Like many other families in 1996, we bought an MB100 van. It was a rare opportunity to own a Mercedes-Benz that did not cost an arm or a leg.  In fact, at the time, it was priced just slightly higher than your typical Toyota Hi-Ace or Mitsubishi L300.

The reason it had a very un-Benz like price was that, in a moment of poor judgment, Daimler-Benz allowed their storied marque to be used on what was essentially a Ssangyong vehicle. This rare collaboration between the German and Korean carmakers resulted in a van that was a far cry from a genuine Benz product.  We had a C-Class sedan in the garage at the time, and aside from both having the Benz logo, the two vehicles could not have been more different in terms of build quality, durability, and performance. Five years later, Mercedes-Benz released a legitimate, luxury van deserving of the badge, called the Vito.  Then around 2005, it was replaced with the Viano.  CATS Motors, Inc. lent us the latest generation in this V-Class series, the 2017 V220d in Avantgarde flavor—and this van really renders the MB100 a distant memory.

It is near impossible to make a shoebox-shaped people carrier sexy, but Mercedes-Benz has managed to make their van stand out in a crowd. The façade borrows heavily from their corporate design, and that protruding grille is strikingly beautiful.  Aside from bearing the most recognizable automotive logo in the world, the front also houses large LED-browed headlamps that capture the attention of passers-by.  The extra-large windows tend to present occupants like fish in an aquarium, but it also allows in a lot of sunlight. As requisite with shuttles, the V-Class has dual sliding doors and a tailgate, and they are all powered. Other notable design details include a ducktail-tipped rear bumper and classy, five-spoke, 18-inch rims.

The step-in height of the V220d is lower than your Toyota Alphard or Hyundai Starex, making for a more dignified ingress and egress for passengers.  Once inside, the smell and feel of Lugano leather on the seating surfaces overcome the senses.  For the operator and his front passenger, the dashboard is lavished with dark timber.  The circular AC vents in their vintage, aeronautical theme are signature Benz, and the equipment layout retains the old-school styling.

Tablet-type monitor has retro feel.

Touchpad and scroll-wheel combo

A seven-inch display monitor sits atop the dash, and below the rows of switches for the aircon and CD slot are reminiscent of ’60s cars.  As always, Mercedes-Benz has concocted a perfect mix of style, class, and retrospection. There is no traditional gearstick, as transmission is done via a stalk behind the leather-wrapped steering wheel.  Center of the dash, where the shifter usually sits, is the COMAND infotainment system’s controller.  This alien-looking apparatus is a touchpad and scroll-wheel combination that lets you navigate the sound system. While the design of this device is exemplary, in actual usage, this writer found that a simple touchscreen interface would have been preferable.

Leather-clad captain seats for all

Everybody’s a captain in this vehicle, as each seat comes with armrests that fold away when not in use. There are only six seats in our Avantgarde variant, assuring abundant reclining space for the intended VIP passengers. Between the seats is a moving console that looks like a flight attendant’s service cart, and this slides on rails along the aisle, serving either the second or third row.  This rolling box provides cup-holders, cubby holes, and even two fold-out tables.

Benz incorporated LEDs that light up the cabin with slivers of subtle illumination. A robust Burmeister surround sound system provided the audio, piping music through 16 speakers. The cabin of the V220d really tries to deliver the premium traveler experience through immersive light and sound. That said, there are a few glaring omissions that we’ve come to expect in a luxury van. There are no moonroofs, movie screens, or ottomans for any of the seats. There is also no way to control the audio from the rear section. The absence of these elements is hardly a deal-breaker, but they should come standard at this price point.

Diesel is punchy yet economical too.

Under the short bonnet, the V220d is powered by a 2.1-liter, inline-four diesel powerplant, turbocharged to produce 163 hp. It was satisfyingly quick in the highways, and those horses were more than enough to propel this large van.  Thanks to 380 Nm of torque, a slight tap on the accelerator will send you speedily on your way, even with a maximum complement of six in tow.  This engine is paired with Benz’s 7G-Tronic Plus gearbox, and the included paddle shifters were a joy to use.  In our traffic-filled days with it, the V220d managed 7.8 km per liter of the cheap stuff, at an average speed of 15 kph.

For such a large van measuring 5.14 m long and 1.93 m wide, the V220d is remarkably easy to drive. The steering is so effortless, it lulls you into thinking you’re driving a small SUV.  It is particularly challenging to maneuver in narrow streets, but the large windows keep the blind spots to a minimum.  Parking this large beast is quite a chore even with the sensors, so this writer was thankful for the included 360-degree camera.

Effortless steering for such a large van

As for the suspension, we had a hung jury.  The front seats are expectedly stable.  My wife said the second row has the best seats, with a balanced ride that is neither too hard nor soft.  I put two of my kids in the aft section, and they complained that the ride is on the firm side, bordering on harsh.  Take note that they are accustomed to riding in the third row of a Honda Odyssey.

Organized trunk with thoughtful collapsible crates

Cost of ownership for the V220d Avantgarde is P4,390,000.  The pricetag is surprisingly “affordable” for a Benz, considering that you get a very large chedeng for the money.  It is, however, within throwing distance of the most popular luxury van these days, the Toyota Alphard. My father recently bought an Alphard, and it cost him P660,000 less. And therein lies the rub. Is the Alphard a better buy? Well, yes and no. Yes, because the six-seater Toyota has two moonroofs, ottomans for the second row, and a rear movie system—all things missing from the V-Class. And no, because the V220d has a bigger cabin and a more economical engine than the 3.5 V6 gas-guzzler on the Alphard (it does only 3.5 km per liter).

In the end, it really depends on the buyer, but the space, the accoutrements, and of course the badge make this Benz a compelling argument against the Toyota.  The V220d is your definitive, executive shuttle of choice for the CEO or head of state, but thanks to that sensible diesel engine, this V-class proves itself more than just a vanity van.

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