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2020 Mercedes-Benz Metris Cargo: The Blue Collar Mercedes

What if Mercedes was one of us?

LOS ANGELES—Sorry, friends and neighbors, but this review of the 2020 Mercedes-Benz Metris cargo van isn't really about how the Metris works as a cargo van. I tried to write the review that way. Well, maybe "tried" is maybe overstating it a bit. I did think about it, though. Like, for minutes.

In my defense, after my experience reviewing the Ford Transit van last month, can you blame me for avoiding any real work with the Metris? For the week it was here, I hauled nothing that wouldn't fit into the back of our long-term Hyundai Veloster N. (The largest load was 120 orange pylons for another story I'm working on, if you must know.) I feel very guilty about this lack of journalistic effort. On the plus side, I learned that guilt is much, much easier on your back.

Still, this was not a fruitless week for me and the Metris. Driving around in America's least-luxurious Mercedes, it occurred to me: What if Mercedes was just a regular carmaker, and not the hyper-posh brand they've become? What if all Mercedes vehicles were this ordinary?

When the Mercedes Brand Isn't Enough

This is not nearly as silly and senseless a notion as you might think—in fact, I'm told that back home in Germany, it's kind of A Thing. The Mercedes brand, as we know, is used on cars, vans, trucks, and buses, and the latter three are distinctly working class. This is apparently such an issue for the Germans that Mercedes has to have a second, nicer bus division, Setra. Apparently, the same German C-level executive who gets chauffeured to work in a shiny new Mercedes S-Class wouldn't be caught tot getting ferried to the company picnic in a Mercedes Tourismo. But a Setra TopClass 500HDH? That, apparently, is perfectly acceptable. And if this sounds weird, remember that we're talking about a country that eats raw pork sandwiches and washes them down with lukewarm fruit-flavored beer.

And that leads me, at long last, to the Mercedes Metris: A rare chance to see what Mercedes cars might be like if they competed with Chevrolet and Honda instead of BMW and Lexus.

The answer, for those of you who have read this far and are ready to bail, is: A lot like Volkswagen.

2020 Mercedes Metris: An Interior More Ordinary

First, let me set the scene: The Metris' dashboard is an ocean of low-rent plastic, which I think we can credit to its industrial-grade mission rather than any parsimony on Mercedes' part. Still, I think it's pretty obvious that the Europeans are quite down with the American-Asian idea that even blue-collar types need a little joy in their lives. Step in time, lads, step in time! (For those of you under the age of 50, that's a Mary Poppins movie reference, from the dance of the chimney sweeps. I'm not sure if it makes sense in this context, but let's pretend it does.)

The gauges are actually the most Volkswagen-y bit: Analog, sensible, easy to read, and no-nonsense. Actually, they're ringed in chrome—part of an option package—so there's a little nonsense. There's a monochrome screen between them, just like Mother VW used to use.

The stereo is probably the most Mercedes-like thing on the dashboard, if only because it's so infuriatingly complex. This is a rather remarkable accomplishment in and of itself, because it's a very simple stereo, one that doesn't even have satellite radio. There is no way it should be even remotely difficult to use—and yet it is, thanks largely to a touch-screen interface that has no touch screen and instead must be controlled by push-buttons surrounding the right-hand dial—you know, the one that would be used to change the station on a radio that wasn't designed by sadists. (Mercedes plans to replace this infernal stereo with a proper touch-screen unit for 2021.)

Okay, so what have we learned so far? (Besides the fact that I have an aversion to hard work, including thinking through this review before sitting down to write it.) It's that if Mercedes built low-end cars, they'd have simple, unadorned interiors with annoying stereos.

Why the 2020 Mercedes Metris Is Fantastic to Drive

But they'd also be brilliant, brilliant, brilliant to drive. The rear-wheel-drive Metris is powered by the more-or-less same 208-hp 2.0 liter turbo four that powers the A-Class cars, but you may as well think of it as a black box, one that produces all the power you could want and then some, and does so quietly and without fuss.

Handling? It's extraordinarily pleasant. I mean, it's a van—still a bit bouncy and, with no sound insulation aft of the rear seats, rather loud. But the steering feels light and direct and very accurate, and when I cranked the Metris up to supra-legal speeds it felt as stable as any big Mercedes Q-ship. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by this; back home in Europe, passenger versions of the Metris, known there as the V-Class, are frequently used for 100-mph Autobahn dashes to the airport.

So, yes, it's unfailingly agreeable in a commercial-grade sort of way.

But there's also plenty of commercial-grade touches that really helped me get my geek on. The turning radius feels ridiculously tight. The floor offers several sturdy D-rings for tying down cargo. Payload is well over a ton (2,425 pounds for the short-wheelbase version and 2,370 pounds for the long-wheelbase van I drove, and that includes the occupants, by the way).

But here's the geekiest bit: The gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 11,614 lb is nearly double the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). That means I could, in theory, load my Metris with 2,000-or-so lbs of cargo and still be able to safely use all of its 5,000-lb towing capacity. Many SUVs and pickups can haul or tow, but not both—not without exceeding the GCWR, that is. Man, them Germans think of everything!

2020 Mercedes Metris is Still Spendy

The Metris Cargo van stands alone in its market as a somewhat bigger, less-car-like small-van solution than Chrysler's Ram Promaster City and the Ford Transit Connect, and not completely awful to drive like the Nissan NV200. And if hauling cargo isn't your thing, you can get the Metris as a passenger van or a new pop-top camper version. But they ain't cheap: Basic cargo vans start just shy of $30,000, nearly as much as a stripped-down Ram Promaster (that's the little version of the big van), and my little van (which was technically a 2019 model, but identical to the 2020) was closer to $40,000.

I can't say I'd buy a Metris, because I avoid heavy lifting whenever possible. But a low-cost Mercedes car? Now that's an idea I find intriguing. And one that won't hurt my back.

2020 Mercedes-Benz Metris Cargo Highlights

  • Available in long- and short-wheelbase versions
  • Powered by a 208 hp turbo four
  • Also available in passenger and pop-top camper versions

2020 Mercedes-Benz Metris Cargo Pros

  • Surprisingly good to drive for a commercial-grade van
  • Mercedes badge lets you look down on plebian Ford van drivers

2020 Mercedes-Benz Metris Cargo Cons

  • Infuriating stereo
  • Spartan without options
  • Some of the handier bits (like 270-degree opening rear doors) are optional
MY2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris Cargo Van
2020 Mercedes-Benz Metris Cargo LWB Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICE $32,395 (base)
ENGINE 2.0L turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4/208 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 258 lb-ft @ 1,250-4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 7-speed automatic
LAYOUT 3-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD cargo van
EPA MILEAGE 19/23 mpg (city/highway)
L x W x H 211.4 x 75.9 x 75.2 in
WHEELBASE 135 in
WEIGHT 4,178 lb
0-60 MPH 8.6 sec