► Merc’s smallest van-based MPV
► Diesel first, electric later
► On sale later in 2022
In a world dominated by SUVs there is still room, and demand, for a good old-fashioned people carrier. There might not be enough demand for manufacturers to make bespoke ones, but there is seemingly enough interest that every small van seems to come with a seated version these days.
The Mercedes-Benz T-Class is the latest of an increasingly long line of these, joining rivals from the likes of the Citroen Berlingo, Peugeot Rifter, Vauxhall Combo Life et al. The T-Class is based on the Citan van. The Citan was itself developed alongside, and in partnership with, the Renault Kangoo, which will also have a passenger version in time.
The first versions of the T-Class are perhaps the least exciting in some senses, as they will come with five seats and a conventional diesel engine. As time passes a longer, seven-seater version is set to follow, as is an electric version. Unlike the Citroen/Peugeot/Vauxhall models, which are electric only, the T-Class will also come with a diesel model in the UK. Unlike the Volkswagen Caddy, it won’t get a petrol though.
Although all the European marketing is centred around pitching the T-Class as a lifestyle-buyer’s dream (think cheesy posed shots with surfboards and mountain bikes that have never seen a scrap of mud) the UK reality is set to be a bit more down to earth. Over here, expect it to be more popular with the likes of small businesses that need lots of kit but don’t want a van. Merc suggests photographers and the like, but expect it to do a fair few sales to those that want a wheelchair accessible version.
So it’s a Renault with a star-shaped badge?
Mercedes knows that one of the first questions many will ask is “Why should I buy one of these over the Renault?” so it has worked hard, it says, to give you plenty of obvious reasons beyond “It’s got a little star badge on the bonnet.”
Although the fundamental silhouette is much the same as the Renault Kangoo’s, there are plenty of things to set the two vehicles apart. Mercedes has spoken a lot about the importance of drivers getting that ‘Mercedes feel’ from the T-Class. One major thing behind this is the suspension. The T-Class gets its very own tuning, which is different to that of the Kangoo and the Citan.
The changes are visual, too - the interior has been fairly comprehensively revamped, with plenty of the things that you touch and use on a regular basis getting the Merc treatment. This includes the MBUX infotainment system, the steering wheel and the materials on the dashboard and elsewhere. Sure, the fundamental layout is still quite upright and less driver-centric than you get in a modern SUV, but this means that there is a little more in the way of space around you and more general storage.
Tell me about all that space
You get an overhead shelf where you can tuck maps (or other more modern flat items) a handy low-down compartment with wireless charging for your phone, decent sized door pockets and a large, lidded bin in between the two front seats.
The back doesn’t get that many clever tricks, but there is a huge amount of headroom and a decent amount of legspace and shoulder room. Mercedes claims that there is space for three child seats but it’s a bit sneaky on this as one of the Isofix equipped seats is the front passenger one. The rear middle seat is wide enough to take a booster seat or an adult. How much space you have is dependent to a degree on how big the child seat is – there will be less room if you have two big rotating units, but we managed to get in between a seatbelt-secured infant seat and a toddler seat. The floor is pretty much flat and the middle seat is only marginally firmer than the two on the outside so will be perfectly comfortable for a longer trip.
The boot is big and basic, with a non-existent loading lip and a wide and even opening bay. The seats don’t do much that is particularly clever, with a simple 60/40 folding arrangement, but who needs clever when you have that much space to play with? There’s 5.2m3 (520 litres) up to the luggage cover with the seats in place and a van load’s – approximately 2300 litres – with them dropped.
One irritation with the boot is the opening handle – it doesn’t have much of one and the edge of the surround that it does have has a bit of a sharp edge.
The two rear side sliding doors are light and easily opened and will be invaluable for anyone needing to wrangle a small child in and out of their seat in a tight car parking spot.
So it’s as practical as a van, does it drive like one?
Yes, fundamentally, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing given where the T-Class’s strengths lie and its target audience. It means, for example, that you get a decent, upright seating position with huge windows that bring loads of light into the cabin and allow plenty of visibility out.
The suspension is one factor that has been revised for the T-Class versus its van cousin and it has been optimised for carrying people rather than things. The result is a ride that errs on the side of comfort. This does mean it leans a bit if you carry too much speed into a corner, but it stops short of wallowing.
The steering, is a slightly numb affair, thanks to the electronic setup that’s fitted to enable various safety systems. Crosswind assist, active lane keeping assist and active steering assist are the three that will tug at the wheel at various times, and sit alongside blind spot assist, attention assist and speed limit assist. Seven airbags as standard is a good thing, as is the one that pops up in between the two front seats in the case of a crash. This is designed to prevent the two front occupants bashing into one another.
We’re only getting a diesel model in the UK, most likely this most powerful model, which comes with a 114bhp 1.5-litre engine. It’s not rapid, with 0-62mph taking well over 11 seconds, but it is relaxed and comparatively quiet. There is a fair amount of wind noise, though, particularly around the door mirrors.
Gearbox wise there will be a choice of six-speed manual and seven-speed auto. We’ve only tried the latter so far, which is smooth and requires minimum of interaction. There isn’t much you can do to interact with it, though, as there are no paddles mounted behind the steering wheel and any forced changes require you to use the main gear lever.
When and where can I buy one?
There won’t be a vast amount of choice when it comes to the T-Class – Mercedes is taking a simple approach in the UK and just going for a single high-spec model. Although precise details are yet to be confirmed, expect this to include man-made leather upholstery, gloss back matt silver details on the doors and dash, ambient lighting, LED headlights and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Pricing is also yet to be confirmed, but expect it to start just above £30,000, which is not dissimilar to the equivalent Volkswagen Caddy. It will go on sale around the same time as the Citan van, in Q3 of 2022. The electric version will not arrive until 2023 and the long-wheelbase seven-seat version will then follow ‘later’.
Mercedes-Benz T-Class: verdict
The relative lack of diesel or petrol rivals and the paucity of MPVs might mean that some buyers will find themselves drawn towards the T-Class. It’s this or the VW Caddy.
Don’t expect it to come cheap, but the various changes made to it do at least mean that you won’t feel as though you are paying top whack for a van with seats and windows. Mercedes has breathed enough premium quality on it to feel as though it is worth the investment.