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Mercedes-Benz’s new V-Class is the current holder of South Africa’s People’s Wheels Car of the Year title, having garnered the most votes of any vehicle in the 2015 nationwide poll. So what’s it like to drive? Deon van der Walt puts the flagship V250 BlueTEC Avantgarde to a long-distance test – and finishes victorious!
At the launch last year of Mercedes-Benz’s V-Class, the spotlight was firmly fixed on the vehicle’s luxurious people-carrying abilities, with several demonstrations of seating configurations forming a major part of the official presentation.
However, I had another task for the model: moving a stack of furniture from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg. Readying the V250 BlueTEC Avantgarde for the task meant removing the rear seats and parcel shelf – a two-minute job once I’d figured out how they detached. The result was a four-seat wagon that provided a colossal cargo area – just right for my needs.
Though people-movers generally don’t tend to rate highly in beauty contests, the V-Class proves to be an exception – at least in my eyes and, presumably, in the eyes of the many thousands of voters who rated it top of the pops in the most recent People’s Wheels poll.
Despite its large proportions and high-riding stance, in my view the versatile MPV manages to retain a semblance of sportiness helped by attractive styling that includes a contoured bonnet, imposingly large grille, reasonably low belt line and wheel-arch-filling, 19-inch alloys that boast a fast-looking, twin-spoke design. Wherever the V-Class went on my Jo’burg-PE-Jo’burg route, people rubbernecked to follow its progress.
Sliding doors on either side of the van are operated electronically, opening and closing at the push of a button. The feature not only makes for a neat party trick, but is also something that makes life a little easier for passengers entering and exiting the rear – or for people loading and unloading heavy furniture into the cargo bay.
Similarly, the automatically operated tailgate features a horizontal split, making the luggage area easy to access from the outside, since the rear window can be opened separately – handy for loading small items like grocery bags in shopping centre parking lots.
On the inside concepts like luxury, efficiency and high-technology tend to rule. The fascia – on the test car decorated with a dark brown ash wood finish – looks to be reminiscent of that found in the C-Class sedan. The control-pad for the infotainment system – which emulates those found on passenger car siblings – has been handily placed in a forward position for easy access, simultaneously freeing up walkway space between the front seats.
Tasteful ambient lighting throughout the cabin adds a classy touch, and controls on the steering wheel add even more appeal. If you think the V-Class is a commercial vehicle, think again – the cabin has all the trappings of an elegantly crafted luxury saloon.
Seats can be arranged in various configurations to accommodate up to eight passengers, with the rear-most set on a rail system that makes them a cinch to remove – as I said, once you’ve figured out how to detach them.
Black Nappa leather graced those in the test model – a standard feature for Avantgarde specification – and they provided excellent support and comfort for the duration of the marathon journey. Another standard feature in the rear compartment proved to be a fold away table – handy for impromptu picnics held at roadside stops.
With the rear-most seats removed, the V-Class is able to gulp an enormous load effortlessly, making it the perfect vehicle for a camping trip – or, in this case, a stylish, long-distance hauler.
So, what is the vehicle like to drive on a long trip? How are its road manners? In a word, appealing. The cruise control system – dubbed Distronic Plus – is helpful in maintaining a safe, pre-set following distance to a vehicle in front.
Agility Select provides drivers with the choice of Economy, Comfort, Sport or Manual modes, which alter transmission characteristics and throttle responses according to the chosen driving style. In Sport mode through the mountain passes of the Eastern Cape, the MPV impressed for its nimbleness in quickly and efficiently negotiating corners and sweeps, its wheels remaining safely glued to the tarmac.
Like all V-Class derivatives, the V250 BlueTEC is powered by a 2,2-litre turbocharged diesel engine. Though power outputs vary according to specification, in this particular instance I had 140kW and 440Nm at my disposal – plus an additional 10kW and 40Nm available for short bursts, such as when accelerating during overtaking manoeuvres. The feature – dubbed Over Torque – is helpful in getting the big vehicle past slower moving traffic quickly and safely.
With transmission through a smooth shifting 7G-Tronic Plus automatic gearbox – and engine revs remaining steadily low in Comfort mode for much of the trip – real life fuel consumption worked out at around 8,3 litres/100km; slightly higher than Mercedes-Benz’s claimed 6,0 litres/100km but excellent nonetheless for such a sizeable vehicle that was heavily laden on the return trip.
And even though the V-Class was packed to the gunwales with cargo, it remained easy to drive and park thanks to an arsenal of cameras and sensors which enabled me to obtain detailed information regarding my surroundings – ahead, behind and on the flanks. What’s more, after the 2 400km round trip I felt fresh and relaxed, with not a bit of physical fatigue manifest.
With the ability to provide in the blink of eye excellent solutions for a number of transportation needs – for instance, morphing from luxury people carrier to utilitarian transporter to comfortable weekend camper to long-distance adventure wagon – it’s no wonder that the V-Class is the people’s choice.
Versatile, economical, practical and more, it is readily capable of meeting a plethora of motoring needs.
V250 BlueTEC Avantgarde
Type Four-cylinder, turbocharged
Capacity 2 143cc
Power 140kW @ 3 800 revs/min
Torque 440Nm at 1 400 revs/min
Type Seven-speed automatic
Drive wheels Front
Consumption (claimed) 6,0 litres/100km
C02 emissions 158g/km
Top speed 206km/h
0-100km/h 9,1 secs
PRICE R1 006 871