SITGES, Spain – Sometimes, facelifts are just that: purely visual tweaks often centred on the vehicle's countenance. But occasionally an automaker also uses the opportunity presented by a mid-cycle update to introduce under-the-skin changes. And the latter is exactly what has happened with the refreshed Mercedes-Benz V-Class, which gains a new family of powerplants. Unfortunately, though, we won’t see these latest powerplants in South Africa ... at least, not right away (more on that in a bit).

Since launching in 2014, around 209 000 units of the V-Class have been sold around the world. Over the years, many improvements have been made in the areas of comfort as well as noise, vibration and harshness (NVH), while engine efficiencies have continually been implemented. Still, the team from Stuttgart’s van division admits its mandate for this latest facelift was not to make radical changes but rather to build on the model’s strengths.

Thus, the German brand must have been quite satisfied with what it had, because the alterations are mainly subtle, with the one exception mentioned above. Refinement has been improved and the frontal treatment has been altered (especially the lower air dam design), although the latter varies according to model. There’s now also an AMG Line package that has an even sportier looking front end, complete with a diamond pattern grille.

LED lighting can be specified, as can Nappa leather upholstery inside. New exterior paint colours have been added, too, while active brake assist is now offered along with automatic high-beam activation and dipping functions. While a number of seating configurations are offered, the facelift brings new optionally available "luxury" seats for the first rear row, complete with reclining and back massage functions as well as air conditioning.

New engines

But the main reason for this international launch was to show off the newly designed powertrain options. With diesel engines under the spotlight thanks to ever-stricter emission control regulations coming into play in various parts of the world, some manufacturers have opted to ditch oil-burners altogether. Not Mercedes-Benz, though, which still sees the beauty in the super-low fuel consumption potential of the diesel cycle.

The Stuttgart-based firm has thus increased its efforts to further reduce noxious emissions, rolling out a new family of engines, codenamed OM654 and each displacing 2,0 litres.

Mercedes-Benz will offer a V220d, a V250d and a new flagship, the V300d. Peak outputs have been kept largely the same as before (120 kW and 140 kW for the first two, and 176 kW/500 N.m, plus an “over-torque function” delivering an additional 30 N.m for a few seconds, for the V300d). As an attestation to the design efficiency, the claimed fuel economy of the range-topper is a mere 6,0 L/100 km. Of course, we all know the future is electric and Mercedes-Benz will soon be launching a fully electric MPV, too.

After spending some time interviewing one of the engine designers, I learnt about some of the design features of the new powerplants, with the different outputs achieved by tweaking the turbocharger and fuel injection. We had the advantage of viewing an engine mounted on a stand; no longer can you see cylinders or cylinder heads (these are all hidden behind ancillaries). If you could look inside, you would notice some of the design changes, including aluminium barrels and steel pistons, for example.

On one side of the engine (to minimise heat loss) sits the diesel particulate filter, selective catalytic reduction converter and exhaust gas recirculation plumbing. The design includes AdBlue urea injection to further reduce noxious residues. Many sensors are fitted to measure temperature and oxygen levels, while close to the engine is a new intercooler, much more compact than the traditional air-cooled radiator. Another plus is the large oil sump that holds nine litres, allowing the extension of service intervals to 40 000 km.

But what about SA?

Now for the not-totally-unexpected bad news. These newly designed OM654 engines will not be available in South Africa when the updated V-Class touches down in the third quarter of 2019. A combination of affordability and fuel quality means local buyers are instead facing an unquantified wait. Still, South Africans are used to waiting, so we will stick with the existing units as well as the 7G-tronic transmission (the new engines are now mated to 9G-tronic units).

On the test route, on the wonderfully twisty mountainous roads, the new nine-speed gearbox changed ratios rather too often, so perhaps the old ‘box is still the more user-friendly option. This effect is emphasised in the sportiest of driving modes, with plenty of up- and down-shifting taking place as you tackle the corners. Comfort mode is far better suited to this type of vehicle. Interestingly, there is also a manual mode, where the driver can make use of paddle shifters.

The ride quality is excellent, with top-rate absorption over speed bumps, even on the largest diameter alloys (measuring 19 inches). Steering feel, too, cannot be faulted. The only negative we witnessed on the drive was restricted visibility due to the large A- and B-pillars. That, and the fact these new engines aren’t going to be immediately available in SA...



FAST FACTS

Model: Mercedes-Benz V300d 9G-tronic
Price: TBA
Engine: 2,0-litre turbodiesel
Power: 176 kW
Torque: 500 (+30) N.m
0-100 km/h: 7,9 seconds
Top Speed: 220 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 6,0 L/100 km
CO2: 156 g/km
Transmission: 9-speed AT
Maintenance Plan: Five-year/100 000 km