There are automotive snobs who feel that luxury manufacturer Mercedes-Benz has no business selling something as utilitarian and lacking in glamour as a mini school bus. On the other hand, with all the major manufacturers having taken a market share in the van-type MPV sector, an argument could be made that Mercedes has taken the brief by virtue of pressing market forces and run with it, bestowing their usual polish on a standard idea. Either way, the result is a practical people-carrier with a superior attitude to cheaper rivals.
2004's antidote to the weak-selling V Class, the Viano, came with three engine options – 2.2 litre CDi diesels at 88bhp or 150bhp and a 218bhp V6 petrol unit. There were two lengths available, 4,748mm and 5,223mm and a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic gearbox.
Later that year saw the 218bhp 3.2-litre V6 unit upgraded to a better 231bhp 3.5 litre V6. 2010 brought a facelift, with aesthetic refreshments and updated technology.
Along the way there have been a couple of special edition Vianos, the super-comfortable X-CLUSIVE and flashily styled and sporty Avantgarde 125.
Bang for your buck
The Viano improves on the V Class by, among other things, substantially improving the number of comfort and convenience features. While V Class critics may have been disappointed upon viewing the still van-like shape of its replacement, the Viano is at least a more elegant example than most of its market rivals. That Vito-based, van-like shape is also supremely practical and MPVs were, after all, designed to provide function foremost. That's not to say the Viano is ugly – the boxy edges are softened by conservative curves and a smart interior – but it is an obvious workhorse in a stable of thoroughbreds.
Carrying between six and eight passengers in comfort, the used Mercedes Viano for sale offers the excellent seating versatility that has become standard in this class of vehicle, with multiple positioning facilities or total removal, but improves on the competition by not skimping on luggage room. Where other MPVs give you the choice of people or luggage, the Tardis-like Viano manages both.
Trim levels are dubbed Trend and Ambiente and standard kit includes ABS (anti-lock brakes), ASR (traction control), ESP (electronic stability control), EBV (electronic brakeforce distribution), BAS (brake assist) and three-point seatbelts all round. The Viano is as generously equipped as you would expect from a high-end manufacturer, despite its commercial origins.
For super-plush accommodation, get your hands on one of the special editions.
What you'll pay
Consistent with their high-end badge, Vianos are not cheap, either new or used. However they are a quality choice. The earliest models are now going for about £7,000, with post-facelift 2010 models still carrying a £20,000 pricetag.
What to check
The approved used Viano may be a Mercedes, but that means nothing to most infant passengers, who treat luxury or bargain vehicles with the same disdain. Use as a family runabout often results in scruffy trim and clumsy use of those flexible seating configurations can result in scratches and bruises to the interior. Similarly, due to its size the Viano is subject to the usual MPV parking scrapes and minor accident damage.
However, no such problems should be apparent under the bonnet, so go for a full service history and the tidiest model you can find for a sound buy.
That van-like exterior results in correspondingly commercial parts prices. A set of brake pads is around the £40-45 mark, a radiator about £260, a replacement headlight £90 and a clutch kit about £180. It's lower than you'd expect for a Mercedes badged vehicle.
How it drives
While power was not an issue with the old V Class, handling sometimes was, the steering, suspension and brakes sometimes struggling to keep up with the engine. The Viano's superior rear-wheel drive and chunky brakes, combined with all those dynamic handling features, mean it drives more like a car than the van it resembles. If you find an Avantgarde 125 special edition, you'll get sports car levels of performance.
While the Mercedes Benz Viano's sheer size may make it difficult to manoeuvre for the inexperienced, it still offers class-leading performance on the tarmac. As a whole, the Viano makes a good case for its compromises between practicality, performance and aesthetics for those happy to pay more for that reassuring, three-spoke badge.