638 series V-Class Multi Purpose Vehicles, 1996 - 1999
Please wait a moment ...
Please wait a moment ...
Mercedes-Benz introduced the V-Class at the 66th Geneva International Motor Show. Described as multi-purpose vehicle (MPV), the new series with the internal designation W 638 was an official member of the Mercedes-Benz family. Sales started in September 1996. This series established the brand's presence in the MPV segment and immediately made its mark.
Inside the vehicle, the designers focused on functionality and versatility. The new series was among the most spacious and versatile vehicles in its class. The large side sliding door made it easy get in and out of the 2.30 m long, 1.62 m wide vehicle with a 1.36 m high passenger compartment, which was outfitted with four comfortable individual seats. The seats could be removed or arranged in different positions or swivelled around to face each other even while the vehicle was in motion. This was possible by integrating safety features in the individual seats such as three-point retractable seat belts and height-adjustable head restraints. Each seat could be positioned whichever way the passenger wanted without having to take anchorage points in the floor or the pillars into account. The individual back seats in the V-Class were also easy and quick to fold to create additional load capacity. With a load capacity of 581 litres (based on the measurement method used by the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA)) when all of the back seats were occupied, the V-Class provided the biggest boot in this vehicle class: it had space for eight suitcases and a suit bag. With a total capacity of 3,406 litres, the V-Class was one of the most spacious vehicles in its class: When loaded to the roof, it had a maximum load capacity of 4,564 litres (VDA measurement method).
The vehicle may have been very spacious on the inside, on the outside it was the same size as a standard car. It was some 15 cm shorter than the available E-Class T model (S 210 series) and just 7 cm wider. It was the height that made the difference: It had a total height of 1,844 mm (1,878 mm with roof rails) and fit in every normal garage and car park.
There were two ways of transporting sports and leisure items on the roof: The MPV was equipped with longitudinal tracks that supported any roof rack. The tracks were just 5 mm longer than the roof, which meant that the car still fit in a standard garage. Mercedes-Benz also provided roof rails that had a special roof rack for bikes, boats, surfboards and storage containers.
The V-Class came in three equipment lines, each with its own character. The TREND line was equipped with a number of technical, luxury and safety features, such as full-size airbags for the driver and front passenger, anti-lock braking system ABS, electronic traction system ETS, heat-insulating glass in all of the windows, power door mirrors, power windows in the front and remote-controlled central locking.
The equipment in the FASHION line was typical of a family car. It contained features such as coat hangers at the rear seats, an umbrella inside the B pillar and a foldable table between the back seats. The package also included games.
The equipment in the exclusive AMBIENTE version transformed the MPV into a first-class car. Leather seats, light-alloy wheels with 215/65 R 15 tyres and metallic paint were part of the standard equipment as were the cooler with 12-volt adapter and the safe underneath the seat. Wood trims on the instrument cluster and side panels added to the interior's lustre.
The V-Class could also be ordered with optional accessories, which included a 4-speed automatic transmission, roof rails, 180-degree swivable driver and front passenger seats, curtains for the rear windows, sensor-controlled back-up assistance, cruise control and a sliding door on the left side of the car.
The V-Class was introduced with front-wheel drive before the A-Class later in 1996, making it the first passenger vehicle to be produced by Mercedes-Benz with front-wheel drive. To save space, the engine and transmission were mounted in a transverse configuration and connected to the body by a special axle/engine subframe. Mercedes-Benz equipped the rear axle with electronic self-levelling air suspension that adapted the springs and shock absorbers to the actual load and improved driving safety and ride comfort.
The designers had put their all into the V-Class: The MPV had all of the typical design characteristics of Mercedes-Benz, making it a perfect fit with the rest of the range. For example, the steeply raked windscreen, the soft, flowing contours at the front, the slender, convex A pillars and the radiator grille with its typical mounting, which flowed smoothly into the bonnet.
On the sides, the designers decided to reduce the unavoidable dominance of large body surfaces and make the MPV more dynamic by adding distinctive flares that led the eyes from the doors to the rear wheel arches and created an optical connection between each of the side panels. The flares, which ran from the front to the rear and intensified in the centre, made the body look even more dynamic - the kind of dynamic that was also conveyed by the painted front bumper with its sporty cooling air intakes. The side windows also played an important role in the V-Class' lines: Hiding the B and C pillars with their dark frames they turned the side of the vehicle into one sleek integrated whole. The designers had also cleverly covered the sliding door's guide rail by integrating it in the rear side panel.
The rear door had a loading width of approximately 1.22 m and a frame that protruded slightly into the sides, optically linking the sides and the rear. The rear window conveyed the same impression. It ran up to the roof, providing a smooth transition between the body's lower and upper halves. In the lower half, the tailgate reached as low as the bumper, whose low height made it easy to load and unload the boot. The boot sill had a loading height of 457 mm, which could be lowered to 330 mm when the vehicle was parked.
The V-Class' youthful look continued in the passenger compartment. Depending on the line and equipment package, the seats were upholstered with high-quality velour or leather in the colour Mushroom or Aerogrey. The soft velour carpets and the light upholstery on the side panels with trims that picked up the pattern on the seats, made the interior cosier and more inviting.
The passenger compartment felt very spacious: The driver and front passenger had 1,003 mm of head room, which was considerably more than in other MPVs. When the back seats were swivelled to face each other, the distance between the passengers was 1,270 mm (from backrest to backrest). There was ample space for two suitcases between the driver's and the front passenger's seat and the first row of back seats when they were swivelled around. According to the VDA measurement method, the passenger compartment had a storage capacity of 262 litres. The passengers in the first row of back seats had 1,033 to 1,035 mm of head room depending on the position of their seat. The last row of back seats had 944 mm of head room.
The highlight of the versatile passenger compartment concept, which also made the V-Class an all-rounder, were the six standard individual seats, which were not only very comfortable, but also safer than the bench seats that were common in other vehicles in this class. Their armrests, two-position backrests and integrated head restraints made them very similar to business-class airplane seats. What's more, the seat cushion had a length of 460 mm.
A lever enabled the backrests to be folded all the way forward to create a table-like surface. A second lever unlocked the rear floor anchoring so the seat could be folded flat and tilted forward. This transport position increased the load surface in the passenger compartment, for example, to transport sports equipment, grocery or shopping bags and other items. The loading area was further increased by pulling the lever on the front anchoring points of the seats and removing them entirely. The front row of back seats, which is facing backward when the vehicle is delivered, can also be turned to face forward.
The driver's and the front passenger's seats were also part of the versatile passenger compartment concept in the new V-Class. They too could be swivelled 180 degrees so the front passengers could interact with the back passengers during a break. There was a wide passage from the front to the back of the car. Manually or electrically adjustable lumbar support in the driver's and front passenger's backrests, stepless backrest adjustment (up to 45 degrees) as well as adjustable seat cushion height enabled the occupants to adjust the seats to their own needs. The front seats could be adjusted lengthwise by 210 mm.
The seat belts and belt pre-tensioners for the front seats were integrated in the B pillar. Another safety feature was the driver's high sitting position, which increased overall visibility.
The double-leaf, which was concealed in a pillar between the back seats and could be used as an armrest, conjured up memories of an airplane cabin. The table could only be used when the back seats were facing each other. The rear passenger cabin had other practical features such as a cooler, which was stored on a floor charger behind the driver's seat, four reading lamps and a lockable drawer (safe) that was fastened to the floor underneath the left seat in the front row.
The designers also came up with a brand new instrument cluster: An optically separated display and control instruments, which created an asymmetrical cockpit. The centre control panel extended into the passenger compartment, making it the perfect place for the gear lever: It was within the immediate reach of the driver without blocking the passage to the passenger compartment. The fresh air nozzles and the rotary switches for the heating, ventilation and air conditioning were in the upper part of the control panel. The radio, gear lever, other levers and the ashtray were below.
The instrument cluster was very well organized. The backlit dials on the speedometer, tachometer, fuel and temperature gauges were shadow-free and evenly lit. The red and amber control lamps below them only illuminated when the engine was started or in the event of a failure. The switches for dipped headlights, fog lights and parking lights were to the left of the instrument cluster. The switches for the windscreen wipers, the windscreen washer, the rear wipers, the indicators and the headlight flasher were to the right next to the steering column.
The standard full-size front passenger airbag and a compartment for oddments were to the right of the instrument cluster. The glove box was below it. The ignition lock was fitted with an electronic transponder that activated or deactivated the immobilizer.
The MPV's practical remote control for the central locking system used a radio signal that was independent of the immobilizer. The central locking system operated all of the vehicle's locks: driver and passenger door, side sliding door, fuel filler flap, and the tailgate. Lazy locking locked the front side windows, and the power vent windows and sunroofs when the key was turned in the door.
The powerful heating and ventilation system ensured that passengers enjoyed a pleasant interior climate wherever they were sitting. Air flowed into the passenger compartment through a special duct, which was also connected to the optional electronic air-conditioning system. Mercedes-Benz would optionally equip the V-Class with a cabin air filter that protected passengers from dust, pollen and soot particulates. The optional air conditioning was delivered with air-circulation system and cabin air filter.
The V-Class could also be optionally equipped with a glass roof above the driver's and front passenger's heads. A second glass roof was available for the rear. Both sunroofs (venting and sliding) could be operated manually or electrically and were available with or without blinds. The venting sunroof was made of 4 mm thick, green safety glass with a grid pattern and could be opened steplessly to a height of 87 mm. The guide rails for the power venting/sliding sunroof were not mounted underneath the roof panel but on the roof so they didn't take up any head room.
Two powerful radios were part of the standard equipment: The Sound 5000 and the Sound 7000. Both had a cassette player, FM/AM and LW receiver, RDS, separate bass and treble adjustment, and a removable control panel. The Sound 7000 could be combined with a CD changer that was stowed underneath the front passenger seat. Surround sound provided for enjoyable listening. The system consisted of two two-way speakers in the top half of the instrument cluster, a bass speaker in the seat box on the passenger side and two two-way speakers in the rear side panels.
The body of the V-Class had all of the characteristics of a Mercedes-Benz car: it was safe, durable, robust and aerodynamic. A substructure with floorpan, and cross and longitudinal beams created a solid base for the superstructure and was also used to attach all of the aggregates and assemblies such as the rear axle suspension, fuel tank, exhaust system, spare wheel carrier and a variety of electric cables. The floorpan's ribbed structure had special mounting brackets that held the individual seats in the passenger compartment firmly in place. The MPV's engine and transmission were mounted in a transverse configuration, meaning that the front bulkhead and the floorpan created a solid entity. The engineers didn't need the conventional transmission tunnel. The V-Class' side panels were made in one piece and connected to the substructure in one body-shell operation. In order to guarantee the highest level of stability when the vehicle was equipped with sliding doors, the body designers carried out extensive computer simulations and optimized the structure of the metal parts accordingly.
The V-Class was one of Mercedes-Benz's safest vehicles. The MPV met the most rigorous crash test conditions as well as the applicable requirements for compatibility and partner protection: The front-end geometry was designed to reduce the impact energy on both vehicles.
The engineers faced new challenges in terms of vehicle safety. The MPV had been designed with a shorter crumple zone than conventional cars - the driver and the front passenger sat all the way at the front, putting them closer to the impact zone than front passengers in conventional cars. The size of the redesigned cabin and the comfortable equipment also meant that the V-Class was heavier than other cars. And weight means energy that needs to be dispersed during a collision.
While the almost 1 m wide and 1.28 m high sliding door enabled the back passengers to comfortably exit and enter the vehicle, the generously dimensioned tailgate made it easy to load and unload the vehicle. An adult could even stand upright underneath the open tailgate - the clearance was approximately 2 m.
The V-Class' favourable drag coefficient of 0.34 proved that aerodynamics were not a question of body size. One of the key criteria was the design of the front, whose separated flow was an important prerequisite for low drag. The harmoniously integrated wide bumper, the steeply raked windscreen and the aerodynamically shaped A pillars would achieve this goal. The front of the V-Class also met the engine designers' requirements for sufficient cooling air for the engines. The distinctive vents in the bumper were the result of teamwork between the aerodynamic engineers and the engine designers.
Mercedes-Benz equipped the V-Class with the latest in lighting technology: Computer-calculated reverberators for full beams and dipped beams guaranteed a wide and steady illumination of the road. The two wide light beams created a bright area that was useful on both three-lane carriageways and bendy roads. Because the dipped beams stayed on when the full beams were switched on, the eyes needed less time to adapt.
The V Class' front-wheel drive meant that the engine, transmission, steering and suspension took up less space in the front of the car. Another advantage of this engine concept was that it eliminated the need for a drive shaft to the rear axle and a differential housing in the rear, enabling the designers to develop a low, level floorpan with low boot sill. And last but not least, the front-wheel drive provided excellent traction and safe handling thanks to the 50:50 weight distribution between the front and the rear axle.
The front drive axle with independent wheel suspension consisted of a MacPherson strut spring with triangular control arms in a lightweight sheet metal construction. The triangular control arms, stabilizer, steering gear and axle/engine subframe created a sub-assembly that was fastened to the longitudinal beams in the front-end geometry. This design principle had a numerous safety benefits: During a frontal impact, the axle/engine subframe transmitted the force to the body's substructure, protecting the passenger compartment. Superior active driving safety was provided by rack and pinion power steering gears.
The engineers tuned the kinetics of the rear axle to create a safer self-steering behaviour. Defined toe changing during deflection in all loading conditions created an understeered to neutral handling. The front axle stabilizer further improved the vehicle's steering behaviour and reduced rolling.
The wheels on the rear axle were controlled by an independent wheel suspension on semi-trailing links, whose computer-calculated position guaranteed optimal self-steering behaviour. But the uniqueness of the rear axle consisted of the rubber bellows between the semi-trailing links and the body. These bellows replaced the conventional steel springs and were the heart of the air suspension, which Mercedes-Benz was the only automobile brand to offer as standard equipment in this vehicle class. The air pressure that was needed was created by an electrical compressor stored beneath the floorpan that worked independently of the engine. The system was sensor and computer controlled. Damping was also controlled by an air compressor. The rear axle in the V-Class was far superior to conventional steel-spring suspensions - the air suspension actively responded to the actual load and adapted the spring/shock absorbers accordingly, improving driving safety and ride comfort. The self-levelling air suspension activated as soon as a door was opened, for example, when passengers got in and out of the vehicle or when loading or unloading the boot.
The engineers used powerful disc brakes on the front and rear axles to guarantee high reliability and short braking distances. The standard electronic brake force distribution (EBD) system compared the wheel speeds on the front and rear axle every time the brakes were applied. If the vehicle risked skidding, the system closed the pressure inlet valves on both rear wheels, preventing the pressure on the rear axle to further increase.
The V-Class' suspension was designed and built to match the vehicle's many purposes. Thanks to optimal suspension tuning, standard air-suspension levelling and reinforced radial tyres, the V 200 and V 230 could carry a total passenger and load weight of up to 700 kg; the V 230 TURBODIESEL could carry up to 685 kg.
The V-Class was initially designed for three engines, all of which were available for each of the three lines. The 2.3-litre petrol engine in the V 230 had already proven itself in the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The 4-cylinder 105 kW (143 hp) engine had a maximum torque of 210 Nm at 4,000 rpm and consumed only 11.6 litres of premium unleaded petrol per 100 km according to the NEDC (93/116/EC). It reached a top speed of 178 km/h. Four-valve technology, electronic air-intake measurement, group sequential injection and static high-voltage distribution were a few of this engine's technical highlights. In Italy, the 2.3-litre engine was replaced with a 2-litre 95 kW (129 hp) engine. Its peak torque was 180 Nm at 4,200 rpm, and its top speed 168 km/h.
The 2.3-litre engine in the V 230 TURBODIESEL was new to Mercedes-Benz's family of vehicles. Turbochargers, intercooling and electronic controls distinguished the powertrain's good performance and fuel efficiency: 8.8 litre total diesel consumption according to the NEDC. The vehicles had an output of 72 kW (98 hp) and a peak torque of 230 Nm between 1,600 and 2,400 rpm, enabling it to reach a top speed of 155 km/h.
From June 1997, the V 280 was available with a 2.8-litre 6-cylinder engine with an output of 128 kW (174 hp) and a maximum torque of 237 Nm from 2,800 rpm. The V 280 reached a top speed of 184 km/h and consumed 13.8 litres per 100 km (NEDC total consumption). The V engine was made by Volkswagen and had been reengineered by Mercedes-Benz for the V-Class. The vehicle was equipped with 7 J x 16 light-alloy wheels and 215/60 R 16 H wide-base tyres that had been specially developed for the V 280.
All of the engines met the new European emission standards. A three-way catalytic converter and an activated charcoal filter were used in the petrol engines to reduce evaporative emissions. Mercedes-Benz developed an exhaust gas recirculation system and oxidation catalyst for the diesel engine. The V 230 TURBODIESEL was classified as low emission vehicle (93/59/EC, Class I).
The standard 5-speed manual transmission with integrated differential in the 4-cylinder models was a new development that the engineers focused on making small and light. The transmission housing, bellhousing, bearing and gear shift cover were made of aluminium so the gear box only weighed 46.5 kg. Cables were used to transfer the shift operations from the ergonomic gear lever in the centre console to the transmission. The precise, maintenance-free cable-control guide guaranteed high shifting precision and low shifting forces. The V-Class was optionally available with a 4-speed automatic transmission with three driving programmes. The V 280 was equipped with a 4-speed automatic transmission that was also made by Volkswagen.