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Gerhard Honer, Vaneo chief designer
July 9, 2001 - The car world is changing quickly and so is Mercedes-Benz, if one is to judge by its new Midi MPV, the new Vaneo. The name clearly suggests its character: it is a van, well a minivan, and it is new (neo, Greek for new). Well almost entirely new.
Actually Vaneo is the much anticipated 'minivan' development of the A-Class and its design had been finalised well on time. If Mercedes-Benz is launching Vaneo on the international market (early next year), four years after the plan was approved, it is because it needed time to completely refurbish the Ludwigsfelde plant the company used to own before WW II, and that was repossessed when the Berlin wall came down.
Quite a selection of alternative versions were on display at the recent press preview but the range is so diversified and comprehensive that showing all possibilities would have been quite confusing.
Those presented were enough to provide a very good idea of the possibilities offered by the Vaneo to all sorts of users and situations. Overall we have liked what we have seen and are confident sales will be very strong, if the prices announced to start under or at Euro 20,000 remain reasonable. Mercedes-Benz want the Vaneo to be the first Mercedes-Benz in many families in contrast to the A-Class mission, as the second or third car in families who already have a Mercedes.
A special project.
Although Vaneo is a technical development of the A-Class, you cannot simply call it a derivative. It is true, the engineers have used a range of components from the A-Class (some 40% of Vaneo) such as the engines, transmissions and suspension as well as the sandwich floor construction.
The overall dimensions and the body architecture fully witness the influence of these two new factors. The size of the new Vaneo has been established after listening to the potential buyers. The 4,192 mm long Vaneo sits on a very long wheelbase of 2.9 meters and on rather wide tracks (1,524 mm front and 1,477 mm rear) making for a completely different package than the A-Class. Vaneo is as much as 1830 mm high and 1742 mm wide.
Inside its width and height reach 1280 and 1240 mm respectively and the cargo bay can stretch from 1810 to 3000 mm, according to the needs and provided the front passenger seat is the one (available as an option) that can be completely removed. In this case one can carry inside the Vaneo even a set of windsurf gear of some 3 metres. The architecture of Vaneo is almost as flexible as its interior layout. Within the one-box body one can choose to have one of two sliding doors on the side and in the back the huge hatchback can be replaced by a double-wing opening with asymmetrical wings (2/3 and 1/3) that swing open up to 170 degrees.
Functional yet emotional Exterior Design
Gerhard Honer, 52 years old, 25 of which have been spent with Mercedes-Benz is de-facto the Van specialist within the design team led by Peter Pfeiffer. He designed the V-Class and has been in charge of the Vaneo design. There are not many questions one needs to ask him. Just looking at the Vaneo with the A-Class in mind it does not take long to understand which where the design guidelines: extremely functional package aiming at making the most extensive and flexible use of space, all sort of major conveniences for the users with the touch of Mercedes-Benz styling. In other words a box treated for a night out.
That there was not much more the designers could do that take good care of its pretty face the sporty wheel arches and some detailing to make the Vaneo attractive, is suggested by the fact that they have been allowed to spend the money required for the huge, 925 mm tall, tail lights. Trouble is that the designers also had to look more carefully than usual to cost efficiency because Vaneo was to be assigned a new, very difficult, mission in the booming MPV market where selling price is critical. This shows in a number of details, such as the horizontal door handles, particularly inside.
Roomy interior, ready for better equipment.
There is no doubt that there is plenty of room inside this Compact MPV by Mercedes-Benz and eventually one may discover than by spending a significant amount of money it can be very well furbished and equipped. Yet, the standard models show a degree of equipment and finish that is more in line with the standards of a large volume manufacturer such as Renault than those of the Mercedes-Benz fame.
Entering the Vaneo is easy and convenient, visibility in all directions is excellent and the high driving position should make driving the Vaneo a relaxed exercise. The interior design is typically Mercedes new-age, a development of the A-Class, with the facia, instrument cluster, air vents and control being just fine but nothing more. The overall atmosphere is fine, with the two-tone colour scheme: the upper part is in light shades, while darker shades dominate the lower.
Basically the Vaneo is fitted to seat five adults, in the front and second rows; much like the Renault Scenic. However, is ready to convert into a six or seven-seater by adding child seats especially designed for the third row and for children of 12 to 36 kilograms. The anchor points for the child seats can also accommodate the pull-out cargo bay floor an innovative feature that makes loading even easier and can support up to 120 kilograms.
The second-row bench seat can be divided in a 60 to 40 ratio, collapsed or folded up behind the front seats. That is enough for an interior bicycle rack for one or two bicycles with their front wheels removed.
With so much space to be 'furnished' I would have expected a number of bins, box, storage and more 'small conveniences' but did not find them. Apparently, all attention has gone to the very comfortable seats, easy to fold and remove to create usable space as required by circumstances. However, the Vaneo can be fitted with the optional Parktronic parking assistant, cruise control and a comprehensive selection of communications systems, ranging from an onboard hi-fi with CD player to a cell phone complete with hands-free system and even a navigation unit featuring the intuitive operating system COMAND.
For the time being Mercedes-Benz is introducing its mainstream Vaneo range consisting of three alternative versions, the Trend, the Family and the Ambiance. They will be offered with difference prices and different sort of standard equipment making the customer choice a bit simpler.
We devised these packages on the basis of surveys of people who drive MPVs and estates, explains Heinz Uliczka, Vaneo Sales and Marketing project manager. We staged a number of workshops early on to find out what the different kinds of users of this type of vehicle actually want from a modern mini MPV. What you see is the innovative end-product of a pioneering process that incorporated customer requirements.
Top of the range is the Vaneo Trend, coming with two sliding doors, electric windows at front, and central locking plus a range of safety details such as front and side airbags for occupants in the front of the vehicle, the electronic stability program ESP including BAS and ABS headrests and three-point safety belts for all five seats.
The Vaneo Family put the accent on practical details such as integrated childrens seats in the second seating row, especially durable fabrics for the upholstery, special storage lockers under every seat, tables that fold down from behind the front seats, and unobtrusive interior lighting so that parents can keep an eye on the kids when theyre asleep at night.
Third in the line is the Vaneo Ambiente aims at people with a taste for that something special. The steering wheel and gearshift are both covered with fine leather, the central console with walnut and air conditioning is standard just as alloy wheels are.
Each of them can be fitted with one of the five four cylinder engines of the A-Class range matched, on their turn, with manual, semi-automatic (clutchless) or automatic transmission. There are three petrol engines: two are 1.6 litre credited of 60 or 75 kW (82 and 102 HP) and one 1.9 litre unit delivering 92 kW or 125 HP. There are also two 1.7 litre diesel engine one good for 55 kW, the second one deliver more power (67 kW) resulting in top speed of 160 and 180 kmh respectively. The Petrol engine can speed the car to top speeds of 157, 169 and 181 kmh.