The Mercedes V-Class is dead - and now the Viano is playing a different kind of tune. Merc's van-based MPV won't be missed by many in the UK. Compared to the rest of the firm's prestige range, it was an unsuccessful attempt at creating a luxury people carrier without the associated development costs. On paper, the Viano doesn't sound much different, but, with fine tuning, Mercedes' engineers are hoping they've struck the right chord with the newcomer.
It's still based on the Vito van, but this is the second generation of the commercial vehicle and has deliberately been made more car-like than its predecessor to satisfy new demands in the van market. With vehicles such as the Vauxhall Vivaro winning praise for their refinement, commercial vehicles now need proper creature comforts to woo fleet managers.
What that means for the Viano is a much improved driving position. You sit up high, with a commanding view of the road ahead, but the steering wheel is mounted more vertically and the multi-adjustable driver's seat provides greater support. In manual form, the dash-mounted gearchange feels clunky, while auto versions use the same set-up as C and E-Class saloons, with a choice of fully self-shifting or sequential manual changes. Both work well, and are smoother than the manual.
Available with seating arrangements of between five and eight chairs, the Viano has three different wheelbases to choose from: Compact, Long and Extra-long. Mercedes is also set to offer the range-topping Viano Marco Polo as a fully equipped camper van.
We drove the entry-level 2.2 CDI six-seater Trend model in Compact form, with a 150bhp version of the 2,148cc common-rail unit. Other engine choices are two 3.0-litre petrols in 190bhp or 218bhp guises. These are quicker, but the diesel is the pick of the range, thanks to its reasonable fuel consumption. Performance isn't brilliant, but there's plenty of mid-range torque and the CDI feels no less relaxed on the motorway than its petrol siblings.
In the six-seater, the middle row can be swivelled round to face the rear chairs, while the five-seat versions take three in the back and leave a huge load space. The seven and eight-seaters get conventional minibus style rows - although individual chairs can be removed or folded out of the way.
As with the smaller Vaneo, three packs are designed to tailor the Viano to the owner. The Bike option includes a rear-mounted cycle rack, while the Life package has double sliding doors, a rubbish bin and mini-fridge. The Business alternative offers Mercedes' acclaimed Comand telematics system, full leather trim, plus a secure locker for storing laptop computers and such.
Mercedes has put a lot of thought into how Viano passengers will use the vehicle - but what about the driver? The newcomer certainly feels big from behind the wheel, while noise levels at start-up do little to hide its commercial origins. But things get better on the open road, as the Viano has a much more car like feel than the old V-Class, with quicker, more precise steering, a supple ride and predictable handling. It can still be a handful in town, though, especially when trying to park in tight spots. Reversing sensors are likely to be offered as a £300 option - and are well worth investing in.