Review: Mercedes-Benz Valente

By: Gary Worrall , Photography by: Gary Worrall


Gary Worrall takes the Mercedes-Benz Valente mini bus for a maxi drive

 

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.

Manually operated doors are offered as standard, but operators can request powered units for an additional cost, although there is no provision for a powered tailgate.

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.

While there is no shortage of glass, only the front windows wind down, the sliding doors have fixed glass while the rear windows can be pushed open slightly to allow for airflow.

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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.

From a driver’s perspective, Mercedes-Benz has got the dash layout right, all dials and gauges are easily read, the steering wheel offers plenty of height and reach adjustment, the only hiccup was adjusting to the floor mounted park brake, which is released with a pull switch on the dash.

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 multi-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/Bluetooth stereo system, with an optional satellite navigation and telephone connection that is also video capable, Benz offers an optional roof-mounted screen for the passengers.

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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.

Like most European vehicles, peak power figures are only part of the story, the real advantage is the driveability, with virtually every drop of power usable.

This also boosts fuel economy, as the engine is not burning fuel trying to make more power. Instead it is all used to push the Valente along, with average fuel consumption of under 9 litres per 100km in mix of highway and urban driving.

Although the steering wheel is large it is comfortable, with a fast steering ratio so that only small amounts of lock are required to change direction, making parking in crowded hotel forecourts effortless.

Vision is generally good, with an unobstructed view forwards, although the thick A-pillars do require the driver to exercise care at T-intersections and pedestrian crossings, while rear vision is taken care of by the pair of large, power-adjusted, external door mirrors which eliminate blind spots.

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. The Valente gets the full suite of ABS, BAS, and stability and traction control technologies, making it a stable and sure-footed ride in a variety of road conditions.

Mercedes-Benz had previously put on an exhibition of the safety systems on a closed circuit, allowing journalists to try out a variety of high-speed manoeuvres, which proved the efficiency of the systems, including the famous slalom test where the van is swerved through a succession of witches’ hats at speed, where it passed with flying colours.

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Clash of the titans

 The Valente is one of the few genuine eight-seat vans capable of also holding a full load of luggage, giving Mercedes-Benz an entrée into the lucrative hotel transfer market.

While the Valente’s dynamics and fuel economy are clear class leaders, it does suffer in comparison to the opposition in terms of internal fit-out, particularly with no leather trim option.

The decision will come down to a choice between the additional  safety and driving dynamics or passenger luxuries, and which one is rated higher by the individual purchaser.

 

SPECS:

Make/Model: Mercedes-Benz Valente

Configuration: 8-seat mini-bus

Engine: 2.2-litre four cylinder turbocharged diesel with two stage intercooling and common rail fuel injection

Outputs: 360Nm@1,600-2,400rpm/120kW@3,800rpm

Transmission: 5-speed automatic

Brakes: All-wheel disc brakes, with ABS and BAS (brake assist)

Features: Adaptive ESP, PARKTRONIC parking assistance, ASR anti-skid control, THERMOTRONIC multi-zone air-conditioning, cloth trim on all seats,  twin sliding doors (with optional power operation)

 

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