Mercedes-Benz’s Sprinter vans are ubiquitous in Europe, and the luxury cargo carriers have become a more visible presence on American streets as well, where they have robust competition from U.S. manufacturers.

Now the German company is hoping to create a new, mid-sized van niche – and dominate it.

Mercedes introduced the Metris passenger and cargo vans early this year. Smaller than the popular Ford Transit or Ram ProMaster, but roomier than the Ford Transit Connect or Ram ProMaster City, the Metris vehicles are lightweight, and drive more like sedans.

They are also the least expensive Mercedes vehicles for sale in the U.S. The starting MSRP for the cargo van is $29,945, and for the passenger van it’s $33,495.

Aimed at the commercial user – the passenger vans for hotels or rental car agencies running shuttles; the cargo vans for plumbers, electricians or cable installers – the Metris machines are easy to drive and easy to park. With fuel economy at a claimed 22 miles per gallon combined city and highway, they are also relatively inexpensive to operate.

Despite their carrying capacity and cargo bays, the vans are nimble and maneuverable, and they drive smaller than they look. The front seats ride high over the short hood, where the visibility is generous. The suspension is a little stiff, without a full load, but the steering feels crisp and precise.

The vans are powered by Mercedes’ two-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engines, which produce 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, through a seven-speed automatic transmission.

All that torque creates convincing pep, and feels like it’s coming from a bigger engine. The Metris is quiet and feels competent around town and on the freeway, accelerating easily in and out of traffic.

The cargo van has a huge open cargo space – in excess of 4-by-4-by-8 feet. You could stack a whole cord of wood in there, or move a set of bunk beds with the kids still in them.

The cargo units can also be isolated from the driver compartment with an optional wall, and fitted with refrigeration units, useful for companies transporting food, fruit or other things that must be kept chilled.

The side doors on both the cargo and passenger vans slide open to create very easy access from both sides, and are available as power doors as an option.

The passenger vans are spacious people movers, seating almost a whole baseball team in the three rows behind the driver. The seats are comfortable, though not adjustable, and unlike some more modular vehicles, they don’t fold down or tuck away.

They also don’t leave a lot of room for luggage. You could scoop up a big crew from the airport, though you might struggle to find room for their bags.

Thanks to the carpeting and seat upholstery, not present in the cargo version, the passenger van rides even more quietly.

I can easily imagine buying one and becoming a sort of an uber Uber or Lyft driver, only picking up large groups of people – with small suitcases.

The Metris has an advertised curb weight of about 4,500 pounds for the vans, with a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds and a maximum payload of 2,500 pounds.

Mercedes claims the Metris is shorter and has a lower roofline than the Chevy Express, but has a greater payload. At only 13 inches longer, Mercedes says, the Metris has 50 percent more payload and 45 percent more power than the Transit Connect.

The payload pales in comparison with something like the ProMaster, which is about the same overall size but can carry about 2,000 more pounds _ when powered by the standard 3.6-liter engine. The ProMaster offers considerably more storage capacity, too.

But Mercedes’ general manager for van marketing, Mathias Geisen, said the company isn’t going after that heavyweight, heavy-duty customer anyway, for whom things such as ease of parking and fuel economy might not be so crucial.


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