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the Great Debate





28 July 2009


Chris: The Mercedes Vito. At R344 000, it’s not cheap, but in my opinion the cream of the crop. I drove it from Joburg to Cape Town and back a few years ago and thought the fuel gauge was bust. It’s very light on fuel for such a big vehicle, really very easy to drive, and comfortable on long trips.

Stuart: Being a short-armed, long-pocketed Scot-Dutch-African, I went the budget route and I believe that there is no way of beating the Hyundai H1 on value for money. At R289 000, it is easily the least expensive of the bunch and loaded with luxury.

At first I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of inside space, and its luxury specifications, including leather seats, electric windows, air conditioning, deep-pile carpets and so on.

The interior is cavernous, to say the least, with passenger access from both sides via two gigantic sliding doors. The only warning lights that flickered for the entire week I drove it were in my mind. It weighs 2,2 tons. How on earth could they have considered a petrol engine for this vehicle, and a mere 2,5 litres at that?

And sure enough, as I drove it for the first time up Black Hill Road between Simon’s Town and Noordhoek, I started to worry that I was going to lose this head-to-head shootout, on the grounds of drivability, if nothing else. It was thin on grunt to say the least, hey dad?

Chris: No contest, Stu. The Vito Crew Bus is in another league. I wish to heck I had one of these in the 1970s when you and your brother and sister were jammed together on the back seat of our car. Anyway, what was your second revelation?

Stuart: It was when I hit the hooter for the first time at a traffic light. I’m sure that everyone around me burst out laughing! Except the idiot that had fallen asleep at the wheel in front of me. It really is the most polite hooter I have ever heard and “feeble” is not strong enough a word to describe it.

But listen, although I was concerned at first about the motor and the lack of oomph, it soon became clear that the motor is not a complete miss, as it was very easy to live with. Once I got my head around the fact that in order to get along with the H1 I would have to use the gears and not shy away from driving it harder, I never once felt it to be underpowered.

The motor pushes out 126 kW and 224 Nm of torque, while the Merc’s diesel motor offers 110 kW, but a whopping 330 Nm of torque. I must say, though, that with the full quota of passengers, I’m not sure the H1 would be that much fun. It takes eight, the most of all the MPVs.

Chris: Do you really think a real-life, air-breathing person could sit in that space-wasting middle seat? It serves much better as the armrest and drinks holder it’s also designed to be.

Stuart: Travis (my seven-year old) did for a bit then opted to move to the back where there was more room. I did prefer the Vito in that it is easy for the driver or front passenger to move to the back. It could do with an armrest, though.

Dad, the Hyundai was ultimately a very easy vehicle to live with and I reluctantly returned it to Hyundai after a week of them begging for it back. I really enjoyed every aspect of it.

Chris: I must say I am impressed with Korean vehicles, particularly out of the Hyundai/Kia family. Build quality is very good and they’re very comfortable. But, I would still go for the Vito, and not just because they are leaders in this segment. The body, interior and engine have been refined over many years and it’s pretty much the benchmark other manufacturers have followed.
Pragmatism is what this vehicle is all about. Does your Hyundai have removable seats to leave you with a vehicle that covers three models? Take the middle and rear rows of seats out of the Vito to enjoy the practicality of a panel van with a hardwearing load floor, and easy access through the rear or either side door. You know that a full pallet can fit into any of the three rear doors, don’t you?

Stuart: No, I didn’t. So what anyway, who’s going to drive around with a pallet in a R340k luxury bus?

Chris: You, for one. Maybe not a pallet, but where are you going to put your Ducati in the Hyundai?

Stuart: Good point. It would be nice not to have to lug a trailer to every track day. I see the Vito has securing loops built into the load body too. I like the fact that you can choose the setup. I’d personally go for the two rows rather than the three.

I think that unless you are a bus service of sorts, the back row is a waste of space. Mercedes and VW have the Crew Cab setup as an option, which is significantly less expensive than the full Crew Bus that we have here, hey?

Although it’s not designed as a feature, I’m sure you could take the Hyundai’s rear seats out if you wanted. It would be a pity, though, to spoil the carpet with whatever it was you were loading. The Vito’s carpet comes out with the seats. Very neat.

Chris: I agree, the Crew Cab option allows seating for five adults and an incredible load space behind that. Cavernous comes to mind. A full game of real cricket also comes to mind.