ANN ARBOR, Michigan — The 2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris is the latest small European van to invade America. It slots below the Sprinter, which has been sold under many different badges (including Dodge and Freightliner) here since 1995. It’s larger and more spacious than rivals like the Ford Transit Connect, Nissan NV200, and Ram Promaster City, but it’s still compact enough to navigate city streets and, importantly, to fit into parking structures or garages. How fitting, then, that we’re test-driving the car on the bustling streets of a midwestern college town.
We start off in a Metris cargo van, which has only two seats and no side windows. Aft of the driver and passenger is a divider to keep cargo out of the cockpit, behind which owners can strap, bolt, and otherwise secure up to 2,502 pounds of gear into the cavernous cargo area. The Metris is a lot smaller than full-size vans like the Ford Transit, Nissan NV2500/3500, and Mercedes’ own Sprinter, but its 186.0 cubic feet of cargo space is still more than many of the smaller cargo vans on sale today.
It takes some time to acclimate to driving a panel van, as it’s tricky to judge whether the next lane over is clear when you don’t have windows in the rear of the vehicle, so we’re glad for the blind-spot warning system. At least parking is a cinch, as cargo van versions of the Metris have special pods on the dashboard that light up in sync with the rear parking sensors. Mercedes usually fits parking-sensor lights to the roof of its vans, but a cargo divider — or a van filled with stuff — would block the driver’s view. These small indicator pods are a clever workaround.
The 2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris is also the only cargo van in the country with a self-parking feature, and it’s just as straightforward as systems in other Mercedes-Benz products. We pull up next to a row of cars, select reverse when the car indicates it has found an appropriately sized parallel-parking spot, and simply modulate the brake pedal as the car’s steering wheel spins right and left to slot itself into the space.
Out in the real world
When you’re done driving in and out of parking spaces, the 2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris gives the impression that it’s closer to a car than a van. A 2.0-liter turbo-four engine, mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission, makes for respectable acceleration without too much engine roar and settles down quietly when cruising. With a good amount of weight to its steering and tightly controlled body motions, we have more fun than expected driving the cargo van down winding roads. The Metris’ stable and competent driving dynamics give the driver confidence and recall the way a small sedan or hatchback might drive, rather than the slightly more ungainly mannerisms of a full-size van.
The cabin is typical Mercedes-Benz quality, rather than the hard and cheap plastics of some rival small vans. The three-spoke multifunction steering wheel comes straight from the C-Class sedan, the seats are comfortable if not especially well-padded, and Mercedes’ dual-binnacle instrument cluster is easy to read at a glance. Available technologies include a backup camera, blind-spot warning, engine stop-start, touchscreen navigation, Bluetooth, automatic climate-control, power-sliding side doors, and a special “Load Adaptive” stability control that constantly measures the van’s weight distribution to react appropriately in case of a skid.
Bring your friends
We swap into a passenger version of the Metris that’s fitted with seven seats (up to eight can be configured). The rear two rows of seats provide generous head- and legroom for passengers, and there’s still a decent 38.0 cubic feet of cargo room behind the third row for their suitcases or other belongings. Visibility for the driver is significantly improved compared to the cargo van, because there are large windows in the sliding side doors.
About half of the pre-orders for the 2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris – it’s already sold out for the first few months of sales — were for the passenger versions. The company expects most are destined for fleets and shuttle services, but notes that the Metris would make a nice minivan alternative for families, too. “We will not send any soccer moms away, but it’s definitely not our target,” says Metris product manager Jan ten Haaf.
Just the right size
The 2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris allows the German automaker to capture a greater portion of the growing van segment by appealing to buyers who might find its Sprinter too large. “It’s really as simple as the right size,” says Mathias Geisen, Mercedes-Benz Vans USA marketing manager. In Europe, Mercedes also offers a much smaller van called the Citan. The company currently has no plans to bring it here: “That might be something for later on, but right now we wanted to start with the Metris,” Geisen says.
For now, the Metris is an impressive entrant in the segment. It fills the niche between compact and full-size vans, and appeals to both hardworking businesses that need the durability and capacity of a cargo van, and livery services that want an upscale eight-passenger van. Even though it’s aimed at a different crowd than most vehicles with a three-pointed star badge, the Metris still looks, feels, and drives like a Mercedes-Benz. That’s a good way for the company to expand its brand without diluting the essence of what makes shoppers flock to Mercedes dealers. And just think how impressed you’ll be if your next contractor shows up in a spiffy new 2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris rather than a ratty old Ford Econoline.