THIS IS not a van, despite appearances. Okay, it’s derived from a van and shares the running gear, but for load-lugging practicality the Vito Sport is king of the hill.
The Sport is part of a duo of special Vito versions, along with the much more heavily stylised Sport-X, that are targeted at sporting types and adventurous families who could really make use of the massive boot space behind the second row of seats. The three individual seats are also completely removable, so the load space is as flexible as it needs to be whether the luggage is surfboards and beach gear or mountain bikes.
The Vito is one of the most popular mid-size vans on the market because van drivers like driving it, and that makes it a good car. With five seats – six as an option – the Sport has no problems carrying average families.
Sure, Mercedes could fit more seats in if they wanted, but then the luggage space would be cut right down and this is a vehicle built to move people AND gear, not to force you to choose. What you do have is a choice of body lengths and seat counts – up to six, obviously.
Two lengths are available; compact and long, but both get sliding rear doors on both sides as standard. The long version adds 24.5cm of extra floor-to-ceiling space at the back, but tested here is the smaller of the two.
There’s also a choice of body styles. This is the ‘Dualiner’, with its five seats and a second set of side windows. A straightforward panel van is also available with no rear seats, should that be more to the point.
A quick look inside the tailgate, which needs a good deal of free space in order to open out fully, shows carpet lining the boot floor. After the seats come out it too pulls straight out, so there’s no need to get it mucky. It’d be better if it came out without having to remove the rear seats, but there isn’t really a neat solution to allow that.
On top of Mercedes’ official line about appealing to the sort of people that like to throw themselves off things, the 1.88 square metres of floor space behind the second row of seats makes the Vito Sport ideal transport for wheelchair users. You wouldn’t even have to fold the chair if you didn’t want to.
It’s this huge floor space, which rises to 3.36 square metres with the rear seats removed, that helps make the Vito Sport such an appealing tool to live with. A flat, high roof adds to it, and the large sliding side doors make access to the rear a piece of cake from three angles of attack.
For tradespeople who want to streamline their family car and work van into one vehicle, this is the ticket. For road trippers the Vito Sport offers them everything they need – durability, plenty of space and all-day cruising comfort. It’s the sort of thing people could drive from here to the Alps with a boot full of gear without blinking.
One of the reasons it’s as good as it is to drive is the 161bhp, 266lb.ft diesel engine under the bonnet. That’s a lot of power for a mid-size van, and despite the lower gearing than a normal car has it feels quick up through the six-speed manual gearbox.
The low gearing is technically another practical element, though, allowing the engine’s torque to shrug off just about any amount of weight the Vito Sport is ever likely to have put into it. The downside is that you have to work the gearbox more, but with a relaxed driving style it’s no problem.
Compared to a typical car’s the Vito’s steering is slow. Ultimately the van from which this special edition comes is designed that way, as all vans are. Around tight corners you have to turn – and keep turning – the steering wheel more quickly as a result, which is a great workout if nothing else.
The interior trim is better than you might expect, which is why van drivers like the Vito. It’s quite pleasantly civilised up front, while there are acres of legroom for second-row passengers. Another practical by-product of the Vito chassis is how high you sit. Eyeballing other van drivers means looking down on everybody else, and that makes people think twice about cutting you up…
The Sport, as the less aggressively styled of the two adventure-sports biased models, manages to balance subtle flair with outrageous practicality really rather well. It’s a very capable all-rounder that blows estate cars into the weeds for roominess. Write it off at your peril.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Mercedes-Benz Vito Sport, £25,380 on the road.Engine: 2.1-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder diesel producing 161bhp and 266lb.ft.Transmission: 6-speed manual gearbox driving the rear wheels.Performance: Top speed ~115mph, 0-62mph in 11.5 seconds.Fuel economy: 33.2mpg.CO2 rating: 185g/km.