Mercedes-Benz's Sprinter van (and its earlier Dodge variant in DaimlerChrysler days) arguably can be credited with revolutionizing the commercial van market in North America.
It effectively replaced the venerable Ford E-Series and Chevrolet Express/GMC Savana vans as the default vehicle for tradespersons and delivery services, not to mention airport buses and similar mid-capacity people movers.
In so doing, it established the Euro-style van as the new norm for such vehicles in North America, spawning new competition for itself from Nissan, Ford, Ram and, most recently, General Motors.
Those newcomers to the market have also expanded it downward in size from the Sprinter class, led by Ford's success with the Transit Connect.
It's a segment in which Mercedes has long been a strong competitor in Europe and other markets and the latest generation of its mid-size van, called the Vito, has recently been launched overseas.
Exactly which versions of the Vito will be sold here remain to be seen as there are several to choose from. In addition to a multitude of engine, transmission, length and wheelbase choices and either panel or two passenger-van models, it will be offered in both front- and rear-wheel-drive configurations.
The FWD model, intended for light-duty use with moderate payload, is powered by a transverse-mounted, 1.6-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine that is available in either 88 or 114 horsepower configurations, both mated to a siz-speed manual transmission.
For more intensive use and load-carrying ability, including trailer towing, the rear-wheel-drive variant has three available versions of a 2.15-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel rated at 136, 163 and190 horsepower. The latter, designated BlueTec, is said to be the first in its class to satisfy tough new Euro 6 emissions and, as such, it is likely the one we'll get in North America.
From the transmission and low-friction rear axle to its electromechanical steering and auxiliary unit, the new Vito was designed for maximum fuel efficiency, the company says.
Its low wind resistance, resulting from a coefficient of drag (Cd) of just 0.32, compares favourably with many passenger cars, helping to reduce fuel consumption and improve performance.
Whatever the engine variant, service intervals are said to be up to 40,000 km or two years – a major consideration for commercial operation.
Having spent some time with the previous model at the Sindelfingen proving ground where the new one was developed, I can attest that it has been torture tested beyond any reasonable expectation of customer use.
Standard safety features include Adaptive ESP, Crosswind Assist and up to eight airbags in the Tourer passenger version. Other available features include Active Parking Assist – a segment first – Blind Spot Assist and Lane Keeping Assist
The Vito is available in three vehicle lengths – a 4,895 mm, 5,140 mm and 5,370 mm. The maximum vehicle height is 1,910 mm depending on the model, well below the two-metre mark that is typically the limit for multi-story/underground car parks and automatic car washes.
With up to 1,369 kg of cargo capacity, the Vito has the highest payload in its class, according to the company.
We'll have to wait and see which Vito configurations and equipment we'll get here in. Undoubtedly, they will be welcome additions to the market for commercial operators, expanding their purchase choices – and equally unwelcome by the new van's already established competitors.