When we think minivans, we usually think about the traditional market leaders — Chrysler/Dodge, Honda, Toyota, Kia and Nissan. They all come with three rows of seats and are optimized to transport typically six or seven tall people in great comfort, with ease of ingress/egress, and ample space for luggage and other items. I love them all.
Then there are “work vans” — a market historically dominated by the Ford (F), General Motors (GM) and RAM (FCA) rear-wheel drive behemoths launched mostly in the 1960s and minimally updated only until the last decade or so. Recently, those have started to give way to fresher offerings, especially from Ford and RAM. Nissan also has an offering in this segment.
You also have a new group of smaller “work vans”, supplied by Ford, RAM and Nissan. GM also OEMs the Nissan small van. However, these are notably smaller than the “car-based” minivans from Honda, Toyota, Kia et.al., and therefore not really comparable in terms of passenger comfort.
This is where Mercedes-Benz comes in. It has entered the U.S. market with a new van, which is essentially the same size as the traditional passenger minivans such as Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna and Chrysler Pacifica. It is available both as an “empty shell” (without windows, for contractors and the like) and as a passenger van, with seating for up to eight.
There are some differences compared to the traditional passenger minivans. Let’s start with the engine. It’s got a four cylinder two liter gasoline only, unlike the 3-or-so-liter V6 engines from the competitors. Driving the Metris unloaded, I had zero issues with the power delivery. The engine is extremely pleasant, butter-smooth, revs up like a sewing machine, and helped by the superb 7-speed automatic transmission.
A couple of words about that transmission: First, the steering column stalk is the same as most other current Mercedes and Tesla (TSLA), and it’s my favorite in the industry. Second, when you engage “Drive” and pull away from a stop, perhaps originating on an incline, it is butter-smooth and does not “cog” back as you lift the brake pedal. It’s simply superb.
In the back, the seats don’t fold down, and they are not easy to remove. It can be done, of course, but it’s not the kind of “fold into the floor” operation as with some of the other “car-based” minivans.
That said, the seats themselves are wonderful — and equally so in all rows. Thanks to the van’s sides being more “straight-vertical” than the other passenger vans, there is ample shoulder and head space. The seat belts are integrated into the seats themselves, making it very “clean” and elegant.
The rear of the van can be outfitted either with a liftgate, or dual swing-out doors. Regular car-based minivans don’t give you that option, as they are liftgate-only.
The driving dynamics are excellent — handling, steering, etc. The turning radius is very favorable, and surprisingly so. You can hustle it, and it actually feels pretty good.
Be aware that the base prices on the Mercedes Metris versions, that run under $30,000 in some cases, include just about nothing. The standard equipment places you somewhere in 1970s territory. Everything is extra.
Well, almost. The outstanding seats are standard. The steering wheel has paddle-shifters for some reason. And that shifter stalk is the same one you find in a Mercedes S550. But beyond that, it’s black plastics and no electronics. In order to equip this van to something reasonable, expect to add approximately $15,000 to somewhere closer to $42,000-$45,000.
One of the greatest feelings of driving the Mercedes Metris is how sturdy it feels, and how you can feel confident that it will hold up against scrapes and bumps. One of the best examples of this is how the front and rear bumpers are not painted, but rather show their gray plastic nature. Why paint something that is likely to get scraped sooner or later anyway?
That point goes to a key selling argument for the Mercedes Metris, over its competitors. The size is “just right” — i.e., similar to Chrysler Pacifica and its peer members — and the feeling of driving it is just how rugged it seems, suitable for long-term survival under heavy use. Small wonder the Mercedes Metris is used as an airport shuttle in many parts of the world.
The Metris interior is all-business, all-black, sort of like a Volkswagen Golf or Tiguan. You either appreciate that or you don’t. I do.
In the absence of a Volkswagen van, the Mercedes Metris is the way to go for those of us who want to be different, and who want to feel like we’re moonlighting as a cable TV installer or carpenter. Spending a few days driving it was one of the most pleasant experiences in all my years of reviewing cars. If you’re in the market for any kind of (mini)van, you really owe it to yourself to take a serious test drive in the Mercedes Metris. Two thumbs up.
Learn more about the Mercedes Metris in this original TFLtruck video.
At the time of submitting this article for publication, the author was long GM and F, and short TSLA. However, positions can change at any time. The author regularly attends press conferences, new vehicle launches and equivalent, hosted by most major automakers.