Whale Watching: Defending the 2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris
We encourage disagreement. It makes meetings more fun. One Truck Trend staffer’s phone even has a brief note reading “kill Whale,” in no small part because of my occasional what-were-you-thinking glances. So went my “huh?” expression when my July/Aug. ’16 issue arrived, and I read Emissions Check (page 14). Poor Mr. Marks expressed an interest in vans, minivans, and acknowledgement of Mercedes-Benz. Consider it acknowledged, Mr. Marks. Colleagues and I have debated what makes a “truck” for decades with widely disparate results. Variably alone or in combination, it required a frame, a separate bed and cab, payload of half or towing its own weight, a full-floating rear end, solid axles at both ends, more torque than horsepower, etc. With all due respect to Class 6 and up trucks and their drivers, the only thing generally agreed on was the vehicle had to get your job done. Reliably, quickly, and economically were bonuses.
I’ve driven every van offered here except the base-engine Transit, including both Metris versions, and submit Metris qualifies as a truck just as a Transit or ProMaster (City or XL) does. I find these box structures up for more abuse than any average crossover spawned from a minivan.
The only ways Metris may be similar to a minivan are all positives for me: It turns quite tightly, the forward view is superb and it fits in a minivan-size garage. For working, Cargo Metris will carry 2,500 pounds in more than 180 cubic feet (40 more than a Ram CV Tradesman) and tow 5,000; the heavier passenger version seats seven or eight with a max payload of 1,874 pounds. A Suburban 2500 was the only eight-seater that fit in my garage (barely) and handled notably more weight.
Unlike minivans and some Transits, the rear seats in Metris are identically sized. They’re here to carry people, not prop you into Blu-Ray viewing position, and they disappear only when dragged or hoisted out a door. Most finishes are easy-to-clean semi-industrial, though the leatherette upholstery’s not bad for synthetic stuff, and the optional steering wheel is from a CLA. The load floor, less than 22 inches off the ground, is flat from rear doors to front seats, the tie-downs recessed and the rear doors can be opened under any cover. The passenger version’s carpet and insulation mean 4x8 sheets won’t sit flat on the floor, but I only needed 4x4-foot sheets anyway.
So Metris does the work, and it offers many of Mercedes’ safety systems but won’t do autonomous deliveries yet, yet none of those are what I like most about it: How it drives.
Metris is unique in the U.S. van market with independently suspended rear-wheel drive—don’t tell me the pairing is unreliable because we always broke H1 frontends, not rears. By van standards the chassis dynamics are excellent, even amusing by family sedan standards. There isn’t enough power to bring it around in the dry but it feels well balanced and predictable, without intrusive stability control.
A 2.0L gasoline turbo four with auto start/stop gives up 208 hp and 258 lb-ft early. With short gearing and a seven-speed automatic it’s brisk off the line though passing at speed or towing up hills require forethought. At 22 mpg with minor variances, it matched EPA ratings.
It’s not cheap either. Passenger starts at $32,500 and choices are numerous including rear hatch or barn doors. Heavily optioned (hitch, electric sliding doors, climate control—which powers up to vent the van while doors are open even with ignition off, collision mitigation braking, etc.), it’ll run to the same range as a top-trim Odyssey, Sienna, and so on.
Metris isn’t as luxurious as those, but it’s a lot more fun to drive and a better worker.