First drive: 2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris

The Mercedes-Benz Metris mid-size van makes hauling cargo classy

Bringing European styling and Mercedes-quality engineering to the workplace, the Metris sets a new standard for cargo and passenger vans.

Mercedes knows work vehicles. Long before the German nameplate was synonymous with luxury, performance and engineering, Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz’s companies were outfitting motor carriages with delivery boxes. That heritage still lives on today, as Daimler AG is the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial vehicles. Later this year, it will expand that influence in the U.S. by introducing the Mercedes-Benz Metris, a mid-size van with serious work chops.

The Mercedes-Benz Vans division already proved its potency in the American market by bringing the full-size Sprinter stateside, during an era where hefty, antiquated vehicles like the Econoline were ubiquitous. Now, American and Japanese auto manufacturers have followed the trend, introducing more Euro-style commercial vehicles to our side of the world. Mercedes invited me to Durango, Colorado to see for myself the versatility of Mercedes vans, including time with the Metris.

This one time, at Van Camp…

Known globally as the Vito, the Metris is so dubbed for the U.S. and Canadian markets since “Vito” tends to sound like a old-timey mafia bruiser. While versatile, the Metris has a bit more elegance than what one would expect from a simple mid-size hauler. First off, its dimensions were chosen as it was the “right” size — not too big, like the Sprinter, but not too small, hitting that goldilocks-like sweet spot at 74.8 inches tall, 202 inches long, and 76 inches wide. Think of a van with substantial payload capabilities, but easier to fit into a garage.

The car was designed to function well in tight, metropolitan areas, and even sports an elegant look that suits the task. Rather than a blocky blight on the neighborhood, the Metris features a very distinct, streamlined Mercedes facia that follows a simple contour line to the rear. It may be a work van, but drivers would feel bad if it took a few knocks.

Vantastic?

After spending plenty of time giving the Sprinter a shakedown run between the pockets of civilization spread across the gorgeous landscape, hopping into the Metris highlighted how this van was in stark contrast to its tall, full-sized counterpart. It’s powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder engine that puts 208 horsepower to the back wheels. Power flows through a seven-speed 7G-tronic transmission with paddle shifters, which one would think would be an odd addition to a van. It’s not because they simply came with the gearbox, either: The Metris feels far more like a bulky sedan than a coupe.

The Metris hits that goldilocks-like sweet spot — not too big, but not too small

The rear-drive van rides on a fully independent suspension, comfort tuned even further in its passenger van configuration. Regardless of whether I was in the driver seat or in one of the other seven seats, the ride was remarkably smooth. Steering was tight and direct, and that softness throughout the journey was the most prevalent sensation.

In its cargo configuration the Metris has just a bit more float to it, and feels more like the bridge between the Sprinter than its passenger version. In fact, this is where the two available Metris models differ greatly.

Space or shuttle?

The cargo version isn’t simply the passenger version with the seats ripped out. All the baffling and softness of the people-carrier disappears in the cargo Metris, making every vibration, bump, and raindrop distinctly audible. The cabin, however, remains almost identical in both. A chunky, solid steering wheel allows for confident driving, with a level of precision one doesn’t expect to feel in a van. Mercedes’ infotainment unit packs all the radio, phone and optional navigation functions in a tight, no-frills package. The functions are there, just don’t expect the graphics and user-friendliness found in today’s non-commercial vehicles. I found myself forgoing the outdated-feeling nav and using my phone’s maps whenever I needed to find my way.

Other tech features proved far more interesting, and useful. Some of the standouts include crosswind assist, which is a carryover from the broadsided Sprinter. It detects gusts of wind and helps keep your sail-like van in its lane without fighting the wheel. Attention Assist uses more than 40 inputs to learn your driving habits, then detects when you start nodding off behind the wheel by watching for telltale jittery twitches. Alarm noises and lights then indicate it’s time to pull over and take a break.

2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris

Lane keep assist will jerk the van back onto the road when the driver deviates from their lane, while park assist takes care of all the parallel parking one would dread to attempt in a delivery vehicle. In fact, it does active park assist better than most. The Metris will scan for an appropriate spot when prompted, then it carefully situates itself, even straightening the wheels when it’s finished.

All the extra bells and whistles matter little if the Metris can’t do its job, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the 186 cubic feet of cargo space the van has in its blue-collar configuration. For comparison, that’s more than the 165.9 cu. ft. the long wheelbase Ford Transit Connect offers, as well as the 122.7 cu. ft. available in the Nissan NV200. It almost seems unfair to compare them, as this is technically a mid-size van, but the difference comes down to being 13 to 16 inches longer and maybe two inches taller.

Conclusion

All that extra space isn’t free. Mercedes-Benz asks $28,950 and $32,500 for its cargo and passenger models, respectively. Meanwhile, competitors start as low as $21,000 and can top out fully loaded for under or near the Metris’ base MSRP.

Who’s buying the Metris? Mercedes says half of the units heading to our shores will be the passenger models, and those will most likely find their way into livery fleets and shuttles for private companies. It’s hard to imagine consumers would forego a more comfortable and well equipped minivan for the Metris, but some creative third-party up-fitting would lead to some unique, jealousy-inducing rides.

Some might wonder what the point is of having a van this nice van if it’s just going to be used for work. Fair question. The same thing, however, could be said of supplying employees with a comfortable office or up-to-date computers. What’s wrong with getting something of inherently better quality? It might not be necessary, but it would be more satisfying for all involved in the long run.

Mercedes is taking orders starting this summer, with production of the Metris kicking off in the fall.

Highs

  • Stylish, sophisticated European look
  • Smooth, sedan-like ride and handling
  • Smart technology and safety features
  • Hits the cargo van “sweet spot”

Lows

  • Pricey in comparison to competitors
  • Outdated-feeling navigation interface
  • Might be too “dressy” for rugged, scuff-and-ding-heavy jobs
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