Mercedes-Benz is hoping that the third time will be the charm for them as they launch the new V-Class in India. With Toyota already dominating the premium MPV space and Kia set to make a grand entry, will this ultra-luxurious German minivan be able to successfully make a statement?
The new V-Class from Mercedes-Benz is here in India. This isn’t the first time that the German luxury car brand has launched an MPV (or minivan) here in India. It’s actually the third time. In 1999, they launched the MB minivans, and then again in 2011, they came up with the R-Class. And in spite of being very good products, both of them were a total flop in terms of sales and were quickly wiped off the Indian market. It turned out that India just wasn’t ready for expensive luxury boxes on wheels at that time.
Toyota, on the other hand, made a killing with the Innova, as it was a more practical and affordable option with a premium look and feel. Today, though, the MPV segment in India has grown in leaps and bounds, as you may have noticed from our February 2019 issue’s cover story. There are good products available at different price points. Korean car maker Kia is also all set to bring in the Carnival, which is even more premium than the Innova.
Coming back to the V-Class, I must say that it’s priced absurdly high. We just spent an entire day with this minivan to see whether this fancy luxury van justifies its price.
Some people might like the long and straight-forward design of the V-Class. To me, however, it simply looks like a large rectangular box. There is no doubt that this car is humongous – it’s well over five metres in length and weighs over three tonnes. Also, there is no hiding from the fact that it looks like a full-size van on Indian roads. The design doesn’t really look appealing, but the car stands out because it’s big and has the three-pointed star on it – something that people may find intriguing. The only attractive section of the vehicle is the front, which gets a nice shiny big grill and a nicely designed front bumper. It's a typical Mercedes illustration that’s found on all their vehicles. The overall attractiveness of a car is always subjective, and to me at least, the Innova and the Carnival look much better. The fact of the matter is that the V-Class is a van, and even Shakespeare would find it difficult to romanticise the design and aesthetic appearance of a van.
The design of the V-Class is obviously very practical – the cabin looks like a small conference room. The V-Class comes in two variants – a six-seater and a seven-seater version, which is a little longer. We got our hands on a six-seater variant, which had the four rear seats facing each other. Of course, you can change the direction of the two middle row seats, but it does require some effort. All the seats are on rails, which means that you can slide them back and forth, or even fold them to make additional boot space. In the middle of the cabin, and between the seats, there is a centrepiece that can also be slid up and down the cabin. Two small tables fold out of it and can be used as a makeshift desk. The seats are all comfortable no doubt, and there is lots of leg room, head room, shoulder room and room for a whole lot of other stuff. The rear doors are massive sliding doors that open with just the press of a button. The boot also has a pretty good amount of space, and there is a platform in the middle that can be raised or used to store luggage below it or on top of it. If you don’t want to open the boot door you can simply open the boot window, and you will have immediate access to any luggage you have placed above this platform. You can also access the secret compartment inside the platform that holds two foldable plastic crates that can carry anything from groceries to office accessories.
For rear passengers, there’re rear AC vents and four lovely speakers. The front seats are also very comfortable and spacious, but let’s be honest, no one who buys this car is ever going to sit in any of the front seats. The front dash setup is fancy and, again, in typical Mercedes-Benz fashion, there is a central infotainment system and round AC vents in chrome finish blended into wooden panels. There is also steering mounted controls and, wait for it, paddle shifters!
Big and powerful
To power this three-tonne van, the V-Class has a pretty average-sized 2,143cc, four-cylinder turbo diesel. It generates 163 horses and 380Nm of torque. The figures are respectable, no doubt, and it does get the car going but not right away. From a standstill, the car is slow and there’s certainly a lot of turbo lag. But once you get going, it picks up speed pretty well, although you can still feel the weight of the car. The engine is refined – an obvious trait of all Mercedes-Benz engines – and it doesn’t feel stressed, but it’s loud. Again, we are talking about a minivan, so you can’t really expect hair raising performance. I will mention, though, that both the Innova and the Carnival offer similar-sized turbo-diesel engines that offer more power and better performance. The V-Class also gets a 7-speed automatic transmission. The gear shifts again are nice and smooth – courtesy the German engineering – but they are lazy, and it takes a while to downshift or upshift. You do, however, have those sweet paddle shifters, which are more effective, especially when overtaking. This vehicle is really heavy, and the engine is pretty admirable, considering the weight of this giant metal box.
Once again, Mercedes-Benz’s brilliant engineering comes into play in terms of handling, ride quality and suspension of this vehicle, which really impressed me. Considering its massive dimensions and weight, the steering is very direct. It’s of course on the lighter side of direct race-like steering, but it’s nice. The V-Class borrows its electro-mechanical steering from the C-Class. Along with the intuitive steering, the suspension also plays a major role in offering a pliant and plush ride. It really absorbs everything nicely and keeps the rear-seat passengers calm and comfortable on all road surfaces. The V-Class gets adaptive dampers, so it’s soft when it needs to be, like on the highway, where it feels more like a yacht cruising over small waves. If the V-Class is for ferrying people around, then it certainly does so in a very relaxed and comfortable fashion.
Who will buy it?
I have no idea who will buy this vehicle, especially when you have the Innova and the Carnival setting pretty high benchmarks in the segment. The only thing the V-Class has going for it is the adjustable seating position and conference room setup design. Oh, and it has that famous three-pointed star. Other than that, it doesn’t dominate the segment in terms of ride quality, space or comfort. The Innova costs 25 lakh for the top variant and is also very comfortable, practical and, probably, the most reliable and capable. When it comes to luxury and premium feel, the Carnival is up there too, and it’s got the most powerful engine. The Carnival will set you back by 35 lakh. The V-Class, on the hand, has a rather outrageous price tag of Rs 85 lakh. So, who is going to buy this vehicle? Probably, business executives who want to have secret meetings in a van to plan their strategy for global domination!