When lorry drivers you have just overtaken flash you back into the inside lane, you know you’re driving something a little on the long side. And at 5,370mm in length, the Mercedes-Benz Vito Tourer Extra-Long certainly lives up to its name.
To provide some context, that’s 171mm longer than a Range Rover Long Wheelbase and 230mm longer than a Bentley Bentayga. The standard parking space in the UK is 4,800mm in length.
The Vito is, of course, Mercedes’ mid-size van, sitting between the Citan and Sprinter in the range. The Vito Tourer is the passenger version, offering MPV-like qualities for a much lower price than the V-Class.
You’ll spend upwards of £47,000 on the V-Class, whereas the entry-level Vito Tourer Compact weighs in at a little over £27,000 including VAT. Is it worth splashing the extra cash on the admittedly more lavish V-Class? We conjured up a football-related feature to find out.
Only we didn’t. Best-laid plans and all that.
The idea was simple: I’m involved with the running of a newly-established youth football club – the Lydford Foxes – and I figured that an away game would present the ideal testing environment for a van-based eight-seat MPV.
For the Under 13s, it’s important that their feet remain firmly on the ground – the V-Class is more Premier League, while the Vito Tourer is a little more grassroots and workmanlike. Besides, we might look a bit ‘Champagne Charlie’ arriving in a £50k MPV.
No, what these would-be Rhian Brewsters and Phil Fodens needed was a practical people carrier to get them to the game and a place to commiserate or congratulate themselves with a drive-through meal on the way home. That was the plan.
Sadly, just hours after the Mercedes had been delivered, we were told that the match had been postponed. Reason: an unplayable pitch in Plymouth. All of a sudden, the Vito Tourer wouldn’t be going to the (foot)ball.
Instead, the Vito Tourer was tasked with tackling the 250-mile round trip to the newly-opened Aerospace Bristol museum, home to Concorde Alpha Foxtrot.
Stay tuned for some half-baked metaphors comparing the Vito Tourer Extra-Long to the commercial supersonic jet. They might be as welcome as a fox in a hen-house, but at least you’re spared the football-related clichés, Clive.
Take the performance. The Vito Tourer is surprisingly rapid and more than capable of keeping up with the traffic heading home from Cornwall in the outside lane of the M5. And because of its raised driving position, you’re ideally placed for a commanding view of the road ahead. Not that anyone following behind will appreciate a slab of German metal blocking their view.
Granted, a 2.1-litre four-cylinder diesel engine developing 190hp and 325lb ft of torque is hardly supersonic, but the 119CDI unit is no slouch. Concorde might have flown from London to New York in three and a half hours, but the Vito Tourer would have little problem completing the journey from London to York in the same time. Subsonic, but not sub-standard.
Unless that is, you’re expecting to be seated in leather-enriched luxury. To maintain a gap between the V-Class and the Vito, the Tourer comes with fabric seats, much like those fitted initially to Concorde. Leather seats were only added later in its life.
In fact, Concorde’s 100-seat passenger compartment is surprisingly basic and predictably snug. The upgraded Connoly leather seats of the Concorde on display at Filton are the only nod to a level of luxury we’d expect today – early interiors were more National Express than transatlantic express.
For Concorde passengers, the sense of luxury was delivered by the 1,350mph cruising speed, top-notch nosh and ready flow of champagne. For Vito Tourer passengers, there are a couple of cupholders situated atop the dashboard, carpet in the passenger compartment (Select models only) and a media system that would have been acceptable in the 80s.
OK, this might be a little unfair, but while the V-Class offers high-grade surfaces, Nappa leather, ambient lighting and a tablet-style display, the Vito Tourer is suitably workmanlike.
The non-touchscreen media unit isn’t much larger than a smartphone and about as easy to use as an umbrella in a hurricane. The display itself is straight outta Apple Mac, circa 1997.
The Tempmatic air conditioning system is equally antiquated and makes you yearn for the sophistication of a dual- or tri-zone climate control unit. First-world problems, perhaps, but it’s not hard to see why the Vito Tourer is so much cheaper than the V-Class.
But that’s not to say the Vito Tourer feels anything other than car-like. In fact, it hides its van-based ancestry remarkably well and has a typically Germanic feel to the exterior styling and interior quality.
It helps that the Mercedes press office has lavished nearly £10,000 worth of optional extras on the £40k test vehicle, nudging the Extra-Long into the realms of the V-Class. Some are must-haves, while others could be avoided.
Take the electrical operation of the sliding doors – a snip at £1,104, especially when the nearside can be opened remotely via the key fob. Each door can be operated via switches on the dashboard and within the frame of the opening.
For the same price, the parking package is almost essential on the Extra-Long, but manoeuvring this thing in tight spaces remains a formidable challenge. It doesn’t feel particularly cumbersome – the electromechanical steering helps here – but the back of the Vito Tourer appears to be in a different time zone.
As we found in Bristol, you’ll require two bays (or be prepared to stick your nose out), which might pose a problem when spaces are limited, or you’re parking at the side of the road. The camera helps, up to a point, but we can’t help but think the door mirrors should be a little bigger.
The obsidian black metallic paint and LED intelligent light system work with the Select model’s colour-coded bumpers and 16-inch alloy wheels to give the Vito Tourer a suitably premium appearance – but, at a combined cost of £2,352, they are options that could be avoided.
We would spend £324 on a pair of heated front seats, even if they produce enough heat on the maximum setting to rival a flow of molten lava or the filling of a McDonald’s apple pie.
On the move, the Vito Tourer is more relaxed and refined than a van-based MPV has any right to be. The suspension provides a soft, almost cushion-like ride, while the optional seven-speed automatic transmission delivers near-seamless shifts through the gears.
The driving position is commanding and relaxed – aided by an armrest – while the cruise control is easy to use, albeit situated in an awkward location behind the steering wheel.
It’s safe, too, with crosswind assist and attention assist fitted as standard, plus an active safety package available as an option. This adds blind-spot detection, headlight assistant and lane-keeping assist, although in the case of the latter we found this to be more of a hindrance than a help.
Access to the first row of passenger seats is easy, thanks to the wide opening and the space behind the front seats, but entering the third row involves scrambling over the outer-middle seats. Amazingly, the Extra-Long offers a vast load area at the back, even with all eight seats occupied.
The tailgate itself is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it lifts up to reveal a tall and wide opening – with the tailgate itself doubling-up as a shelter from the rain – but its sheer size means that you need to leave a big gap behind if you intend to open it when parked.
On the flipside, because the Tourer is based on a van, the load lip is seriously close to the ground, which should make loading dogs, bicycles or luggage a stress-free experience. Be prepared for calls from friends and family when the holiday season returns. #AirportTaxi.
In summary, the Vito Tourer surprised us more than any other ‘car’ this year. It might lack the flexibility and luxuriousness of the V-Class, but in Select trim at least, it remains a credible and convincing alternative to the increasingly SUV-like MPVs on offer.
And that’s one of its most charming features: the fact that it’s unashamedly an MPV and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. Ease of access, ample space for eight – potentially nine – people (enough head- and leg-room for when youth players grow up!), and the relaxed and car-like driving experience are its key selling points.
It loses marks for some questionable interior plastics, some very un-German-like dashboard rattles, the retro infotainment system, a lack of useful storage options in the cabin (especially in the middle row), and the amount you have to spend to disguise its van-based origins. The entry-level Vito Tourer Pro, for example, is sans carpets, alloy wheels and body-coloured bumpers.
The real disappointment is the fact that we didn’t get a chance to test the Vito Tourer in full-on football mode. There’s little doubt that it would be able to transport seven of the first XI in relative comfort, although the wipe-clean floor of the Pro model is perhaps the best choice for muddy football boots.
As MPVs go, the Vito Tourer is a bit special, and at the end of the day, that’s all you can ask of it. The big Merc puts in 110% and works tirelessly for the team. Win, lose or draw, we all go home happy, Clive.
And other such footballing clichés…
Engine: 2,143cc diesel
Power: 190hp @ 3,800rpm
Torque: 325lb ft @ 1,400-2,400rpm
Fuel consumption: 45.6-48.7mpg
CO2 emissions: 153-163g/km
Load length on floor: 929mm
Max load width: 1,552mm
Load height: 1,327mm
Payload weight: 785-960kg
Luggage capacity: 1.6m3
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