Meet the new Metris, which Mercedes-Benz assures us is not a minivan.
Engine: 2.0 L turbocharged four-cylinder engine, 208 hp
Trans: 7-speed automatic
Base price: Cargo begins at $29,945 after destination charges, Passenger starts at $32,495
They’d like you to classify it as a small van, or perhaps even a mid-size van, seeing as how it is slightly larger in dimensions and capacity than small vans like the Nissan NV200, Ford Transit Connect and Ram Promaster City. In fact, the Metris is nearly the same size as the soon-to-be-discontinued Ram C/V Tradesman, which is the cargo version of the Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler’s ubiquitous miniva… oh, darn, there’s that word again. Sorry, Mercedes. So what separates the Metris from a mi— er, from one of those vehicles?
The Metris, like the bigger Sprinter, is designed to be a commercial vehicle. Like the Sprinter, the Metris will be sold in cargo and passenger versions, but while Sprinter sales are roughly 85% cargo and 15% passenger, Mercedes expects an even split for the Metris. The cargo version of the Metris is basically a box on wheels, while passenger versions will be available with seven or eight seats arranged in a 2-2-3 or 2-3-3 layout.
It’s Not a Minivan
“Hmm,” you might be thinking, “that sounds an awful lot like a—” Shhhh! Don’t say it!
We thought the whole not-a-minivan thing was a little silly when the folks at Mercedes were telling us about it, but after getting a chance to crawl around inside the Metris, we began to see what they were talking about. The passenger Metris is designed for livery duty (think: glorified taxi) rather than suburban family duty.
Forget about those fancy disappearing third-row seats you’ll find in other manufacturer’s you-know-whats. The Metris’ rear seats are sturdily bolted to the floor, and with no fancy flip-and-fold mechanisms to get in the way, they are proper seats: Big, supportive, and a comfortable distance off the floor.
It’s a Serious Van
Seven-seat Metrises (Metrii?) have a second-row two-place bench offset to the left, which allows easy access to the third row. Cargo space on the passenger vans is 38 cubic cubic feet with a low load floor, and buyers can choose between a top-hinged tailgate or side-hinged barn doors.
Cargo vans, meanwhile, offer 186 cubic feet of cargo space and a 2,500 lb. payload capacity. Both versions can tow 4,650 lbs., and with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 11,684 lbs, they can tow even with a full tank of fuel and over a ton of passengers or cargo on board.
Surprisingly Nice Interior
In light of the Metris’ commercial role, the interior is not as luxurious as Mercedes’ passenger cars, but nor is it as Spartan as the Sprinter. The dash lacks the wood or brushed-aluminum trim you’d find in an E-class, but the materials of which it is made are significantly nicer than the Sprinter’s featureless plastic.
Infotainment is provided by a commercial-grade stereo with an optional navigation system (which, come to think of it, is a nice alternative to the complicated dial-operated system Mercedes uses in its cars and SUVs).
The delivery driver who has to pilot the Metris may not feel like she won the lottery, but clearly Mercedes recognizes that this is her office and she will be spending day after day here. It’s comfortable, pleasant and ergonomically sound, as any workspace ought to be.
We were allowed a brief drive in the pre-production Metris, and we liked what we experienced. The Metris is based on a European-market van called the Vito (a name Mercedes avoided for the North American market due to its Godfather-like overtones; bear in mind that up until recently, MBUSA was based in New Jersey).
While Euro-market Vitos get diesel power—the same 2.1-liter turbodiesel as used in the Sprinter and the E-Class, as a matter of fact—the Metris runs on gasoline. Its 208 horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is the same as the one found in the CLA and GLA, but the seven-speed automatic is a conventional torque-converter unit rather than a twin-clutch.
Back in the Old Country, the Metris is available in front-, rear-, or all-wheel-drive configurations; it arrives Stateside with rear-wheel-drive, a key differentiator from other mi—, er, from other seven-or-eight-seat mid-size one-box-design vehicles known by a popular moniker we are trying our best not to use.
Mercedes claims the tightest turning radius in its class, though its 38.7′ turning circle is actually wider than the Nissan NV200 and short-wheelbase Ford Transit Connect. (This leads us to wonder how they define the class—surely they aren’t talking about, you know, those vehicles?)
With three people on board, our pre-production Metris tester had plenty of pep, all the more notable as our test drive took place at an altitude of 9,500 feet. (We were in Telluride, Colorado; we only mention that lest you think Mercedes somehow suspended us in midair.) That’s where a turbocharged engine comes in handy: Turbo engines don’t lose power at altitude, unlike the naturally-aspirated V6s found in other boxy vehicles of a type that must not be named. Our brief drive only included a couple of turns, but we found the ride firm and comfortable with some well-controlled body lean in the curves.
We’d like to say the Metris drives like a minivan, but since the Metris is not a minivan, we won’t.
Safety and Pricing
One thing that sets the Metris apart from other commercial vans is the availability of safety equipment. Besides a host of airbags (including three-row side curtain airbags for passenger versions), the Metris offers the load-adaptive electronic stability control system found in the Sprinter, which can calculate the loaded van’s weight and center of gravity and adjust its operating parameters accordingly. Options include a lane-departure warning and correction system, a blind-spot warning system, and a rear-view camera, along with a self-parking system that can steer the Metris out of tight spots as well as helping it to squeeze into them.
One distinctly Mercedes-like attribute of the Metris is the price. Cargo vans start at $29,945 (including a $995 destination fee); compare that to $23,495 for the Ram C/V Tradesman and $24,325 for the long-wheelbase Ford Transit Connect XL. Passenger variants are priced at $33,495, and the modest list of options can increase that to over $40,000. That puts the passenger Metris in roughly the same ballpark as you-know-whats like the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna.
That said, Mercedes claims that one of the advantages to a Metris is low TCO (Total Cost of Ownership), and there’s more to TCO than price. Mercedes touts its commercial-grade dealerships, which offer service bays, technicians and advisors dedicated to commercial van customers—something Metris customers should be able to avoid thanks to the Metris’ 15,000 mile service intervals. And Mercedes does have a rather good reputation for building rugged and reliable vehicles. That’s important, since a commercial vehicle can’t make money for its owners when it’s sitting in the shop.
The Verdict: 2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris Review
All in all, we think the new Metris has a bright future The cargo van offers a great deal of flexibility and capacity, and the passenger version is clearly designed for commercial passenger hauling without the usual family-oriented frivolities. This is a commercial van in miniature—sort of a mini-van. Except it isn’t.