Much like the way it dominates the luxury limousine market, Mercedes has long held the monopoly on high-spec passenger vans. The current V-Class, based on the Vito panel van, launched in 2015 and continues to sell strongly in Europe.
Four years after the V-Class first went on sale, Mercedes is shaking things up. Not only is the firm gifting its posh people mover a mid-life facelift, it’s also preparing a fully electric version with a 100kWh battery (it’ll arrive before the end of the year). But before we try that edition, we’ve been thrown the keys to the fresh 300 d – complete with a powerful new diesel engine from the C-Class saloon.
There’s plenty of choice when it comes to speccing your new V-Class. In addition to the two engine options, Mercedes offers three wheelbases (standard, long and extra-long) as well as three trim levels (Sport, AMG Line and Exclusive).
Despite being billed as the model’s mid-cycle update, very little has changed on the outside. There are new bumpers and some updated trim, but the lights and glasshouse are unaltered. Inside, the V-Class is showing its age; the iPad-style central screen and analogue dials simply aren’t up to the standard of brand-new Merc models like the A-Class and E-Class.
Quality is very good, mind. There are squashy plastics on the doors and dash, and you’ll have to search pretty hard to find anything that feels particularly cheap or scratchy – even on the most basic models. The ‘turbine’ air vents are a smart touch, too.
Standard versions get seven seats, while the two longer models come with space for eight. However, if you opt for the pricey long-wheelbase Exclusive version, you’ll get ‘Luxury’ rear seats as standard, boasting massage and reclining functions from the S-Class limo.
But all versions – even the short-wheelbase ones – offer enough room for adults to get comfortable. The seats slide and recline, and can even be removed completely if you have something particularly bulky to carry. It’s huge inside; the biggest V-Class offers a plethora of seating configurations and up to 5,010 litres of space. No modern MPV comes close.
Exact specs will be announced later this month, with first deliveries expected later in the summer. That said, Mercedes UK has confirmed that every model will get electric sliding doors, as well as a suite of 13 different safety and assistance systems including Active Brake Assist, Attention Assist and Crosswind Assist.
With 236bhp, the V 300 d doesn’t hang about. Few buyers will regularly utilise the 7.8-second 0-62mph time, but the 500Nm of torque will prove useful – particularly with a full cohort of passengers and luggage on board. It’s certainly quicker than a van with windows has any right to be.
Being such a big vehicle, however, the V-Class doesn’t really have the dynamics to back up its prodigious power. You sit lower than you do in a Volkswagen Caravelle, and body control is good. The long-wheelbase models ride nicely, too, but the steering is far too light to give you any sense that it can be leaned on through faster bends.
The set-ups on the shorter wheelbase do feel more direct, but that’s unlikely to trouble the kind of buyer this van is made for. Refinement – both in town and on the motorway – is more important, and this is where the big Merc impresses most.
The new engine is far less clattery than the 2.1-litre unit in the old model, and the stop-start system isn’t as intrusive as the set-up in a Caravelle. It isn’t as hushed as an S-Class, but it’s a relaxing place to spend time – regardless of whether you’re in the front or the back. The nine-speed gearbox is better resolved than VW’s DSG, too, especially when pulling away from junctions or roundabouts.
We also tried the V 220 d, which uses a de-tuned version of the 300 d’s 2.0-litre motor. It’s punchy enough and just as quiet, meaning it should suit most buyers – especially if your journeys are largely restricted to urban errands and the odd airport run. It’s likely to cost around £3k less than the 300 d, too.