Was it a crude or oversized work van you wanted? Then look elsewhere, because those things the Mercedes-Benz Metris cargo version demonstrably is not. And "Metris" — now that's an odd word. What else is like that, what's that sound like?
Remember that wildly popular video game where you have to fit together falling blocks and other shapes to form perfect rows across the screen?
Got it? Good, because that's a fitting association to make for the 2016 Metris cargo or passenger van, on which everything feels well-made and opens, closes or operates with a solid "thunk" or click right into place. MB has also showcased the Metris' ability to slip easily in and out of typical 7-ft. garage door openings in neighborhoods near you, making the van an attractive choice for startups, small operations and businesses without commercial facilities or with tight maneuverability needs.
The manufacturer says Metris, the company's first midsize commercial van, targets a sort of Goldilocks and the Three Bears niche. "Gone are the days of settling for vehicles that are too small for your cargo or too bulky for your garage. Metris is sized just right," MB states in a brochure; the van competes for fleet buyers with the likes of the Ford Transit Connect, RAM ProMaster City and Nissan NV200.
Tech to get used to
Aside from the brochure, though, be prepared to whip out the Metris owner's manual as you familiarize yourself with the various features, some of them a bit quirky. We found ourselves hunting around initially even to locate the hood release, which is tucked up under the bottom of the dash panel.
The shifter is one of the things likely to stand out and may feel odd at first. Stuck right where you tend to find wiper controls on many vehicles, it's like a new millennium, digital version of a column-shift automatic you'd find in some station wagon or SUV with faux wood sides. Strangeness aside, I adapted to using it quickly: you just tip it up to get into drive and down for reverse, or if you nudge it you can make your way in between those to neutral. And from any of those three positions — doesn't matter which — a button on the end of the shifter kicks it into park.
It's a simple control system for the van's 7G-TRONIC seven-speed automatic, which is mated to a turbocharged 2.0L 4-cyl. gasoline engine producing 208 hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque, the latter available as soon as only 1,250 rpm. For those familiar with the automaker's passenger car lineup, that powertrain should ring a bell: it mirrors Benz's CLA250 sporty, entry-lux four-door.
The van acts that way, too, and composes itself rather unlike a cargo van. The engine and chassis shined brightest, I found, when throttling the Metris up through some steeply hilly residential roads where it felt quick and precise, springing up winding ways like a mountain goat. Far more so, I thought, than a typical cargo van, you'll find Metris steerable like a cue ball on a pool table, with agility enough to thread through any mess of city potholes.
The van offers real hauling potential as well, with up to 2,502 lbs. of payload and a 4,960-lb. towing capacity. The engine features start-stop fuel efficiency boosting technology, too, which I found seems to hold off — as I feel like it should — until the engine has reached operating temperature to start doing its thing at stoplights. Eventually, holding the brake pedal down stops the van and the engine, too, which then rocks back to life as soon as you lift off; the delay is minimal but to me felt a little awkward, like if you almost tripped walking along and started back to a normal gait. MB says to expect 20 mpg city/23 mpg highway and about 22 mpg overall for the 2016 cargo van Metris.
More refined refinements
There's a lot more technology packed in this van, and it may take some learning. For instance, you might notice a coffee mug icon in the instrument panel readout. What on earth is that? Why it's a basic fatigue-monitoring system that flashes to suggest when the driver might need a break, of course. Our test Metris had an optional navigation system and rear-view camera complete with onscreen overlays to indicate your trajectory when in reverse; both of those proved accurate and useful.
Also on our test vehicle were a lane departure warning system that vibrates the steering wheel if you're drifting (we tested it in different ways, and it works as advertised, though subtly); load-adaptive stability/slip assistance; vehicle-in-blind-spot warnings in the side mirrors (an arrow lights up); and get-braking-soon warnings for approaching hazards. Our sample Metris boasted some sophisticated climate controls for a cargo van, including toasty heated seats and synched or separate driver/passenger automatic temperature zones.
Some passengers felt the factory partition in our test van separating off the cargo area deflated comfort up front somewhat due to limited ability to recline the seats and access the rear. For those less-than-impressed with the partition, the consolation was there were two separate lumbar supports you could pump up in the seat backs as well as sliding doors on both sides of the cargo area that each open to allow 37.8" of access to the 186 cu. ft. of rear space. Metal cargo-lashing rails on the side walls and floor in back added plenty of tie-down/attaching options.
With a good helping of top-shelf and advanced features for this segment, our test van felt right at home in tuxedo black (officially, MB calls this one's finish "Obsidian Black Metallic"). The Metris really could pass as a sleek minivan meant for the passenger car world, especially from the outside and wearing that insignia up front.
On that note, to be fair, I came into this one with at least slightly elevated expectations of a company that claims to strive for "the best or nothing" — and no, I wasn't disappointed. There's a good deal of art and deliberateness in this van's design, details and execution. "It may stow and tow like a large commercial vehicle, but it doesn't have to feel like one," MB aptly states of Metris. "You might just forget you're driving a commercial van."
Fair enough, but to be honest, I'm not sure you'd ever just think "commercial van" when you're behind the wheel of this Metris. With a starting MSRP just under $29,000, Metris comes in somewhat pricier than competitors, but businesses and fleets may find themselves swayed by this classy and capable cargo hauler.