Executive Wheels: Sparse, Spartan, Utilitarian – And Fun
A review of the Mercedes Benz Metris Passenger Van 126
All over town – indeed, all over the country – for the past few years I have been noticing a new type of van, collectively called sprinters or cargo vans, that have cropped up from a wide variety of manufacturers that seem like they would be fun vehicles. Generally, they seem taller and boxier than the popular minivans, more suited to commercial purposes, but also increasingly configured for passenger use. So I was excited to learn I was getting the chance to drive the Mercedes Benz entrant in this emerging market, the Metris Passenger Van 126. What I discovered was surprising.
First off, when the press pools delivery guys brought me the van, I sat in the driver’s seat and began looking around for the control for the side mirrors. One of the guys smiled and said, “This is old school. You have to adjust them by hand.” That proved to be a testament to this van, because in spite of it being a Mercedes – known for technological advances, extras and upgrades – this Metris Van was the most sparse, most Spartan vehicle I have driven in a long time.
Nothing wrong with that, just surprising.
When you first look at the Metris, it is taller and boxier than what we have come to know as a minivan, and it is also longer, although it is something of an illusion. Just to compare, the Metris is 202.4 inches long, compared to the 200.6-inch length of the Toyota Sienna; as for height, the Metris goes 74.4 inches tall, while the Toyota is 70.7 inches. The wheelbase on the Metris is 126 inches, compared to 119.3 on the Sienna.
I expected it to have more seating capacity, but like the Toyota it can be configured for seven-passenger and eight-passenger seating. The Metris can also be configured for five-passenger seating, with a three-passenger second row, allowing for a big cargo area. The truth is in both the Metris and the Toyota, the seats can come out (or fold down), so each can handle a ton of cargo. The real difference is in the Toyota – which is somewhat more expensive – the interior is plush and cushy, while the Metris is basically all business. The rear seating looks a lot like a smaller shuttle van you might find at the airport. Also, the rear seats are snapped in to rails in the floor and can be removed for a wide and long storage area.
I was provided the seven-passenger model with three roomy seats in the rear and a plentiful cargo spot behind, more than in the Toyota), and a two-passenger second row, with side-by-side seats leaving a wide loading area on the passenger side that proved to be one of its best features. Most of the regular minivans in seven-passenger mode have taken to having two captains’ chairs in the second row so you have to fold down or scoot up one of the seats to get passengers into the third row (or have them shimmy in-between). In this Metris I loaded my third-row passengers easily. The one and only upgrade and option on the Metris I drove was automatic sliding rear doors on both sides ($760 upgrade per door). I loaded up the rear with five passengers for a Christmas lights tour of south Denver and they all, while mentioning the utilitarian nature of the seating, said the entry and exit were easy and the seats were comfortable. The bonus was the big windows, perfect for viewing lights. Oh, and one of the more Spartan aspects of the rear area, and quite unlike a Toyota or a Honda minivan, was the vinyl flooring in the whole rear compartment – no carpeting, easy to mop down and clean, no need to worry about wet shoes or the like.
Another cool thing about this particular Metris was the rear doors open like Dutch doors, opening from the middle, and then opening wide to 180 degrees for easy cargo placing. Apparently, for an additional $465 you can get the rear door as a liftgate, but to be honest I kind of like the Dutch door configuration – I have to add, however, each door has a window and there is a door part right in the middle, so in the rear-view mirror the view is somewhat restricted from what it would be with a single, large window in the liftgate.
Up front in the driver and main passenger area the Spartan atmosphere just kept on. There is no push-button start – old school; use the key – and the seat adjustments in the bucket seats were reach-down under the seat and pull the lever to slide the seat, and hit the lever on the side for height adjustment and back-of-the-seat recline. The dash was sparse – there is a screen, but it really didn’t do much but display the radio. The lower part of the middle dash area has a couple of cup holders, but there was really no console, just floor between the two seats. And, the radio was old school too – AM/FM. That’s it.
The one thing that was really Mercedes-like was the gear shifter. Mounted on the “tree,” as they say, you push a lever up to go into reverse, down to go into drive, and you push the end of it to place it back in park.
Now, it was not devoid of safety features – all standard. This vehicle features a crosswind assist that helps keep the vehicle in a lane in high winds, a hill start assist, airbags everywhere, even along side of all the rear seats, Bluetooth for a phone hookup. You can get blind-spot monitoring for an extra fee.
What really surprised me was the driving.
First, it features a 2.0-liter four-banger with some 208 horsepower that couples with a seven-speed automatic transmission for a powerful and very smooth performance experience. The Metris has quite a bit of get-up-and-go and the handling was surprisingly nimble for such a large vehicle. I felt in control on city streets and on the highway at all times, and felt comfortable in changing lanes and handling all conditions. The only drawback was that it snowed during my test drive, and this rear-wheel-drive vehicle was not the surest in slick conditions. I made my way okay, but there was an old-school slip and slide aspect to it that made me thankful I learned to drive back in the day when rear-wheel slip and slide was the norm.
There were two things that I just didn’t like.
One is what I call the “Nanny” aspect of modern cars: Mercedes calls it Attention Assist, and there is this cup of coffee icon that comes on if the vehicle detects possible fatigue, usually triggered by hitting the lane divider stripes a little too often without signaling. Quite frankly, it is not helpful. The other thing was that without all the padding and carpets in other minivans, and the large and tall interior area, it took a lot of time for the Metris to heat up, even with outlets supplying heat to the rear. I like heaters – and AC in the summer – and this fell a little short.
Now, I drove the 2017 Metris Passenger Van and the base price on the sticker is listed at $32,900. With the automatic door upgrade I mentioned and the destination charge the bottom line for this vehicle was $35,415. My research indicated that for the identical 2018 model the base price has been raised to $33,900.
That’s not a bad price, especially considering that the Honda, Toyota and Chrysler minivans you might buy are more expensive. But it’s hard to compare in that none of the others would or could be configured this sparsely. But the Metris is a cool, fun vehicle that I might choose over the competition if I wanted to trick it out more for camping or for a small RV which, given the utilitarian nature of the interior, would be easy to do. Plus, , it’s a Mercedes, and that, in and of itself is cool.
The Metris is clearly one of the stranger vehicles I have ever driven, but it strikes me that this type of vehicle – with its commercial operation counterparts – has the versatility to stay around for a long time.
RATING: THREE-AND-THREE-QUARTERS WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR)