As it works to leverage technology and vehicles across many global markets, Mercedes-Benz is selling a passenger version of its new Metris commercial van in the U.S., thinking it can capture a profitable sliver of the market for people haulers.
The goal is to take a good cargo van, soften the suspension a touch, and add windows and some creature comforts so that it can serve as a spacious airport or hotel shuttle. It almost works.
The seats are roomy. Sliding doors on either side make it easy for passengers to get in and out. Even with every seat occupied there’s plenty of room in the far back for luggage, sporting goods or whatever needs hauling.
There’s a peppy 2-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine that produces 208 horsepower — more than enough to pass slower vehicles on a grade — and a satisfying 258 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated to a smooth 7-speed transmission. The fuel economy on our test vehicle pegged in at just about the Environmental Protection Agency rating of 22 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving.
But the Mercedes star badge, synthetic leather upholstery, heated seats and a decent sound system aren’t enough to enable the Metris to escape its pedigree as a commercial vehicle.
On a test through California’s hilly central coast wine country, the Metris constantly reminded its occupants that the vehicle was originally designed to haul items such as boxes of goods, landscape equipment and plumbing pipes.
The ride is best described as “industrial.” Passengers feel every bump on the road, and it gets worse the farther back you sit.
The seats aren’t that comfortable. There’s only one USB port, hardly adequate in an age in which you can expect everyone looking to text their way down the road and weary travelers want to quickly recharge their phones and tablets after a long flight. Even worse, the port is only in front, a location out of reach for most passengers.
There are other oddities.
You have to open the front door to unlock the fuel tank port and gas up the Metris. And then the port is so low that you have to stoop or kneel to insert the gas pump nozzle. It’s not the best design. Why make your drivers have to squat to refill the vehicle?
Mercedes doesn’t excuse the Spartan aspects of the vehicle, noting that it was never designed to be a family van. The automaker exited that market in the U.S. in 2012, when it last sold its R-Class van.
Where Mercedes engineers should get credit is for the neat modular seating arrangement. A couple of levers allow you to unbolt and remove both rear passenger rows. This allows you to trade people for space — something that might be handy on a long road trip or for hauling business associates and marketing materials to an industry conference.
Still, the seats are heavy and you have to figure out where to store them when they are not in the car. Since this is a commercial vehicle, they don’t fold flat like seats in a family minivan. The seats should have been on rails, so that you could slide them back and forth, gaining more flexibility. The van’s design restricts where you can place the rows to two fixed locations. You can swap them or remove one or both, but you can’t reposition the rows.
But Mercedes does provide some seating options. You can purchase the van with a set of three-person rear rows, or a combo of one row for two people and one for three. This option allows seating for seven or eight passengers, depending on the configuration.
At 75.9 inches wide and 202.4 inches long, the Metris is a tweener. It’s considerably bigger than its main rivals, Ford’s Transit Connect and Nissan’s NV200. Yet it is smaller than other commercial van offerings such as Mercedes’ Sprinter and Ford’s Transit.
The automaker believes that there is a need for a mid-size van that fills the gap between larger commercial vehicles and compact vans. Mercedes sees it best deployment as a shuttle vehicle for use in metropolitan areas.
The Trucks.com test vehicle had a suggested retail price of $32,500, but with options such as upgraded front seats, power sliding side doors and a collision prevention assist safety feature, the cost soared to $44,750. That’s a lot for a vehicle that works best as a cargo-hauling appliance. The cargo-only version starts at $29,945, making it the lowest-priced Mercedes sold in the U.S.
Mercedes is correct in seeing the primary use of the passenger version as a shuttle. It’s probably best for short hauls needed by a hotel or country club to move people, luggage and golf bags. It also might be good on a large corporate campus or university, where it can toggle between needs.
But in the end, the best use for Metris is for boxes rather than people.