The battle of the big vans

 

 

Few people buy vans — they don’t even feature in the top 50 vehicle sales. They’re long and clumsy and it seems ridiculous to be driving around in one, inevitably on your own, once the school run and the like have been completed. And surely one needs a family the size of The Waltons to validate such a choice.

That’s what we thought — until we started driving them.

We decided to take three of South Africa’s favourite vans — the Mercedes-Benz V250d, the Toyota Quantum Premium and the VW Caravelle — to see how they matched up. This is not truly a comparison of apples with apples, but if it worked for Elon Musk (see “It’s a Telsa vs Ford in truck Twar”, page 8) then why should it stop us?

Now, one of the great many things whining South Africans are blessed with is a world-class road infrastructure connecting much of the country. And despite tough economic times we take advantage of our incredible weather and thousands of kilometres of tar to create indelible memories that will last a lifetime.

It’s the holiday season and time to put together that playlist that will make the teenagers cringe. Pack the biltong and a cooler box full of goodies. Get out of suburbia and into the hinterland on a road trip. But which van will you take?

MERCEDES-BENZ V250D

Mercedes vans have been gracing the covered entrances of five-star hotels and ferrying movie crews around for many a decade. The reason, I would like to believe, is not simply “because it’s a Merc” but rather because it’s well considered. Whereas one cannot say this about all the vehicles in their stable, the Mercedes van, be it the Vito or the Viano, has always been a popular personal people mover.

That lineage has clearly been brought to bear on the V series. From the new, sportier grill to the real showpiece of the vehicle — the carefully constructed interior — everything that the German car manufacturer has learned and continues to refine is demonstrated here.

The van costs just north of R1-million — a tall order for most people. But for those who can afford it, Mercedes-Benz certainly hasn’t skimped on anything. The safety features are excellent — curtain airbags, lane change warnings — and a luxurious interior. What used to be a party trick has now become standard; the four rear passenger seats can be arranged in a variety of ways. Facing seats is probably the most popular, something that we found to be no small task in terms of grunt required.

The panoramic sunroof — or rather roofs — are more impressive on a vehicle this size (it’s 5.1m long) and give the already roomy interior an even more spacious feel.

Critically, access to all four rear seats is uneventful, and there’s enough leg room to ensure that knees don’t knock. The foldaway tray tables prove to be immensely useful, be it for meals on the go or as a work space for diligent, time-pressed journalists.

The split-level boot is also a welcome, unexpected addition. It also has a lid for holding lighter items.

Possibly the only disappointment was the mediocre sound system.

From a driver’s perspective, this feels like a stock-standard Mercedes experience, which means it’s uncluttered and has tasteful finishes. There’s also more than enough storage bin space to put all your bits and bobs. The V250 is powered by a 2.1-litre engine that delivers 140kw to the rear wheels. When you’ve dumped the kids, dropped the groceries and discarded the luggage, this van certainly goes with some oomph. When fully laden, it’s also no slouch, demonstrating no visible strain when hitting the highway or climbing otherwise ponderous hills. Most importantly, the handling was superb. Even parking turned out to be less laborious than expected.

The claimed fuel consumption compared with reality is, as is fairly common, somewhat different. During our time travelling the highways and byways we managed an average fuel consumption of just over 9l/100km.

On the plus side the carbon emissions stand at 166g a kilometre, which is okayish on a vehicle this size — it’s peers spit out more than 200g a kilometre.

In the end, the V250D quickly became a firm favourite and is certainly worth that extra dosh. It’s the kind of vehicle that encourages road trips and, with its configuration and comfort, will leave everyone happy and still talking to each other after long hours on the road. 

Beauregard Tromp
Guest Author
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