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The Mercedes-Benz V-Class gets a facelift and, in V250d Avantgarde specification, is the most luxurious family van in our market...

Each vehicle segment is bookended by entry-level and upmarket versions. In no other category is the spread as wide as the minibus. Originally developed as a basic commercial workhorse, the division stretches all the way up to über-lavish people movers priced on the wrong side of R1 million. The only two players in this top tier locally are the Volkswagen Caravelle and Mercedes-Benz V-Class. The latter, the subject of this test, is in its third generation and recently received a facelift.

From the outside, where most of the styling upgrades have been focused on the front, the V-Class continues to look surprisingly upmarket considering its humble workhorse origins. There’s a new bumper design including air intakes, as well as a reformed grille. Maybe it was the black body colour with its tinted rear windows that caused many people to stare; perhaps they were trying to spot a celebrity in transit or merely appreciating the vehicle.  

Inside, it’s familiar older-generation Mercedes-Benz fare with a sweeping facia, free-standing infotainment screen and Comand controller dial on the centre console. The new additions are limited to turbine-style air vents and updated upholstery. Although classy for an MPV, the team felt the jump to the new MBUX infotainment system in the firm’s other offerings is significant and is missed in this application (along with keyless entry, a surprising omission given the vehicle’s price tag). Luxury continues at the rear with thick carpeting, plush leather seats (five individual units) and styling lines in the door panels accentuated by ambient lighting.

It’s not all rosy; that vast expanse of opulence tends to rattle and squeak on the go (admittedly, all buses do) and, when it comes to family use, there are shortcomings. The V-Class lacks sufficient storage spaces; the rearmost side windows cannot open; headroom’s less generous than you’d think; and changing the configuration means removing the heavy seats from the vehicle. This is in stark contrast to the user-friendliness of the less lavish Caravelle. However, the Benz does offer electrically sliding doors and tailgate, a picnic table and a horizontal split in the boot area housing two shopping baskets. Our test unit was fitted with dual sunroofs which are a R38 000 option.

Where the V250d impressed is with its powertrain operation. It still employs the previous OM651 2,1-litre unit (Europe gets the new OM654 2,0-litre with 176 kW/500 N.m mated with a nine-speed transmission in the V300d) that sounds slightly gruff at times but provides good punch considering the V250d made our scales groan at 2,5 tonnes. The 0-100 km/h time of 11,40 seconds shades the almost 14,0 seconds required by both the Caravelle 2,0 BiTDI and the V220d versions tested in February 2016. And the V250d posted an equally impressive fuel-run figure of just 7,90 L/100 km. Interestingly, the passenger door needs to open to release the fuel flap, again highlighting its commercial-oriented roots.

Braking performance is commendable for this type of vehicle, with an average stopping time of 3,06 seconds (with active brake assist available for the first time to prevent collisions). Some testers complained the brake pedal feels under assisted in normal use and requires more force than anticipated. Even on gravel, the ride is comfortable, although you shouldn’t expect luxury-SUV levels of compliance and isolation; the optional (R15 807) 19-inch wheels send a few tremors into the cabin over sharp road scars.

TEST SUMMARY

The V250d impressed us more than the V220d, thanks largely to the engine’s higher state of tune. From behind the wheel, it’s easy to pilot and even offers some dynamic ability.

The V-Class’ steep price, however, makes it a niche product; it would serve the luxury-hotel industry better than private buyers (we recommend the more practical Caravelle for that role), but it’s the only premium bus which makes a real statement. In short, if you want the ultimate luxury MPV, this is it.

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