Mercedes-Benz's custom vans give sneak peek at new Metris model

Mercedes-Benz took advantage of the SEMA aftermarket automotive show to introduce its new Metris van to the US, a model it will launch in North America as a production vehicle next year.

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Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
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Mercedes-Benz Vito
Mercedes-Benz plans on bringing its midsize Vito van to the US, under the model name Metris. Mercedes-Benz

LAS VEGAS -- In Europe, it's called the Vito, a midsize utility van. In the US, it will be called the Metris, and will be launched next year. Ahead of the official launch, Mercedes-Benz brought four of them in heavily customized form to the SEMA aftermarket automotive show.

The van market in the US, long dominated by vans built on pickup truck frames, is undergoing a sea change, with interest in more economical and space efficient European-style vans.

In Europe, Mercedes-Benz offers the Vito with two turbocharged four cylinder diesel engines, a 1.6-liter four and a 2.15-liter. These engines offer five levels of output, ranging from 88 to 190 horsepower. And as diesel engines, their torque figures are much higher, ranging from 170 to 325 pound-feet.

Mercedes-Benz concepts give sneak peek at new Metris van (pictures)

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A Mercedes-Benz spokesperson at SEMA said the company had not decided yet on which engine to offer in the US market. However, as a guideline, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van offers the 2.1-liter diesel four-cylinder, making 161 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque. As that engine uses Mercedes-Benz's Bluetec diesel emissions cleaning system and has been approved for the US, it would be a likely candidate for the new Metris.

Although the EPA does not report fuel economy numbers for the Sprinter van, other media outlets have gotten around 25 mpg in city driving.

To demonstrate the Metris' versatility, Mercedes-Benz showed off four conversions: a luxury passenger carrier, mobile DJ party station, fire chief truck and a van for golf pros.

The European production version offers many advanced features, such as a seven-speed automatic transmission, LED headlights and automated parking. Further details on the US version will be available when it debuts at the NTEA truck show in Indianapolis next year.