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CAPE TOWN, Western Cape – The darling of upmarket hotels and affluent families with multiple offspring has recently been given a facelift. Yes, the updated Mercedes-Benz V-Class has arrived in South Africa. Sporting a few subtle styling changes, the upmarket MPV now features styling that is more in line with the current Benz range.

So, what exactly is new? A fresh bumper design (which also houses redesigned air inlets) lends the luxury bus a cleaner, more athletic look. Optioning the AMG-Line package adds more visual excitement, with lovely 19-inch light-alloy AMG wheels, an AMG boot lid spoiler and the striking diamond grille being the highlights of the R55 413 package. With vehicles of this sort, styling normally plays second fiddle to practicality and interior space. Despite this, the V-Class is aesthetically pleasing, and manages to look classy and upmarket without being too flashy.

Stepping inside the simply cavernous interior, the first thing you notice is the sheer amount of space offered up by the V-Class. As a passenger in the middle row, I was impressed not only by the seemingly endless supply of legroom and headroom, but also the airiness of the cabin. The optional panoramic glass roof certainly helps with this, the large glass panels allowing light to flow into the cabin. Although it's nice to have, at just over R32 000 it is rather pricey. The seats in the middle row are comfortable too, and have the ability to recline and slide fore and aft. Individual armrests add an extra degree of comfort.

The V-Class exhibits refined road manners, with a comfortable ride cushioning passengers from bumps and potholes. This is particularly impressive considering the V-Class I drove in was equipped with 19-inch wheels. On smooth tarmac, the cabin is quiet, making the passenger experience a relaxed one. On the convenience front, the middle row boasts dedicated climate controls, as well as a nifty adjustable cabinet (located between the two captain's chairs), which houses cupholders and useful trays. The final row hasn’t been forgotten either. Passengers seated back there will enjoy plenty of space (enough for two adults), as well as the added benefit of vent windows.

Up front, the first thing you notice is the stylish layout of the cabin. Like many other Benzes, the dashboard is a visual delight. Smooth, flowing lines are complemented by lashings of silver finishes. While the latter are lovely to look at, they do feel a bit creaky compared with the rest of the interior, which is suitably upmarket. Thankfully, there are other choices available. Unlike many cars, these luxurious materials are carried into the rear sections of the cabin too, with soft-touch plastics covering most surfaces of the rear quarters, including the sliding doors.

Driving the V-Class is also a relaxing experience, the 2,1-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel providing enough poke to get this luxury bus going. This engine powers all three variants, with varying power and torque outputs. In the V250d I sampled, the engine produces 140 kW and 440 N.m of torque. Coincidentally, the V250d is the most powerful offering available in South Africa. The local arm of the German luxury car maker has elected to retain the same engines used in the pre-facelift model. Overseas, a V300d is available with 176 kW and 500 N.m.

On the move, the 2,1-litre can feel slightly gruff, but it soon quietens down. The aforementioned power figures move the V250d forward at a respectable pace, taking a claimed 9,1 seconds to reach 100 km/h. While that certainly is an impressive figure for a heavy diesel-powered MPV, it isn’t really of much importance to many potential buyers. What will be of importance to them, however, is how stable the V-Class feels, even at high speeds. For a car that stands nearly two metres tall, the lack of body roll through corners is commendable. It’s certainly no canyon carver, but it feels closer to a large SUV than a clumsy van in terms of cornering stability.

As seemingly well-rounded as the V-Class is, there are a few chinks in its armour. The middle-row seats are configurable, allowing them to face in either direction. However, to adjust them, the entire seat needs to be taken out and put back in the opposite direction. This does require a bit of muscle. Of course, the Merc's closest rival, the Volkswagen Caravelle, simply requires a lever to be pulled, making changing the seat direction far easier and less frustrating.

While not a hardship, it would be nice if the V-Class were to come standard with Apple CarPlay. The current infotainment system still allows passengers to play music via their smartphones, but for a car costing around R1-million, I was expecting CarPlay. Lastly, while I certainly like the way the V-Class looks, its glamourous exterior could be a touch too ministerial for some, especially when painted black and fitted with large wheels.

There's no denying the V-Class is the most luxurious MPV on sale in SA today. It certainly looks the part, with an interior to soothe the brow of even the most stressed VIP. The ride quality is superb, and so too is the performance and handling. However, starting at R1 027 686 for a standard V250d, it's expensive. For nearly R100 000 less, a similarly equipped Caravelle could be yours. It certainly won’t have the clout of the Three-pointed Star or the luxurious interior, though.

However, for even less money, you could have a Kia Grand Sedona. Spacious, comfortable and able to seat seven (or eight in EX+ guise), the Grand Sedona represents unbeatable value at R623 995 for a base model. It’s well equipped, comfortable and should last a lifetime. It’s nearly R400 000 less than the Mercedes, too.

On a sensible and practical level, nothing beats the Kia. Yet, if you want your practicality infused with luxury and elegance, there really isn’t anything that touches the V-Class. Yes, it's expensive, but it backs up its asking price with both style and substance. Plus, there's the added fun of watching other motorists wondering whether a government official or a pop star is hiding behind the privacy glass.

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