From the outside this Vito looks the same as the previous model, but it does not feel the same! It’s on the inside where the real differences can be seen, or rather, felt. The Vito has always been a popular vehicle for both passengers and drivers with disabilities but now it is even better. Mercedes Benz has combined the comfort and style of their passenger vehicles with the robustness and reliability of their commercial vehicles.

Their revolutionary new Blue EFFICIENCY and Eco Drive reduce fuel consumption and emissions by up to15% whilst enhancing performance. All of the engines have increased output over previous models. The fully reconfigured chassis is tailored to transporting goods or passengers, according to the model variant, and makes it feel more like driving a car. Some people transported in wheelchairs in the previous Vito said that the ride as was a bit hard and so noisy that anyone sitting at the back was unable to chat with people up front. Well, it appears that Mercedes Benz listened to their customers. When I rode at the back of the vehicle, it was smooth and quiet and I had no difficulty speaking with the driver as there was minimal road noise.

The vehicle dimensions have changed very little from the previous model. The internal height (floor to ceiling) varies between 1.32m at the driver and 1.35m in the middle and rear of the van (with the floor covering). This is 5cms higher than the previous model - making it the same height as the VW Kombi / Caravelle and Nissan Primastar - but still 5cms lower than the VW Transporter.

The new Vito range still includes the Panel Van, Crewcab, and Crewbus, each available with a variety of options according to client needs and specifications. The Panel Van and Crewcab are available with a high roof option which adds 427mm to the height of the vehicle. There is also the option of hinged rear doors (which open outwards to each side) or a tailgate (opens upwards). Hinged doors are preferred when using a platform lift to access the vehicle in a wheelchair.

The Crewcab has one row of seats and windows in the middle of the vehicle with wall panelling behind. There is room for up to six people with plenty of space in the load compartment to transport equipment and wheelchairs. It comes with two variations, the Crewcab COMFORT and the Crewcab SPORT with the choice of the 116CDI (120kW / 360Nm) or 122CDI V6 (165kW/440Nm). The main differences between the COMFORT and the SPORT are the finishings.

The Crewbus has two rows of windows and seats and is available in three variants, depending on the comfort required. They range from the entry level Crewbus FUNCTION 113CDI (100kW/310Nm) to the high-end Crewbus SHUTTLE 116CDI (120kW/ 360Nm) or 122CDI (165kW / 440Nm).

The Panel Van is designed as a utility vehicle and has no side windows or seats in the load compartment. It is available in as 113CDI (100kW/310Nm) or 116 CDI (120kW/360Nm). All models have the option of an electronic passenger compartment sliding door. This is particularly helpful for people who do not have full hand function but it makes the side door opening too narrow for most standard wheelchair lifts. The park brake is applied via a foot pedal requiring an additional conversion if you use hand controls. The drive by wire control systems can make some of the hi-tech conversions difficult, but most standard hand controls can be fitted with relative ease.

The Vito and Viano are difficult to distinguish as they are virtually the same shape. The Viano has ultra-luxury finishing all-round and superior comfort. The Vito is not lacking in comfort but, for those who like a plush ride, the Viano is hard to beat. The Viano comes standard with most of the optional luxury features of the Vito range, including the automatic sliding doors and the quick release seat rail system. The models provide variations on the seating layout ranging from car, to conference room, to a double bed! Despite this clever design feature the seats are heavy, and it takes a fair amount of strength to rearrange them.

The size, versatility and comfort of the Vito and Viano make them a great choice for people who want to be transported in comfort. The Vito is popular amongst people transported in their wheelchairs due to the height. Because of the height of the vehicle from the ground ramps are not really recommended, although it is the most affordable option. To get a safe gradient requires Avery long ramp, anything shorter is dangerously steep and puts the wheelchair user at risk.

The new models are remarkably easy to drive and the gear-shift on the dashboard provides a wider space for drive from the wheelchair enthusiasts. Mercedes Benz aimed for perfection, providing safety features, seating options, smooth and quiet gear changes and an optional Linguatronic voice operated control system for cell phones and GPS - the list just goes on. I’m sure it will take their design teams some time before they can improve on these comfortable and versatile vehicles.

Mercedes Benz are well known for their support of the disability sector. This was again seen in their donation of two Vito Crewbuses to our National Wheelchair basketball team. Though not the latest model the Vitos are still WBSA’s first rate for transporting our basketball heroes around the country. The two Vito provide the prefect space for transporting the whole team, plus support staff, to tournaments.

WBSA wanted a balance between vehicle size (determining the number of people that could be transported) and the height of the vehicle. Most vans are too high for people to transfer into and out of from a wheelchair. The Vito does away with the need for a lift as the seats are accessible to the athletes. Remember, these passengers are athletes so it works for them, but most non-athletes would need some assistance when transferring. Sliding doors on each side make it quick to get the teams into and out of the vehicles.

WBSA find the Vito very comfortable, with plenty of leg room at the back. The comfy seats with built-in armrests are great for anyone who lacks balance. Optional quick release seating rails fitted to the floor offer varied seating positions. WBSA can fit four day chairs or two sports chairs behind the back seats and the seats remove quite easily when transporting equipment.