Minivans aren’t hip. They’re not cool. So square are the once-dominant force in family haulers that few automakers even sell one anymore, opting instead for SUV-mimicking crossovers—our vote for the next automotive trend to be uncool. Mercedes-Benz saw this coming in 2005, and duly came to market with the not-quite-a-minivan R-class, which was subsequently thought of as a minivan and left to rot at Mercedes dealerships nationwide before being pulled from our market in 2012. Now Mercedes is introducing the V-class: another not-quite-a-minivan that follows a different approach.
The luxurious brother of the yet-to-be-launched Vito commercial vehicle is brimming with design and technology that could put it at the top of its class. (Daimler's challenge was to catch and surpass the pricey Volkswagen T5 Multivan, which is rightly regarded as the commercial-vehicle-turned-people-mover segment's benchmark.) The predecessors of the new V-class—the V-class of the mid-’90s and the Viano of the early aughts—fell woefully short of the Hannover-designed competition: The first V-class was plagued by reliability problems, and the subsequent Viano looked and felt embarrassingly cheap. To distance the new vehicle from the Viano, and counting on the fact that most original V-class models have disappeared from roads and memories, Mercedes is reverting to the earlier moniker.
Launched in Munich this week, the new V-class will be sold in Europe from this spring, and it’s possible that it will eventually be offered in the U.S., too. While the decision on the V-class has yet to be taken, it is clear that its Vito working-class brother will come to these shores to complement the bigger Sprinter.
The engine lineup consists of three versions of the same OM651 2.1-liter four-cylinder turbo-diesel. The entry-level V200 CDI makes 134 horsepower and 243 lb-ft of torque, and is capable of sprinting from standstill to 62 mph in 12.8 seconds and reaching a top speed of 112 mph. The mid-level V220 CDI boasts 161 horses and 280 lb-ft, as well as a 0–62 time of 10.8 seconds and a 121-mph top speed. The top-drawer V250 BlueTec produces 187 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of twist, reaches 62 in 9.1 seconds, and tops out at 128. That engine is paired exclusively with a seven-speed automatic, while the weaker mills can be had with a six-speed manual.
Among minivans, the V-class is relatively large, and it looks even bigger. Being the sister of a commercial van, the V is all about space utilization rather than stylistic gimmicks that adorn most minivans. But when fitted with the big aluminum wheels and the optional full-LED headlights, a segment first, it manages an upscale appearance. And it should, especially when you consider that pricing begins at €42, 900, or roughly $58, 000.