First Drive: 2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris [Review]

Mercedes is taking aim at the mid-size van segment with its latest Metris.

Being an innovator sometimes has you aiming your sights where there presently may not be a target. Eventually that target catches up to you, and you may hit the bull's eye. Mercedes-Benz Vans seems to be in just that situation, and with the 2016 Metris, they may have a direct hit, especially when you consider the vehicle's motto: "The next big thing is mid-sized.”

Now into its third generation, the Metris has been on sale in European markets since 1996, but sold there as the Vito, in honor of its city of origin, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain. MBUSA officials joke that the reason the Vito name will not be coming to the new world (US and Canada) is in deference to the Godfather, Don Vito Corleone. We say work it, and never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

What's new?For this market? Everything.

The Metris, which will hit dealer showrooms this October, will initially be available in both passenger and cargo van versions. It will be powered exclusively by a four-cylinder 2.0-liter direct-injected and turbocharged gas-burning engine producing 208 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Similar to the engine found in vehicles like the GLA and CLA, it is slightly modified to cope with the workload that trucks encounter, including a service interval that extends up to 15,000 miles. Mated to the firm's seven-speed 7G-Tronic automatic transmission, with ECO start/stop functionality, it will initially hit the market in rear-drive configuration, although we think it's a clear and safe bet to expect a 4Matic all-wheel-drive model, before long.

Currently, there are no plans to offer diesel power in the Metris, but never say never.

The Metris is expected to launch with a utilitarian Cargo Van and a Passenger Van that can hold up to eight occupants. While MBUSA claims there is currently not a sufficient business plan that would bring it to the states, the Vito version can be picked up in the European market as the V-Class luxury model. We feel it's only a matter of time before they decide to import it here. Think of it: A slightly larger-than-minivan-van that has the tri-pointed star in the grille, and full-zoot luxury inside for those who wouldn't be caught dead in a Sienna, Odyssey, Quest or Town & Country.

And this is not just a stripper model, either. The Metris is also equipped with advanced safety features such as six and eight airbags for the cargo and passenger models, respectively. Attention Assist with its coffee cup dashboard icon, Crosswind Assist, and load-adaptive ESP are all included as standard. Available safety options will include Active Parking Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Parktronic, Collision Prevention Assist, Blind Spot Assist, and a rearview camera.

TaxingThe Metris Cargo Van, along with the Sprinter Cargo Van, are both subjected to the antiquated and so-called Chicken Tax (Google it), that requires such vehicles to be built up completely in Spain and Germany, respectively, then have their running gear disassembled and shipped in containers, on different vessels, where they are reassembled once they arrive at MB's Charleston, South Carolina plant. With the United States as the brand's second largest market, the company will start construction on a $500-million factory next to the current re-assembly plant, which should be on line sometime late in 2017. Bye-bye Chicken Tax and all the insanity that goes along with it.

Incidentally, Passenger Vans are not subjected to the tax and as such, arrive in US ports ready to drive off their car-carrying ships as soon as the ship is tied up to the cleats in port.

Although the Metris is currently without any direct competition, that doesn't mean it won't be in a battle. Expect some stout performers including the likes of Ford's Transit Connect, Nissan's NV 200 SV, and FCA's Ram C/V Tradesman van to show up. Oh, and then there's big brother Sprinter Van, too.

Looks matterA good looker, the Metris appears in its cargo configuration with grey front and rear fascias that assist in quick (and hopefully cheap) bodywork that may be required due to an unexpected workday shunt. Order the Passenger Van and you'll get the slickly refined body-colored bumper setup, complete with foglamps and jewel-like headlamp surrounds. Top it off with the tri-star and you are talking high-zoot, regardless of what the interior looks like.

Speaking of that interior, it is offered with a dashboard that should look familiar to anyone who has spent even a brief moment inside an MB dealership. Made of hard plastic for added durability, it can be had with such creature comforts as Satellite Radio and Navigation. Cupholders are all over the place, and include a pair on the top of the dash that appears as though they might just accommodate a can of Red Bull or Euro-sized Coca-Cola.

Utility-style fabric-covered seats offered great comfort during our two-hour stint in the Metris. Three-point harnesses were located in every seating position, and a driver's side sliding door made the vehicle easy to enter and exit regardless of which side a passenger was on.

The cargo van can be outfitted by Mercedes-Benz approved "upfitters” who can configure the van in a variety of ways, depending on a buyer's needs. The vehicle does include a four-track tie down system where a user is able to tie down boxes or separate deliveries, as needed.

Mercedes-Benz points out the right-sized footprint of the Metris as the perfect vehicle for urban maneuvers with a load of passengers or boxes. With an overall length of 202.4 inches, a height of nearly six-and-a-half feet, and a width of 75.9 inches, it is garageable. Inside, the Cargo Van can carry up to 186 cubic feet of cargo, weighing up to 2,500-pounds, while still managing to tow up to 5,000 pounds of trailer. Conversely, the Passenger Van is capable of 38 cubic feet of cargo, behind the third row seating.

Both Metris Van styles will only be available from the M-B Vans Dealer network, and not at regular Mercedes car dealerships, although a few are one and the same. Currently numbering 300 dealers, it's a far cry from the 3,000 stores that other brands may offer.

Behind the wheelAs M-B officials said, the next big thing seems to be mid-sized. The power displayed by the turbo four-cylinder was surprisingly spry with good off-the-line acceleration through the 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic transmission. Driving the Cargo Van, with its more utilitarian packaging, was a louder experience for certain, but not one that had you popping handfuls of Advil to make the head-throb go away.

In the Metris Passenger Van, we found a ride that was surprisingly car-like, which is just the thing for buyers who can range from tradesmen to soccer moms. Quiet interior performance goes a long way to dispense with the rough and ready feeling that both segments will appreciate. We felt a bit cramped by the lack of telescoping steering wheel, having to move our seat forward to comfortably reach the wheel. At that point, legroom became slightly tight.

Ride quality was excellent, and not such that our dental work was coming unglued. The fact that this vehicle rides in a "hunkered down” mode actually made it more enjoyable to drive, almost to the point where it was a corner hugger rather than a side-to-side wallower.

Leftlane's bottom lineWe liken the Mercedes-Benz Metris Passenger and Cargo Vans to blank canvases. As such, we had a fun exercise in imagining what both of them could ultimately be. That, coupled with the easy-to-drive nature of the vehicles makes these vans rife with possibilities. And at $28,950 (Cargo Van), it is also the least expensive Mercedes-Benz in the lineup.

2016 Mercedes-Benz MetrisCargo Van base price: $28,950Passenger Van base price: $32,500Destination Fee: $995.

Photos by Mark Elias and courtesy of Mercedes-Benz.

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