The reason for this is simple; the driver’s seat soars 88cm above ground level. That means there is at least a 40cm height difference when transferring from the average wheelchair, as well as the overly wide 25cm door sill.
To test this, I roped in RI’s seasoned travel columnist Mandy Latimore, who would climb Mount Everest if it had enough handholds within arm’s reach. Alas, the Vito’s driver seat had no roof-mounted handle, and if it had, it would be a full hand length out of reach. But, if you’re happy to leave the driving to someone else, the Vito is the way to go.
Rene at Mercedes Benz Rosebank led me to a navy blue Vito 115 CDI and handed me the thing that switches it on – it’s not a key; you have to plug it into a socket on the dash. Anyway, it works, unlocking all five doors, including the vast rear cargo hatch and both side sliding doors.
In standard passenger configuration, the Vito has two rows of excellent quality semi-bucket seats, each of which accommodates three occupants. The left-most seat of the front unit tips forward to allow access to the rear seat unit. Legroom between these is at least 30cm and all six seats have a full three-point seatbelt and headrest.
Each seat unit latches onto three neat and tidy mounting slots in the floor with handy quick-release levers. The front and rear mounting slots are staggered laterally so that the seat units cannot be mixed up when replacing them in the Vito. The unit with the folding left seat must always be in front. Incidentally, even with all the seats installed, there is still a considerable volume of space available behind the hind-most seat unit where Mercedes claims you can pack 970kg of luggage!
Each seat unit has three latch slots, and each latch slot also has two D-ring anchor points, giving a total of 12 anchor points in the floor alone. There are many others scattered around the rear section. The seat mounting mechanisms are very strong and sturdy. However, two able bodies could remove both seat units from the Vito in less than a minute.
Removing the seats creates a huge space measuring roughly 2.6m long, 1.2m wide and 1.3m high. This area is highly accessible both through the very wide side sliding doors (yes, one each side), and the gaping rear cargo hatch. There is no raised sill at the rear hatch, and it’s only 48cm above ground, which makes it perfect for a wheelchair ramp or a lift. Skyjacks, the makers of tail lifts for cargo trucks, installing hydraulic lifts in Mercedes Vito vans, to be used either for loading cargo or wheelchair passengers.
Despite the absence of an overhead grab handle on the driver’s side, there are five others, one on the front passenger side, and one at each end of the two rear seat units. Each side door has an opening half window and the two rear side windows open on a latch, so there’s no shortage of fresh air options. Added to this, the Vito’s excellent climate control system (you know, airconâ€¦) feeds to all areas of the rear compartment. So it’s no matter whether passengers are in seats or wheelchairs, the cabin conditions will always be comfortable.
Mechanically, the Vito is all Mercedes. That funny plug-in key starter thing just needs a quick flick in the slot and the engine literally fires itself up. There’s a 2148cc, 4-cylinder, 16-valve turbo-diesel engine stuffed longitudinally under the bonnet. No sissy front-wheel-drive on this machineâ€¦ The 5-speed automatic transmission is your basic, no-frills, forward-reverse-neutral-park cogbox. No Sport mode on this one. It spins the prop shaft into a compact rear differential that’s cradled between the Vito’s plush no-nonsense independent rear suspension.
Somewhere there’s a computer chip that keeps telling the Vito to take it easy on pull-off. There’s an ASR switch on the dash, probably stands for auto skid reduction or something similar. When it’s turned off, a big warning pops up on the Vito’s LCD display. But even with ASR turned off, when you stomp on the go pedal, the big van’s got to think about it a bit, ponder the meaning of motion and so forth. Was there perhaps another safety mode switch I didn’t spot while driving it?
But once the revs pick up a little, that sweet little turbo kicks in and the Vito just wants to gallop. Mercedes claim a top speed of 175 kph and I believe it. Matter of fact, if it wasn’t for that chip, I expect the Vito would be wheel-spinning away from traffic lights all day (no cargo on board, of course).
Join me for a quick tour around the Vito’s other features. Firstly, as far as I know, no Mercedes has a hand brake. This van’s parking brake is activated by a left-foot pedal and released by a right-hand pull handle.
The front seats are mounted on their own separate pedestals so it’s easy to move between the front and back seats. The seats offer exceptional support and comfort, and are both forward/backward and height/angle adjustable. The backrests tilt by means of rotating knobs, not levers. The headlights are angle-adjustable and the super-size side mirrors are also remote adjustable.
The sun visors have no vanity mirrors. Only the front two occupants get an airbag and the two front windows are electrically operated. The Vito has a CD player and AM/FM stereo radio system that sounds really great; and the glove cubby is roomier than most.
In the grip department, the Vito is equipped with steel 16-inch rims wrapped in Goodyear Marathon rubber; width and profiles are 205/65R all around. The fake alloy plastic wheel covers look like fake alloy plastic wheel covers.
I thoroughly enjoyed pottering around Rosebank and Zoo Lake on a rainy Wednesday morning. The Vito is a capable, powerful, versatile machine that appears to deliver more than it promises. And it promises quite a lot. Take one for a drive; you’ll see what I mean. Ask for Rene at Merc Rosebank: 011 252 2300. Latest price on the Mercedes Vito 115 CDI: R 342 456 incl. Vat.