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MiniPlus Article
April 25 2019
By Tim Deakin

Tim is Editor of routeone and has worked in both the coach and bus and haulage industries.

EVM's cost-effective 16-seat Trend mini debuts

A new venture for EVM is its 16-seat Trend ‘crossover’, which gives a cost-effective Mercedes-Benz Sprinter-based minicoach that is suitable for many tasks at a very low weight. We put it to the test

EVM’s 4,100kg GVW Trend starts at £42,500 for a 16-seat Sprinter mini

Buyers looking for a cost-effective yet nicely-finished 16-seat minicoach have a new option in EVM’s Trend conversion based on a 4,100kg GVW Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.

The converter describes it as a crossover vehicle when in long wheelbase, semi-high roof form. With a price tag from well below £50,000, various options can be specified that make it suitable for use as a school minibus, an airport transfer vehicle and a longer-distance minicoach where luggage capacity is not paramount.

As the Trend is based on the new Sprinter, it comes with a wide variety of technology that benefits safety and improves the driving experience.

The 4,100kg GVW Trend is a new venture for EVM. It complements both a similar yet 3,500kg GVW example and the converter’s established range that is based on 5,000 and 5,500kg GVW Sprinters.

“The firstof this model Trend arrived three weeks ago. We have already taken six orders and received lots of positive feedback,” says Southern Sales Manager Guy Billings.

On all Sprinters, EVM provides three years’ warranty of the conversion. That matches the period of coverage from Mercedes-Benz, which is additionally given on an unlimited mileage basis. The Sprinter also offers strong residuals.

EVM holds vans in stock at its Kilbeggan plant. That will allow it to fulfil Trend orders rapidly, and up to six units are available for immediate delivery in a range of colours. At its UK premises at Three Bridges, it expects to usually have one such minibus available. Currently there is a demonstrator, which miniplus was able to put through its paces last week.

Nuts and bolts

With the 4,100kg GVW Sprinter, Mercedes-Benz supplies the base vehicle with the side and rear glazing already fitted. Those in the back doors are genuine windows and not merely glass bonded to metal. On the test vehicle, the side and rear glazing is heavily tinted to the extent that it is not possible to see in from the outside. In the other direction there is no such difficulty and the view is good.

OEM door retained, but options for an ‘electric hinge’ or Masats plug unit

One window on each side constitutes an emergency exit and a small hammer is adjacent on the underside of the luggage rack. The driver’s door and a glazed roof hatch are also marked as emergency exits.

As tested, the Trend comes with a body kit. Like the bumpers and the grille, it is colour-coded in silver, creating a pleasing effect. EVM can add its trademark chrome pack if required; the demonstrator has steel wheels with plastic trims.

Retained is the OEM passenger door, although if preferred a Masats powered plug example or an Autocool ‘electric hinge’ model can be specified. At the rear, a large external step is fitted, which is also colour-coded. At the roof line is a reversing camera.

The OEM rear doors on the new Sprinter lack the previous model’s magnetic bump-stops that prevent them from contacting the side of the vehicle when opened to 270o. Instead, rubber grommets are fitted to the external hinges to serve the same purpose.

They work well, but a downside is that they do not restrain the door leaves, which can be caught and slammed by a gust of wind.

On the inside

Although the passenger door is manually operated, behind it lies a three-step entrance with LED strips in the edges. EVM believes that the front entrance is a key aspect of the Trend.

Vertical rails are on both sides of the door, and they are positioned well while not intruding into the opening. Naturally, taller passengers need to mind their head when boarding or alighting, but the pathway to or from the seating area is easily followed.

The suggested crossover aspect of this minibus becomes obvious when the saloon is examined. It has 16 high-quality seats that are finished partly in synthetic leather, and they also come with aisle-side armrests and three-point belts.

The seats are luxurious; good leg room, armrests and adjacent USB ports

Leg room is excellent, and better than in many full-size coaches. Twin USB charging points are fitted to each windowsill in every row, and passengers also benefit from overhead racks. Within the edge of each of them is an LED strip; it can illuminate in blue or white light.

Luggage space at the rear is modest, but some does exist. It is more suited to smaller bags, and as all seats are fixed, it cannot be augmented at the expense of passenger capacity.

Also at the rear, wheel arch intrusion is minimal because of the 4,100kg GVW Sprinter’s single tyres.

Notably, a saloon air-conditioning unit is fitted. It is mounted at the extreme rear and its operation is entirely incorporated into the OEM buttons that otherwise govern the cab climate control.

Saloon heat is from floor-level vents and a booster is fitted. Although the drive was undertaken on a warm day and it was thus not easy to make a judgment, a brief blast of the heater produced hot air very quickly.

In the cab

As part of its revisions to develop the new Sprinter, Mercedes-Benz made the cab aspects similar to its car range. The steering wheel is small, gears in models with an automatic transmission are selected via the right-hand stalk and there is an overall impression of quality.

The 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic will be specified in stock vehicles ordered by EVM at this weight, although the six-speed manual will be available to order. Access via the cab door is good and the driver very quickly becomes at home in the Sprinter. The mirrors are adjusted manually.

Fitted is a 7in colour touch screen multimedia unit in the centre of the dash. It gives access to various functions and allows a phone or an iPod to be synced via Bluetooth; the rear camera also feeds to it when reverse is engaged.

Touch-screen, full-colour multimedia unit includes reverse camera display

As is the case with any Sprinter, visibility from the cab is good. Gears are selected almost instantaneously, and the steering wheel comes with a number of buttons that govern the cruise control and variable speed limiter settings, radio volume and the Bluetooth phone function.

Storage space around the cab is OK, but finding a place for a large bag is not easy. A double USB charging point is present. The speedometer displays MPH only in a very clear manner.

Once understood, the heating and air-conditioning controls are simple to use. In particular, the latter is exceptionally powerful, and it rapidly delivered very cold air when tried.

A tachograph is integrated above the windscreen, while in a similar location is an SOS button. If pressed, it sends a message to Mercedes-Benz’s control centre to allow steps for repair or recovery to be taken.

On the road

The demonstrator is a 414 model and thus it has the four-cylinder OM 651 engine rated at 143bhp and 330Nm of torque. Starting is keyless as standard. All that is required is for the fob to be nearby.

With an unladen weight of just 2,750kg, those figures are more than ample for the task at hand. Pick-up from stationary is rapid and there is more than enough power to keep pace with other traffic. Spring suspension is fitted all round, and it gives a good ride along with excellent road holding. While the engine makes itself known in the cab, there are no rattles, crashes or squeaks from within the body.

The overall driving experience is very car-like. When cruising at the limited 62mph speed the engine is turning at 2,100rpm, which when combined with a very low unladen weight gives the likelihood of excellent fuel returns.

New Sprinter gives a car-like driving experience, helped by a small wheel

Although the Trend has only single rear wheels, that has no impact on how it holds the road when compared to those with twin rims. It can be pushed hard, and it will take a rather less-refined driving style to impact upon the passenger experience.

A genuine challenger

A 16-seat Sprinter at this weight is competing largely with minibuses built on base vehicles from other marques, and it is thus important that the 4,100kg GVW Trend is priced competitively.

As tested, it certainly is; everything noted comes in at a £49,500 retail figure. That can be reduced to as little as £42,500 by deletion of various fittings while still retaining 16-seat capacity.

That means the Trend is substantially cheaper than EVM’s established heavier Sprinter conversions. Those vehicles offer more scope for passenger amenities and boot space, and they will continue to form the backbone of the converter’s range.

But for operators who want a relatively simple 16-seat Sprinter-based minicoach that can do a lot and deliver an attractive passenger environment, the Trend is a definite contender.

While it is not able to compare outright with some other marques on price, the Sprinter gives an excellent residual value. It also comes with the prestige of the three-pointed star. Couple that to extensive warranty coverage, good availability from EVM and this is a product that will find its niche quickly.

Facts and figures

Retail price: Starts at £42,500; as tested, £49,500
Engine: 2.1-litre, four-cylinder Mercedes-Benz OM 651
Power: 100kW (143bhp) @3,800rpm
Torque: 243 lb ft (330Nm) @1,200-2,400rpm
Emissions: Euro 6 using EGR and SCR
Tyres: 235/65 R16
Fuel economy: Up to 27mpg (expected)
Length: 6.97m
Height: 2.62m
Width: 2.02m
Wheelbase: 4.33m
Gross weight: 4,100kg
Unladen weight: 2,750kg

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