’s 4Motion), resulting in a much more lively response to accelerator inputs.

The ride is comfortable considering those wheels and body control is impressive for a vehicle of this ilk, although cruising is obviously its forte. We also found this test unit’s cabin to be quiet, sans rattles that plagued the V220d unit. This either points to better build quality or the fact that the test car's mileage was much lower. Fuel consumption is impressive for the size of vehicle, with just over 9,0 L/100 km registered on the on-board computer after a weekend’s use.

Summary

At the start of this article, we asked if it was worth paying R1,2-million for what is effectively a van. Before you answer, see what SUVs you can purchase for the same money and compare if they offer similar value. Chances are, they don't, which makes an interesting case for the V250d. Putting my consumer hat on for a moment, the Volkswagen Caravelle is probably a better family vehicle overall, but the V-Class trumps it in the luxury and prestige stakes.

Granted, there is better value to be found lower in the V-Class (or even Vito) range, but these derivatives just don't carry the stature of this flagship model. So, if you have the money, we really wouldn't blame you...

Author: Nicol Louw