Mountain Wheels: Metris van offers Mercedes-Benz’s least expensive entry point (review) |

Mountain Wheels: Metris van offers Mercedes-Benz’s least expensive entry point (review)

Andy Stonehouse
Mountain Wheels

While one might think that a week spent driving a plain-jane, white passenger van with steel wheels and manually adjusted side mirrors might be the furthest thing from a car-reviewer's nirvana, that was not the case.

It is now an increasing rarity to see an old-fashioned Ford Econoline van serving as a tradesperson's daily driver, as the older generation of American vans — the ones you'll end up living in, down by the river, like Matt Foley, when your life falls apart — have given way to something new.

The evolution in van culture began a few years back when we began to receive the new wave in European and Japanese trade vans, though they've long been the norm overseas.

I've driven the smallest, a tiny and somewhat ridiculous Fiat rebadged here as a macho-sounding but certainly underwhelming Ram Promaster City Tradesman, as well as Nissan's NV line — both the very small NV200, which aims to become the New York City taxicab of the future, as well as the large and unusually styled NV1500, one of three Nissan variants of full-sized delivery vans.

None of them had very much je ne sais quoi, to drive home the European-ness, but my opinion changed quickly with the unexpected delivery of a new Mercedes Metris midsize passenger van.

It wasn't my first exposure to a Metris. Last year, on a car trip in southern Spain, I got a ride from Malaga to Marbella in an upscale build of the Metris (known in Europe as the Vito, of course), complete with leather seats, full navigation and a fancy interior.

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It was a diesel, of course, but my driver did an admirable job of keeping up with a British guy doing about 110 mph in his Range Rover on the absolutely empty and very expensive tollway along the southern coast.

Now, Americans have the option of purchasing a Metris of their own, in four varieties of standard cargo and passenger setups (a standard model and Worker, oriented for more industrial applications, as well as a domesticized rendering of the fancier, option-heavy luxury Vito version I enjoyed overseas. They're a more modest scaling of the somewhat ungainly Sprinter van, itself known at various times in its Mercedes-Benz, Dodge, Freightliner and even Volkswagen incarnations.

And Metris does what might seem impossible: It brings some of the sophisticated gloss we've come to expect from those increasingly varied and expensive Mercedes automobiles and SUVs, but does so in an absolutely understated kind of way. It is, by the way, the least expensive way to get into a Mercedes-Benz in the United States, as well.

For a van, it's pretty sexy looking, with swept lines and a headlight and grille setup reminiscent of one of Mercedes' AMG sports cars. Yes, in van form, with up to 186 cubic feet of storage inside. Mind blown.

If you opt for the basic Metris passenger van model I drove, the emphasis is definitely more on the practical than it is on the fancy bits, though all of the underlying positives remain.

Alternately, you can go upscale for the non-industrial Metris van, which starts at $33,900 and can, like any member of the Mercedes family, be outfitted with enough options to easily double the sticker price.

Your basic choices include layout — five-, seven- or eight-seat arrangements, and either side-opening doors or a liftgate — and then expand to include the laundry list of roof rails, custom seating, upgraded trim, enhanced parking and lane-keeping safety systems.

What remains consistent is the turbocharged 208-horsepower 2.0-liter four cylinder, mated to a seven-speed transmission, and operated with Mercedes' precarious-until-you-learn-it, fondue-fork-styled gear shift stalk on the steering wheel.

I've never driven a van with paddle shifters on the sport wheel, however, and that alone added to the joyful curiosity of a workday professional vehicle with Mercedes guts underneath. And that engine can get the little van going in a hurry, quite impressively.

It's also cool to see many of the same systems from the auto and SUV lines seamlessly integrated into an absolutely no-nonsense platform. You can switch between drive modes, emphasizing economy or manual mode (sadly, no sports mode here) and you'll get fatigue reminders if you've been on the road too long ferrying passengers or cargo.

2017 Mercedes-Benz Metris passenger van

MSRP: $32,900; As tested: $35,415

Powertrain: 208-HP 2.0-liter four-cylinder with seven-speed automatic transmission

EPA figures: 22 combined (20 city/23 highway)

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