Mercedes trips light van-tastic.
Mercedes Benz Vito Mixto IT'S not often you get the chance to drive a mazy 30-mile route around one of the world's biggest container terminals, then switch to a leafy, suburban spin past some of the most sought-after residences in Europe.
Such is the lot of light van man, in this case behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz Vito, a vehicle that brings a combination of style, space and quality to the commercial vehicle scene.
This is an area of the automotive market that has seen the German marque making a mighty impression in recent times.
Van sales for the first half of 2010 are up by a whopping 50 per cent and earlier this summer Mercedes opened a new chapter in drive technology for light commercials with the emissions-free Vito E-CELL.
Now comes another arrival in the shape of a comprehensively revised Vito range, featuring the first major changes in four years. Mercedes chose the bustling metropolis of Hamburg with its 2,500 bridges, lively waterfront area, inland lakes and vast parks as an ideal location for the new Vito's launch exercise.
Vito's a vehicle that fits the bill nicely in that it bridges the gap between van and MPV in a classy manner.
The Dualiner and Traveliner vans look smart and versatile, the more traditional and top selling panel vans very functional - and all sport a striking new face with prominent three-pointed star that melds the company's passenger car styling with the robust stance of a commercial vehicle.
Key to the new range, which customers ordering now should see before the end of the year, is a completely new drive offering better economy and lower CO2, while all the engines comply with the Euro 5 emissions standard.
Entry point is the Vito 110 CDI Compact at pounds 16,750 while the top selling Long version costs pounds 17,080 and the extended wheelbase Extra Long a bit more again at pounds 17,530.
The multi-purpose DuaIiner, with its two or three seats up front plus second row of three, starts at pounds 18,190 for the 110 CDI Compact and the same engine in Traveliner guise - seven or nine seats - costs pounds 19,965.
Four diesel engines are available - the 95bhp 110 CDI, 136bhp 113 CDI and 163bhp 116 CDI all being four cylinder units - with the 224bhp V6 122 CDI topping the line-up.
These powerplants are already proven in both the popular Sprinter van and some of the Mercedes passenger car range, and not only do they lower fuel consumption and emissions by up to 15 per cent but customers can also specify the BlueEFFICIENCY package.
That means the likes of start/stop, rolling resistance tyres, shift point indicator and battery management for even cleaner, more economical performance.
Mercedes is confident the Vito's new chassis, configured specifically with the transport of goods and passengers in mind, has raised the bar for ride comfort and drive safety.
And as someone who uses a van once in a blue moon, I can say with assurance that the beauty of the Vito is the way that after a few minutes behind the wheel you forget you're driving a commercial vehicle. It drives extremely well and the six-speed manual gearbox is a boon.
The other reason is down to the more upmarket appointment of the interior with clear instruments, fresh fabrics and CD/DVD drive plus Bluetooth hands-free system as standard.
On the safety front, every van has ABS with electronic stability programme, skid control and adaptive brake lights.