- Model: 2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris Passenger Van
- Exterior color: Mountain Crystal White Metallic
- Interior color: Black leatherette
- Engine: 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged
- Horsepower: 208
- Transmission: seven-speed automatic
- Fuel economy: 23 mpg highway, 20 mpg city
- Price (as tested): $44,405
Minivans are polarizing. Some people appreciate their roominess and practicality, while others think they're for sissies.
As a result, East Tennessee and North Georgia highways are full of hulking SUVs masquerading as minivans for the sake of style and toughness. Meanwhile, the number of true minivans on the road has dwindled precipitously since their peak popularity in the mid-1990s.
One of the most interesting family van options on the market today is the Mercedes-Benz Metris passenger van, a reasonably-priced, back-to-basics people-mover that does its job without breaking the bank.
Even in my family, a minivan in the driveway for a week provoked a range of emotions. My too-cool-for-school ninth-grade son made me promise not to deliver him anywhere in the Metris, while my car-crazy 9-year-old son was ecstatic every time he climbed aboard and realized he could walk around the interior without bumping his head.
The trick with developing fondness for the Metris, I discovered, is to forget about its bread-box proportions and flower-truck profile and concentrate on its strengths: a composed ride, a spirited power-train and a vast interior.
Most Metris vans, like the bigger Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, will be sold for commercial purposes — think delivery vans and airport shuttles. Yet, the Metris can transport up to eight adults comfortably, making it a good choice for large families.
Our well-optioned Mountain Crystal White Metallic tester is a seven-passenger version of the Metris with dual sliding doors on the sides and swinging barn doors in the rear. With a base price of $32,500 ($44,405 as tested), the Metris is a bargain-basement Mercedes-Benz with a high value quotient.
STYLING AND FEATURES
We've established that style-conscious buyers are probably going to pass on the Metris. Its squared-off corners and vast expanses of glass share more in common with an office building than a stylish motor vehicle. In fairness, there's only so much you can do stylistically with a cargo van's exterior without altering its job description.
That said, the Metris is proud of its Mercedes-Benz pedigree; and the big, three-pointed star badge on the grill is clearly its defining feature. In fact, the whole massive front end of the Metris — which is strangely called the "Vito" in other parts of the world — shouts Mercedes-Benz.
The van has just enough embellishments to make you feel at home in the suburbs. Five-spoke alloys add $730 to the bottom line. A $1,540 driver efficiency package includes navigation, a rear-view camera, fog lamps and cruise control. An active safety package ($2,270) includes parking assist, collision prevention and lane-keep assist.
Inside, the Metris is anything but plush. The beefy steering wheel is the only interior part that would feel at home in a Mercedes-Benz luxury sedan. The leatherette seats are substantial, but lack the buttery softness of the top-grade leathers in the C and E Class sedans.
The dash and door panels are constructed of hard plastics that look durable, but are hardly opulent. Dash controls are functional, but basic. The steering-column-mounted shifter could be mistaken for a windshield wiper stalk. Still, all the seats have ample hip room and should be comfortable for commuting, if not cross-country journeys.
Maximum payload is 1,874 pounds, which means you should be OK if the seven people in your party are not all NFL linemen. Your passengers can average 267 pounds each without reaching the tipping point.
This is a big van to be powered by a mere four-cylinder engine, but the 2.0-liter turbocharged motor is surprisingly potent. The engine makes 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It never felt under-powered in a week of mixed-use driving, and managed several short trips without incident.
We were impressed by the van's confident steering and straight-line tracking. We were able to weave through I-75 traffic without ever feeling imperiled by a lack of power or buffeted by cross-winds. The engine is mated to a smooth, seven-speed automatic transmission that shifts almost imperceptibly. Although this is not an expensive vehicle, its superior German engineering is obvious.
The Metris is smaller than the Ford Transit and the Sprinter, but it's so much larger than a typical family SUV that there's no real comparison.
For around $40,000 you can get Mercedes-Benz engineering and a cavernous interior capable of transporting an entire youth soccer team. For some minivan provocateurs, their pride will hold them back from considering a Metris.
But for those who are honest with themselves about its value and convenience, the Metris has tons of merit.