Boldly carrying eight tall folks like no minivan has done before
Gene Roddenberry’s basic vision of the future of travel is similar to our own—his fictitious crew used the big Enterprise ship for boldly going meaningful distances, then they hopped in the Galileo shuttlecraft when it was time to lug a recon crew and their gear the last mile down to a strange new world. Likewise, I recently employed a Delta 737 to carry me down to within a distant orbit of the state of Florida, then loaded six (and occasionally eight) adult family members up in a Mercedes-Benz Metris for a 1,600-mile (2,575-km) recon mission along the state’s Gulf Coast. Sure, technically we’d have fit in a Honda Odyssey minivan or a Chevy Traverse SUV. But the week before, seven adults on the other side of the family spent the week making short trips in an Odyssey, and it proved trickier to climb in and out of for the older generation. I feared that logging 1,600 miles (2,575 km) at vastly less than warp speeds with an older cadre of adults in a minivan would be a surefire spoiler for our family vacation.
The Metris provides much easier walk-in access to spacious chair-high seats—each with its own seat-mounted belt so there’s no tangle of webbing to negotiate when entering and leaving. The single, right-side seat that tilts for admittance to the third row is easier to figure out than the multiple latches for various folding modes on most minivans. The big windows afford panoramic visibility, and the space behind the rearmost seat is dimensioned to allow stacking standard roll-aboard suitcases like cord wood. You couldn’t do this in an Odyssey, despite the spec sheets that give Honda a slight advantage in cargo space behind the third row (38.4 cubic feet to 38.0). See “Packaging Comparison” below for the nitty-gritties. The downside, of course, is that none of the Metris’ seats can be easily removed or folded for carrying drywall and the like. There’s a cargo version of the Metris for that.
This is a Mercedes commercial vehicle not a traditional Mercedes-Benz, so there’s a strictly business feel to this interior: MB-Tex leatherette upholstery promises carefree cleaning up, hard plastic covers most surfaces (including anywhere the driver might want to rest an outboard elbow), there’s no pretense of wood or aluminum trim, sound deadening is minimal, and the user-interface is old school. Pairing my Bluetooth iPhone was so unintuitive that I had to—gasp—consult the manual. I also had to punch in a passcode on both devices. The Becker Map Pilot nav system (bundled with cruise control, a rear camera, auto start/stop, and other niceties for $1,750 USD) is controlled via a small twist-and-push knob flanked by up/down/left/right arrows that quickly became second nature to use. But can everyone PLEASE agree that it makes more sense to zoom down in with a righty tighty twisting motion and back out with a lefty loosey motion? Several Euro systems get that backward.
The aforementioned auto start/stop system is aggressive about shutting down, but the long-mounted 2.0-liter turbo four never rocked the van when doing its thing, so there was no temptation to disable it. And that little 208-hp/258-lb-ft engine does a fine job of wafting smoothly up to speed, leveraging seven gear ratios (which average about 15 percent shorter and 4 percent closer than the 2017 Honda six-speed’s). Sure, more power would always be nice, but when the shuttlecraft is loaded, none of the recon crew wants their necks snapped, and when alone in the van I managed to provoke wheel-spin. It also feels as solid as any Benz super-legal subwarp speeds. During a brief opportunity to hoon the empty van, I found the brakes to be strong and confident and the cornering to be remarkably flat for such a tall vehicle. Surprisingly, the Metris and Odyssey earn an identical 22-mpg (10.7 L/100km) EPA combined rating (for the 2018 Odyssey, nine- and ten-speed automatics will improve the Honda’s rankings), though city and highway numbers look quite different: 20/23 for the Metris and 19/27 for the Odyssey. Mercedes recommends premium fuel, but running regular won’t harm the engine (just the performance and fuel economy). My observed trip average in the Metris was 22 mpg (10.7 L/100km).
Several features stood out over my week with the Metris as being uniquely suited to shuttle-bus duty: The nav system warns about upcoming turns way earlier than civilian ones do, recognizing that it might take longer to maneuver a big vehicle into an opening in traffic. That task, by the way, is made trickier by fitment of the first flat passenger-side rear-view mirror I’ve seen in decades (objects in mirror are exactly as close as they appear). It also lights the low-fuel lamp way earlier than usual as it wouldn’t do to ask customers to help push. When you approach and unlock the van, the blower fan comes on—the sooner this big box cools down the better. Strangely, the remote-access key can only motor the right-side slider open; it won’t close that door or work the left-side one at all. The optional rear hatch ($465 USD) is not power operated, but it is vastly preferable to the standard side-hinged cargo doors.
Pricing starts at $31,980 USD for a white, no-frills Worker passenger Metris; $33,895 USD buys the mainstream base Metris seven-seater, and $380 USD adds the eighth chair. The 2017 Odyssey starts at $30,790 USD; $33,940 USD for an eight-seat EX. Tick every factory option on each, and you come to $48,540 USD for the Mercedes and $46,265 USD for the Honda (though this includes a rear video package not available at Mercedes). It came as no surprise that the Metris is well suited to airport shuttle duty—what was more surprising was how comfortable and capable it proved in long-haul running with all the seatbelts clicked. Had my return voyage via Delta been cancelled, this shuttlecraft could have completed the journey quite comfortably.
|2017 Mercedes-Benz Metris|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 7-8-pass, 4-door van|
|ENGINE||2.0L/208-hp/258-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,250 (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||202.4 x 75.9 x 75.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||9.5-10.0 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||20/23/22 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||169/147 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.91 lb/mile|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Currently|
Packaging Comparison—Metris versus Odyssey
Everything and everybody sits more upright in the Metris, as it stands a notable 6.8 inches taller than the 2017 Odyssey. The Mercedes is easier to park by a half-inch in length and 3.3 inches in width, and its turning circle is even 3.6-inches tighter despite a wheelbase that stretches 7.9 inches longer (rear-drive means the front wheels can turn sharper).
As expected, the headroom is considerably greater in the Mercedes’ second and third rows, but legroom is listed at a remarkably consistent 35.8 inches in each row—5.1-6.6 inches less than in the Honda. That’s because the seat cushions are so high that the 95th-percentile dummy’s lower leg and ankle point almost straight down—trust us, anyone with legs longer than 95th-percentile guy will be way happier stretching them out under the high seats ahead in the Metris. The overall cargo volume gives a better representation of the Metris’ spaciousness—186.0 versus 148.5 cubic feet.