Commercial Break – 2001 Mercedes-Benz Vaneo

If the W168 A-Class was a poorly executed answer to a question few had posed (and nobody at all had asked Mercedes), how do we even begin to assess the Vaneo?

Mercedes-Benz Vaneo. Image: cars-data

Lets get two things out the way here. First: The Vaneo not only was frightful, it was an inferior product that did Mercedes more reputational harm than any additional revenue or scale it garnered. Second: It clearly began life as a commercial vehicle. Let’s imagine for a moment the product planning meeting that took place when the Vaneo was greenlighted. The desperation in the room, the pinched faces. Did they have any sense of this being a Rubicon? Either way, the decision to reposition the model was clearly a vain hope of clawing back some of the huge losses the A-Class programme was incurring.

Created on a long-wheelbase version of the W168 platform and embodying the same sandwich floorpan construction, the Vaneo was mechanically identical, offering a similar range of engines – a 1.6 petrol or 1.7 litre diesel, with a 125 bhp 1.9 litre petrol unit as the top line power unit. The longer wheelbase not only improved accommodation, it provided the additional benefit of making the vehicle slightly more stable and less prone to falling over in the presence of wildlife.

Those towering tail lamps. Image: the-blueprints.com

Not that many were fooled, but any pretence that this was a passenger car model programme falls away when the Vaneo’s styling is subjected to the most cursory scrutiny, because despite the fact it was clearly subject to the stylist’s magic marker, the lack of flourish, recognisable character or any form of visual receipt for the outlay betrays the vehicle’s commercial origins more eloquently than its clumsy sounding name. Fun fact: The Vaneo could lay claim to the World’s tallest tail lamps… in 2001 anyway.

Delayed until then due to quality issues, Mercedes-Benz dressed the Vaneo up as a pseudo-MPV, and jacked up the price to compete with more sophisticated vehicles such as Opel’s Zafira or the sector-defining Renault Scenic. Cars such as these were not exactly fault-free, (nor indeed was the Merc), but they were immeasurably better developed, more finely honed and spectacularly better value than the Swabian interloper. UK’s What Car slammed the Vaneo’s ride, driving position, questioned its value for money, and summed up that it was overpriced for what it was. Parkers too highlighted the “hard, almost permanently uncomfortable ride” and the lack of lower back support from the front seats. They also criticised the excessive engine noise and ‘lowgrade’ plastic trim inside the cabin.

Less ‘fun’ than an A-Class, but just as shonkily wrought. Image: suggest-keywords

The Vaneo’s production life was mercifully short – especially by Mercedes standards, taken out and shot in 2005. It was replaced, at least in more upmarket form, by the W245 B-Class line. All of which suggests that the model was merely a stopgap, a pointless if expedient entry to grab a piece of the market until such time as better, more specific vehicles could be readied.

Now it’s all very well being reasonable, but the Vaneo was a shockingly cynical product, most especially considering the three pointed star on the nose. If the W168 represented a watershed, this vehicle provided wholehearted evidence there was no way back from Jürgen Hubbert’s cultural revolution. Combining all the A-Class’ drawbacks such as poor material quality, low-rent interiors, a punishing ride and an odd driving position, but with even less visual appeal, (and a higher asking price), a virtually cast-iron case can be made for the Vaneo as Mercedes’ nadir. Renault’s Kangoo offered a vastly superior product at a third of the price. Madness.

Image: Starmoz

Ironic too, you must agree. Because mixing business with leisure was not a recipe for success or credibility and it’s one Daimler have downplayed since. But not abandoned entirely it would seem, if the current Renault Kangoo-based Citan model is anything to by. We’re well and truly through the looking glass now

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. [Dis]content Provider.

16 thoughts on “Commercial Break – 2001 Mercedes-Benz Vaneo”

  1. I had a schoolmate who possessed all the sense of taste and style of a snail carrying a half-chomped Big Red chewing gum. For some reason, I always considered the Vaneo the perfect car for him.

    1. With the W168 series suitably plucked and roasted, I’m off for a weekend cleansing retreat titled, “Purity of Essence – a Journey Towards the Within”. Guest speaker is a German Doctor by the name of Zee-something or other. Anyway, I expect it will be most illuminating…

    2. Richard, some cars are rare for a reason, no one wanted them when they were new and they are no more desirable when they get old. The Vaneo is a great example of that.

  2. These always reminded me of something you’d expect to see the Pontiff being driven around in. It does have one thing going for it – the headlight and grille arrangement is more attractive than the A-Class.

    1. I agree with that. Ford’s Tourneo did a much better job of the private small vanoid. The Kangoo Mk1 and Mk2 also excelled.
      Presumably there was no AMG version.

    2. Of course there is no AMG version! This is firmly in BRABUS territory.

      A BRABUS Vaneo would be a sight to behold… if they didn’t make any then surely someone, somewhere could create one as a homage project?

      By the by, I’ve long held an admiration for Mercedes for being able to sell both high-end luxury cars and commercial vehicles with the same badge. No one else can pull this off.

  3. To my surprise, it seems that there never was a van version. I’d expected that the Vaneo was like the Škoda Roomster, with its commercial Praktik twin not sold in the UK.

    Another vehicle which inspires the same thought is the BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer, which looks like a passenger version of a van which isn’t made.

    1. I like to think the Irish are a little savvier than that Richard. You’d have to really, really love the three-pointed star to give yourself a bazzer on a device such as this – in either form. Even as a commercial, there would have been better, not to mention better-value alternatives than this.

    2. I am not saying many of them were sold in the ROI – rather that just as the other marques offered vanned versions of hatchical cars, maybe MB Irl. Ltd tried to ship a few of these. The current A-class could be vanned. I must check…

    3. “combines a love of detail with a stylistically confident Zeitgeist” writes MB (Irl.) Ltd of the A-class interior. That is bullshitty bullshit. Have the copywriters any intelligence or shame? Objects don’t have a Zeitgeist and Zeitgeister don’t exist anyway.

  4. Mercedes planned to build 50000 Vaneos every year, and they built 55000 in 5 years. And i am sure, without the Mercedes badge this car would have been completely unsaleable.
    But as a used car bargain, the Vaneo was relatively successful. Some of them were used as team tranporters, because there was nearly no cheaper car with 7 seats. And some were used for carrying boxes of potatoes and cucumbers to the weekly local market – and stowing the fine leather seats at the cowhouse so their cats have a nice Mercedes seat to sleep there.

    1. That is a very revealing statistic. It was truly a big, hard flop. And yet, you impy the 55,000 might actually hang about a really long time as farm hacks. I didn´t think MB did this kind of sales disaster. How the star has fallen.

  5. Looking at that cockpit it looks like it belongs in a Toyota minivan, not a Benz. Whoever signed off on this thing should be ashamed of themselves and be reassigned to working on (not so) Smart cars.

    1. They didn’t get that one right, did they. At this point in time, I remember no MB review was complete without reference to boringng or conservative interiors. Benz took this to heart and the result was this kind of jokey design.

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