Review: Mercedes-Benz Valente Mini Bus

With passion for anything on four wheels, former ABC technical editor Gary Worrall took the Mercedes-Benz Valente mini bus for a maxi drive, and come back with mixed emotions.

For a luxury vehicle manufacturer to see a dedicated premium market segment dominated by another brand would be tough, and then there is the question of how to respond.

This is the situation Mercedes-Benz found itself in when Korean manufacturer Kia grabbed a big chunk of the hotel transfer segment with its long-wheelbase Grand Carnival, capable of carrying seven passengers and their luggage to and from airports.

The top-spec Kia offers full leather trim, multi-zone air-conditioning, as well as plenty of passenger head and shoulder room, and all at a price that left the Europeans struggling to compete.

Recognising this, Mercedes-Benz returned to the drawing board and created the Valente, an eight-seater based on the popular Vito van, offering similar load carrying abilities as the Kia.

See me, feel me

The Valente is a big vehicle, not just statistically but also visually, with the front end standing over 1.9m high, however this is offset by the sloping bonnet and windscreen which makes it less intimidating than the raw data suggests.

Despite this the familiar three-pointed star grille badge remains big enough to use as a frisbee, leaving other drivers in no doubt what they are sharing the road with.

The design is axle-forward, which creates plenty of leg room as the first two rows of seats are mounted further forward to make the most of the design, while the driver is still placed behind the axle line for crash safety.

The good news is the tall body offers plenty of ground clearance, which also makes loading and unloading easier as the rear cargo area does not require much bending to lift heavy suitcases out of the van.

The doors open wide for ease of access, the second row seats flip to allow passengers to step through, while the third row can also be flipped to allow greater luggage storage if there are only a couple of passengers.

Climb every mountain

In keeping with the super-sized body, the Valente is big on the inside as well, offering plenty of head and shoulder room for every passenger, even those drawing the middle seats, however first time entrants are likely to comment on the big step up, and a smart operator would keep a small step handy, especially for older guests.

The driving position is high, no surprise given the climb into the cab, with an excellent field of view, although the thickly padded A-pillars do restrict the forward angles, however the big door mirrors offer a good view down the flanks, and also help when reversing and parking.

The gearshift is dash-mounted to maximise cabin space, creating a walkway to the second row of seats by eliminating the need for a floor-mounted centre console.

Seating is generally comfortable, although the high-mounted, free-standing front seats need more bolstering to secure the driver and passenger on twisty roads, while the rear seats were reported as too upright by the back seat drivers, while the lack of a leather option dents the luxury claim.

The Valente comes standard with front and rear Parktronic sensors, which give a visual indication of how close the bumpers are to an obstacle via an LED display. The front sensors are shown on the dash while the rears are clearly visible above the tailgate — even with passengers — in the rear-view mirror.

Backing them up is a tailgate-mounted rear-view camera with a graduated scale to help measure distance to impact.

Other niceties include twin dial-a temperature climate control systems, for the front and rear, which kept the interior in the low 20s against an ambient temperature in the 30s, as well as a multispeaker AM/FM/CD/mp3/Bluetooth stereo system, with an optional satellite navigation and telephone connection that is also video capable.

Start Me Up

The Valente uses the tried and true 2.2-litre four cylinder engine fitted to the donor Vito van, running through a 5-speed automatic transmission, with 120kW and 360Nm to keep the rear wheels turning.

Despite this, initial acceleration is delayed by the torque converter, however a decent push on the go pedal generally solves the problem, leaving few complaints about in-gear acceleration.

Braking is excellent. The all-wheel discs provide plenty of stopping power, even with a full load of more than 2.5 tonnes on board the braking distances remained short, allowing the driver to retain control in an emergency.

The test car did suffer from tyre noise, especially over 60km/h, as the 225/55R17 Continental Vanco tyres settled into a steady thrum, one of the few giveaways of the Valente’s commercial roots. As expected from anything wearing the M-B star, safety is a high priority.

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