When Mercedes sent an invitation to the wheels office for the launch of its new V-Class MPV, there was never much doubt as to who was going to be covering the event. “Tim, aren’t you about to drive halfway round the world in a Mercedes van? And aren’t you always complaining that your four-door saloon doesn’t have enough storage space? Good, we’ve got a job for you”. I was the logical choice I suppose.

The V-Class replaces Mercedes’ Viano family carrier, a popular vehicle in Europe, but one that was rarely seen on the roads of the UAE since it was previously only offered here with a diesel engine. With the introduction of the new model to the Gulf, Mercedes has wisely opted to launch it also with a 211bhp, 350Nm four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, opening up a potential new market of family owners. Paired with a seven-speed automatic gearbox, it’s a combination perfectly capable of hauling the V-Class along the Al Ain road at speeds of up to 140kph with power to spare, yet which sips fuel at a miserly rate. Take a look at the economy rating sticker attached to all new cars in the UAE and you’ll see that this eight-seat family transporter is judged to be Excellent, the highest rating possible. When compared to some of the larger SUVs I’ve been driving lately, all of which sit at the “Very Poor” end of the scale, it’s easy to begin to appreciate MPV ownership.

Mercedes is hoping to establish a market for vehicles built specifically for transporting families, large or small, along with enough luggage or sports equipment to fill a garden shed. Offered in three levels of trim, Standard, Avantgarde and Exclusive, the V-Class can also be ordered in both short and long wheel bases, the latter being 230mm longer for greater legroom and carrying capacity. The ability to choose a seat layout to suit family size and lifestyle is a key selling point of an MPV, allowing customers to add more seats later as their family grows, or remove them, either permanently or temporarily, to create a cavernous load area. Seating options include bench seats, ‘vis à vis’ format where two pairs of seats face one another, with an optional fold down table between them, and a bunk package featuring fold flat seats that create a double bed, potentially saving a fortune in hotel bills…. No matter which layout you choose, every seat has a three point harness, Isofix fittings for child seats, and climate control.

All of which is incredibly useful, but perhaps you’re thinking ‘it’s a van, and I don’t want to drive a van’. In which case, let me explain that if you are currently driving a big SUV, taking the wheel of a V-Class is going to be an enlightening moment. Unencumbered by the need to be both a passenger vehicle and an off-road truck, the V-Class’ suspension, tyres and steering assistance make for a light, comfortable driving experience, much more akin to driving a saloon car, yet still with a commanding view of the road and enhanced by a myriad safety features. These include Distronic adaptive cruise control, collision prevention assist, side wind assistance, blind spot monitoring and stability control; I tested the latter on a slalom course, on which we were told to ‘drive as fast as possible’. With no little ones on board likely to regurgitate their Coco Pops, I applied that instruction with prejudice, flinging the V-Class into turns at frankly dangerous speeds, to see what would happen; the answer of course is that the vehicle sensed the dramatic movements and immediately took control, using the traction and stability aids to ensure I navigated the course safely, despite my aggressive inputs. Again, since the suspension has only one job to do, the V-Class exhibits far less body roll than a similarly sized SUV would under the same conditions. I expect to be wowed by supercars, but when eight-seat people movers exhibit such intelligent, safe manners, I can’t help but be impressed.

I then used the 360-degree view and reversing camera to back into a parking bay without looking out of the vehicle at any time, an exercise that proved to be completely effortless, so although all-round visibility is pretty good, the cameras are there to help. Similarly the automatic park assist allowed me, with my hands removed from the steering wheel, to reverse into a difficult parking spot. Due to the angle at which I pulled up, the V-Class had to make a three-point turn into the bay, but it did so completely automatically. Now personally I don’t have a need for such gadgets, but I’ve seen plenty of drivers for whom I think this should be a compulsory purchase!

One feature parents are sure to love is a microphone that picks up the speech of a front seat passenger and relays it to the speakers in the rear. No need to turn round, distractedly, and insist with a raised voice that little Tommy remove the leg of his dinosaur from his sister’s left nostril; instead, you can safely keep your eyes on the road and have Tommy believe that you are always watching him. I can see Mercedes selling a lot of these.

It seems to me that with the V-Class, Mercedes actually has an easy job on its hands. The market for MPVs already exists, it’s just that SUV manufacturers stepped in years ago and hijacked it. Its job now is not to persuade families to invest in big, safe luxurious vehicles, but to have them admit that they’re never, ever going to take those vehicles off road, and that a V-Class will do the job perfectly well, with more comfort, style, economy and flexibility.