15 Oct: Mercedes-Benz Vito Sport-X

Mercedes-Benz Vito 122 CDI Sport-X Compact Dualiner ….

I used to think cornering lights were gimmicky, but not any more. After a trip to the Tunnock’s Mull Rally in the deluxe version of Mercedes-Benz’ Vito, I am a convert. Maybe the inventor who originally came up with swivelling headlights lived in the middle of nowhere. Whatever, there is a lot more to appeal to buyers of the Sport-X version of the Mercedes-Benz Vito – a V6 that hits all the right notes for a start!

I was always a bit ambivalent about cornering lights, those low slung appendages on air dams that turn in the direction of travel . Yes they were handy when turning into an industrial estate with high kerbs or turning round the corner of a house to get the car in a garage. But really modern lights with a wide spread dipped beam are so efficient these days that cornering lights just seemed like an exposed and expensive accessory. Another thing to go wrong, and another thing to be repaired when in for a service.

But after chasing rally cars round Mull in the Vito I have changed my mind. When you have narrow roads with passing places, and horizontal road tarmac which meets vertical rock with no pavement or verge, you really appreciate these in the dark. Similarly where layers of tar have been laid one on top of the other and running rain water has washed away the earth exposing several layers of tar, dropping a wheel off the edge can damage expensive alloys and puncture the inside tyre sidewall.

And so with hindsight and experience I have now changed my mind about cornering lights, especially if you live or visit remote areas with narrow roads. And especially if there is some stupid cud-chewing, raw venison on the hoof just around the next corner!

Anyway, the Mercedes-Benz Vito Sport-X turned quite a few heads while on editorial duty with its striking looks. Even more surprisingly, quite a few folk actually knew exactly what it was, which shows just how effective M-B’s marketing is and how quickly general motoring enthusiasts have embraced the ‘X’ brand LCV. When describing the vehicle, the oft asked question was: “Is that the one with the bodykit and Brabus wheels?”

Heading north from Callander through Glen Ogle, Glen Dochart and Glencoe, the Vito breezed past caravans and motorhomes, tourists and rubberneckers with an ease that belied its commercial vehicle origins.

The only drawback is that the 221 bhp, 3 litre V6 diesel is whisper quiet. Which is a pity, the distant thrum from under the bonnet has been murderously muted. A criminal strangling of audible pleasure. It’s like putting a muzzle on a warbling Alfie Boe and then telling him to go and sing in the cellar. No, on second thoughts, that actually sounds like a good idea! The V6 sounds much better.

There is another slight drawback. When playing with the manual over-ride on the 5 speed auto it has a fearful thirst. A few times it dipped below 20 mpg, but with the sensible head on, a 36 average was perfectly achievable, and no doubt more could be extracted. But given the nature of the terrain, these figures were still pretty good.

But if fuel economy is uppermost in the mind, this would not be the van of choice anyway. This is a quick and comfortable cruiser in its own right, and from a personal viewpoint, preferable to an E Class Sport estate. With its full leather interior it seated 5 in comfort, and high up, so we could all enjoy the views. In fact, I think the leather seats are more comfortable than the standard cloth trim seats. I’m not usually a fan of the M-B driver’s seat which lacks sufficient depth of cushion for my tender behind, so whether it’s a different seat construction or not, this was much better somehow.

Practicality has not been forgotten either. Although this was the short wheelbase Vito, there was still plenty of room in the ‘box’ behind the second row of seats. The n/s side seat of the three could tip forward independently for access to the rear or just to lengthen the loadfloor, while the two-seater bench could also be tipped forward creating even more room. Removal of the seats altogether would create a 2 metre long loadfloor.

Truly a dual purpose vehicle. Luxury family cruiser for weekends and load lugger during the week.

There is however, one slight drawback, the price. The vehicle as tested wouldn’t give any change out of 35 grand, but calling this a van is like calling a Magnum double chocolate with caramel, just an ice cream on a stick. And it is most certainly a rival to the E Class estate!

But a word to the wise. There is another threat to low slung vehicles, especially those with aerodynamic additions – small ferry boats. I struck the ferry ramp at Corran with the low-slung-nose. There was little damage, but the underside of the air-dam scuffed the ferry ramp and popped a bit of plastic trim. Nothing serious, just cosmetic. But on the way home I avoided Corran and took the long way round to Fort William via Ardgour. I thought it was 20 miles or so – it was 40.

Still, that was my gain. It’s a fabulous stretch of road, even though it’s mostly single track, and the Vito is an absolute hoot to drive. Mercedes claim a 9.5 second time for the nought to sixty sprint, but that’s not the most impressive statistic, it’s the mid-range oomph that surprises other motorists.

If I was in the market for a comfortable performance estate car, I’d go for the Vito Sport-X.

Sad? Nope, much more practical and sensible in my view.

  • Review Date: October 15, 2012
  • Price
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