Manchester’s corporate Vue-point

The Mercedes-Benz Tourismo has proved very successful at Euro 6. Operators across the country have taken the model in both two- and three-axle form, and among them is award-winning operator Belle Vue Coaches of Manchester. It has six, and they are doing well. Tim Deakin drives one

Despite minor initial concerns over the loss of the Setra brand, the UK’s post-Euro 5 big coach landscape has proven to be a land of milk and honey for Mercedes-Benz.

Its Tourismo – which gained a three-axle variant here – has gone on to secure a respectable share of the market, and importer EvoBus (UK) continues to deliver the Turkish-built coaches with almost indecent haste.

Belle Vue has taken six Tourismos, and they have settled in well

It would be easy to attribute that success solely to keen pricing, but operators of the model beg to differ.

They speak of a coach that does what it needs to; it has kerb appeal, passenger appeal and driver appeal, and the importance of all three cannot be underestimated. And that’s before the solid driveline is considered, not least the OM 470 engine.

Among Tourismo fans is Belle Vue Coaches of Manchester. It took an initial batch of five, followed late last year by one more. They have settled in well and are proving excellent servants, particularly as Belle Vue pursues corporate clients in Manchester, says MD Phil Hitchen.

“When we are in the market for full-size coaches in the future I doubt that we will look any further than more Tourismos. Partly that’s because we like to build relationships with suppliers. I like how EvoBus (UK) and salesman Phillip Cowdery do business, which was demonstrated by how they dealt with an issue with the seats in the earlier coaches.

“But we also like the product. Drivers and passengers love the Tourismos, although we expect that of any new coach.

“When making our decision we also consider residuals, performance, economy and maintenance costs, and I am confident that we chose the right vehicle. I cannot knock the Tourismo, and we would not hesitate to take more should we need to.” Phil kindly made the newest Tourismo – which is finished to Touring Plus specification – available for a routeONE Test Drive.

Build

EvoBus (UK)’s Tourismo range is a simple one: It offers the 12.14m two-axle variant and the 12.96m three-axle Tourismo M. All of Belle Vue’s are the shorter model, and are 3.65m high and 2.55m wide.

One of the symmetrical rear grilles is a dummy; other for airflow

Power comes from the OM 470 engine coupled to ZF’s EcoLife six-speed automatic gearbox; the operator’s other five Tourismos have the eight-speed PowerShift automated manual, which proved itself highly competent when tried courtesy of EvoBus in March (routeONE, Celebration, 23 March).

A maintenance-free water retarder is standard. It uses engine coolant as a medium to deliver excellent stopping power, and thanks to the volume of coolant compared with gearbox oil, it can be used for prolonged periods. Such a need is seldom found in the UK, but it will give heart to buyers whose coaches may traverse continental mountain ranges.

Two ventilation grilles are cut into the engine bay door to permit the high air flow required by Euro 6 engines, although one is a dummy to give a symmetrical appearance.

They compromise the space available for operators to place lettering in this location, but the remainder of the exterior – largely made up of clear, flat panels – more than makes up for it, and opportunities for branding are numerous.

The diesel tank is mounted between the front wheels, has a capacity of approximately 490 litres and can be filled from both sides. AdBlue capacity is circa 40 litres, and with a centre sunken toilet and continental door present, around 8.5m3 underfloor luggage space is available.

Passenger access

Four steps lead to the platform and two more to the gangway. The entrance area is clear and uncluttered, and like the remainder of the coach, all steps have wood-effect covering, although on top is a removable hard-wearing carpet. This is wise, as boarding or alighting is when the risk of slips is greatest.

Steps are wide, handrails are good and courier seat non-intrusive

Entrance steps are wider than in some other coaches, and on the left when boarding is a handrail that rises vertically from below the second step up to the dash before curving to the horizontal to follow passengers’ natural course into the coach.

A further handrail is on the underside of the courier seat base, which has a catch to prevent it lowering when the rail is grasped. On the test coach, however, the catch didn’t work, and so the seat base was not completely secure; a more substantial mechanism would mitigate this.

Otherwise the courier seat is well designed. Mercedes-Benz is one of a number of manufacturers to use a type that allows the base to sit flush with the backrest when folded, substantially reducing its intrusion into the doorway.

Step edges and handrails are finished in two-tone grey, giving reasonable contrast, but inclusion of a degree of high-visibility yellow would be beneficial at key points. Doing so would slightly compromise passengers’ understated first impression, however.

Passenger comfort

The impression gained by passengers once in the gangway remains positive. To Belle Vue’s specification, the Tourismo presents an aura of restrained luxury coupled with functionality. The latter is exemplified by the large windows, which give excellent visibility.

Belle Vue’s interior spec creates an ambience of restrained luxury

Wood-effect flooring continues throughout, although like the steps, the gangway is covered in a removable hard-wearing carpet.

Gangway hand-holds are numerous, with all seats having vertical grabs at both upper corners. Additionally, a horizontal rail runs the length of the coach mounted underneath the nearside luggage rack; it may look slightly incongruous, but it serves a useful purpose.

The 49 Luxline seats are Mercedes-Benz’s own, made alongside the Tourismo in HoÅŸdere. Those in the test coach are finished in black with red stitching and leather shoulders and headrests, and with the three-pointed star indented into the back rest at shoulder height.

Side flaps include an element of red, and all seats have height adjustable three-point belts, drop-down tables, footrests and magazine nets; additionally, slide-apart functionality is fitted to aisle positions.

Entertainment is from a Bosch Professional Line system that includes a DVD player. The customary fold-down monitor at the front is fitted, and the mid-mounted screen is also fold-down. By not going with a fixed monitor above the toilet, Mercedes-Benz has removed an impediment to forward views.

The toilet is reasonably sized and extends under the row of seats immediately ahead. It is topped with a small servery.

Climate control is automatic, but the driver can more finely govern airflow and fan speed if required. The roof-mounted 32kW air-conditioning unit is complemented by side perimeter radiators.

Driver comfort

There is much to like about the Tourismo’s cab. A well laid-out dash would be expected from Mercedes-Benz, and so it proves; the driver sits further to the left than on other coaches, and as a result space around the seat is good.

Dash has a desk-like appearance, but the cab will be popular

Many storage areas are provided; four secure areas are within the luggage racks and are partitioned with lockable doors. A cubbyhole is also present within the lower step up to the gangway.

A Grammer seat in matching trim is fitted, complete with hands-free microphone, and the handbrake is out of harm’s way on the right. The dash is very much a wraparound application, and with two almost flat surfaces on each side of the adjustable steering wheel it has a desk-like feel.

The reverse camera feeds to a large colour monitor to the driver’s right, and he or she also has a separate climate control system to that in the saloon.

Charging points are provided in the form of a circular sat-nav port (although an integrated, remote-controlled sat-nav is part of the coach’s specification), and a USB socket; additionally, an MP3 input is provided for the entertainment system.

Some of its more minor design points continue the Tourismo’s appeals to drivers. The huge signalling window is heated and lowers electrically, and the narrow A-pillars mean that visibility, both to the front and sides and through the mirrors, is largely excellent.

A further useful touch sees the two-piece electric sunblind given one-touch buttons. That may mean little when the blinds are extended, but when they are retracted it is worthwhile.

Performance

Belle Vue’s Tourismos have the 390bhp variant of the OM 470 engine, putting them towards the top of the power-to-weight league for two-axle coaches. As tested, power is harnessed well by the ZF EcoLife gearbox; one of the operator’s drivers familiar with all six Tourismos describes the EcoLife as slightly better regarded among his colleagues than the automated PowerShift.

390bhp OM 470 engine and EcoLife gearbox work well together

From below 1,000rpm, the OM 470’s ability to pile on speed rapidly is unmatched by anything else yet tested by routeONE. It is truly uncanny, and even from 800rpm in lower gears it pulls strongly and without vibration.

That gives exceptional driveability, and combined with the EcoLife it means that acceleration is rapid. Seldom does the tachometer stray past 1,500rpm, delivering obvious fuel consumption benefits.

Cruising in top gear is relaxed, with the engine turning at 1,250rpm at 62mph and 1,000rpm at 50mph. In the latter case, the gearbox is quick to downshift on steeper climbs to ensure that momentum is retained.

Wind noise from the cab is minimal, and visibility is little short of excellent. The only minor criticism in the latter regard is the offside blindspot; for drivers who sit further back, the B-pillar is slightly intrusive when checking over their right shoulder.

Chassis performance is excellent, and handling is very good. When pushed hard on the curved slip road from the westbound M56 to the southbound M53, the coach was entirely composed and its finely set-up steering ensures that the driver retains a feel of full control.

The water retarder allows the coach to be brought from 62mph to walking speed without recourse to the foundation brakes.

Verdict

EvoBus (UK) has exceeded expectations with the Tourismo at Euro 6, and in a market that is ever more competitive it is an indication of the model’s competence that many of those sold go to repeat customers.

Yes, it is a cost-effective coach, but it is also one that amply meets a variety of applications. With two recently delivered to a Welsh operator, Mercedes-Benz has shown that it can satisfy the more exclusive end of the market, but it can also meet demands for a simpler vehicle.

Those delivered to Belle Vue have settled in very well. While the operator does not buy with its heart – preferring, as Phil says, to look at the business elements of a deal – the Tourismo’s combined positives mean that it is currently the weapon of choice for the Manchester operator.

This coach will satisfy drivers and passengers alike, but it will also tick many boxes for drivers. And that’s an important consideration: Good coach drivers are worth their weight in gold and not easily found. The driving experience is good and the cab environment is excellent. The three-pointed star may be a selling point, but the Tourismo has many other positives besides.