Visiting Germany – Part 1: Driving 2,177km in a Mercedes Vito Tourer

Visiting the German automakers has always been on the top of my list of things to do before I die. It may not sound like much to someone living in Europe, but for someone coming from Malaysia, it is not something you could do on a whim.  In 12 days, we visited Volkswagen's Autostadt, the Mercedes-Benz Museum, the Porsche Museum, Audi Forum Ingolstadt, and the BMW Museum. We also visited Deutsches Museum Verkehrszentrum (a transport museum in Munich) and for the first time ever, entered a Tesla showroom (in Stuttgart). The trip is something I cherish and have great memories of (This is the first time I've felt this way about a trip). Not many people would do such a trip just to see a bunch of cars. It might even sound ridiculous to a person with absolutely no interest in automobiles. I will share the details of this trip in an 8-part series for those of you might be interested in visiting these places someday.


Of course, we also visited other places in Germany, but  this is a car website so we'll be talking about cars. Let’s start with our rental car.

 



Choosing the Car

 The Vito is around 190cm tall which means you could get in underground parking areas.



So, we made the trip with 7 people and a lot of luggage. An estate couldn’t fit us all so we booked a Ford Transit from Alamo. We figured 9 seats and a Van layout would fit us all comfortably. As usual, with a car rental company, you don’t always get the car you book on the website. The last time I was in Spain, we booked a Citroen C2 but ended up with a Citroen Berlingo (which was not convenient for some tight streets in Spain). This time, we got a Mercedes Vito instead of the Ford Transit we booked online. I consider that as an upgrade. Public transport was an option but considering the stuff we were carrying around, the places we were going to, and the number of people travelling, a car made much more sense.


On the way to pick up our Vito at Hannover Airport, we spotted an electric Audi in SIXT's fleet. Looks like you can try an electric car road trip if you wished. You just need to plan out where to charge the car along the way.




The Euros and Cents

 

The thing to note about car rentals is that they usually only accept payments by credit card. They don’t want cash. I made the booking through Car Flexi, but had I booked directly with Alamo, I would have been able to make a cash/debit card prepayment before arriving in Germany. For 12 days, the rental costed us €700+ (including GPS). There’s also a €250.00 security deposit which needs to paid with a credit card under the first driver’s name. The price of diesel in Germany is ever changing and differs with every petrol station. At some stations the price was as high as 1.54€/l. The lowest price we filled the Vito with was 1.19€/l and the highest we filled was 1.34€/l.  We drove for 2,177km and used 185.35l of diesel which cost us €232.53 in total.


Our booking with Alamo (Through CarFlexi) included:

  1. One Way Charge (Pick up in Hannover, Drop Off in Munich)
  2. All taxes and fees
  3. Collision Damage Waiver
  4. Road Tax
  5. Out of Hours surcharge
  6. Airport taxes
  7. Third Party Insurance
  8. Premium Location Fee
  9. Rental rates & VAT
  10. 24H Roadside assistance
  11. Theft Insurance

 

At gas stations in Germany, you fill up the tank before paying at the counter. I wonder what would happen if we did the same thing here in Malaysia. Gas prices also differed from one station to another and changed quite frequently.


 


Driving on the Autobahn and in the Cities

 No Speed Limit Sign [Image Source]


Driving on the Autobahn was a pleasant experience. The Autobahn is systematic and German drivers are very cooperative. With the Vito’s 2.1L Diesel (OM651 DE22LA) and 7-Speed Automatic, driving for long hours was a breeze. The car was equipped with Continental Vanco Winter 2 tyres which were a bit noisy but still comfortable. The highest speed we did on the Autobahn was around 170-180km/h which felt quite confident for a standard RWD van. The only thing to really watch out for were the crosswinds and the Bernoulli effect when overtaking trailer trucks. On the Autobahn I was able to drive at 150km/h in the middle lane (not something I could do in Malaysia). Talking about trailers, the Autobahn is actually full of these big guys, showing just how active the trade activity is in Germany. They’re also usually articulated (trailers in Malaysia are usually just one big container).

 Articulated trailers that we saw on the Autobahn [Image Source]


German roads have thicker broken white markings to differentiate filter and merging lanes from normal lanes. It makes it easier for you to prepare for an exit or expect cars merging from the right. Actually this is standard practice but I never really noticed it in Malaysia. We also have thicker broken lines for merging lanes and filter lanes. Our merging and filter lanes are just usually a little bit shorter, making them less obvious (or I haven't been paying attention all these years of driving). German highways also use a lot of cloverleaf interchanges. Travelling from Hannover to Stuttgart took us almost an entire day and the never ending highways and cloverleaf interchanges made it feel like an infinite road.


Thicker broken white lines indicate filter/merging lanes on the expressway [Image Source] 


Cloverleaf interchange 



It was on the Autobahn that I first heard The Weeknd's "Blinding Lights" and now the song will forever remind me of this entire trip in Germany. As we drove South, we noticed a lot of wind turbines along the way. After consulting our Airbnb host in Meinersen, we learnt that the wind turbines are usually privately owned (I trust him, he runs a business dismantling and assembling wind turbines). Talking about our Airbnb host, the man is also a car nut with 14 or so cars laying around including Alfa Romeos, some 240Z Fairladies, a bulletproof Cadillac Escalade, and a Delorean.



Clockwise from top left: Dismantled wind turbines in front of our Airbnb from our host's business; Wind turbines along the expressway; one of the few garages at our Airbnb full of  old Mercs and Alfas; A dusty Delorean also belonging to our Airbnb host



Driving in the cities requires more patience and awareness. Although driving on the Autobahn can be pleasant, traffic congestion is still a problem in cities like Munich and Stuttgart. As always, congestion is a function of number of individual bodies per unit area. In Malaysia, green always means go, but in Germany, making left turns at traffic lights require you to wait for traffic on the other side to be clear first. In Malaysia pedestrians usually wait for cars to go first (even at zebra crossings), but in Germany cars wait for pedestrians (at zebra crossings). Although this sounds very progressive, there are instances when pedestrians could be a cause of traffic jams in busy areas. Another thing to remember is to turn off your car engine when you’re in an underground parking (Tiefgarage). An elderly German man wasn’t so happy about us idling in our Vito and releasing exhaust gas in the underground parking area.


Traffic jam and trams in Stuttgart


In small towns, we noticed these interactive speed cameras that gave a smiley face when we were below the speed limit and a sad face when we exceeded the speed limit. Speed limits in small towns were usually 50km/h and the speed limit in school areas was 30km/h. German drivers are also very respectful of the speed limit. In Malaysia, it is very common to go 100 in an 80 area. The only time we really follow the speed limit in Malaysia is when there are speed cameras.


Smiley face if you follow the speed limit



The Vito Tourer

 

Engine: Mercedes OM651 DE22LA I4 (turbocharged)

Engine Capacity: 2143cc

Fuel: Diesel

Transmission: 7G-TRONIC PLUS Automatic

Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel-Drive

Tyres: 225/55 R17 Continental VancoWinter 2

 


The Vito Tourer is a unibody van. That explains the decent ride. The turbocharged I4 engine assisted by the 7-speed automatic was sufficient for overtaking and cruising on the highway. The Vito Tourer is available in both FWD and RWD. I believe the FWD version offers more space for a bigger fuel tank and more floor space in the back with the absence of a prop shaft. Our rental was RWD.

 


Since it was January when we arrived, the car was sitting on winter tyres from Continental. We also opted for the in-car navigation which made driving a lot easier in a foreign country. Driving on the other side of the road required extra concentration, so the GPS helped take navigation off of my mind.

 


The in-car navigation was detailed and very helpful. Although not always accurate on the ETA. The steering wheel was very comfortable in the Vito. Good grip and good power steering for a van (even felt easier to handle than my little Axia). Returning back to the Axia after the trip made my  car feel sub-par  in comparison to a van.



For a van, the Vito drove really well (thanks to the unibody), and on the inside it didn’t feel as crude as I thought it would be. The steering wheel is comfortable and the electronic gear shifter and paddle shifts can sometimes make you forget you’re actually driving a van. Since we rented a base spec Vito, it was not equipped with a rear-view camera.

 

 The slots in the dashboard made it convenient to charge your mobile phone as you drive


There is nothing fancy on the inside. The seat trims are standard and the car seats 9 people with 3 seats in each row. The 116 CDI Tourer only has one sliding door and the passenger windows cannot be rolled down. 




 

The only things I would change on this car are a bigger fuel tank and the addition of a rear view camera. Renting a car gave us a lot more flexibility with our trip and I believe it is actually more cost effective than public transport (considering the number of people in our group). We traveled to Germany to see the cars and we’ll talk about that in the following parts of this article. (List to be updated at the bottom)



Returning the Vito


Returning the car was also a new experience for myself. Previously while living in Belfast and when travelling around other countries, rental cars were usually returned at the rental car provider's office. A shuttle service was usually provided to later ferry you to the airport, At Munich airport, things were different (I'm guessing there's a high volume of rental cars). We followed the "Car Rental Return" signboard which led us into a a very busy parking garage with rows of rental cars. We were instructed to park in one of the rows. An inspection officer with a tablet did a quick inspection and said the car was perfect. We unloaded our bags, took a trolley and headed to our terminal.  It looked like all the car rental providers decided to just work together and put all their cars in one place and sort them out later. It certainly was quick and efficient for the customer. 





Now that we're done talking about the experience renting the Vito and driving 2177km, let's move on to the serial automobile museum visit that we did in Germany. This series is long and will take some time to read but I hope that those of you who chanced upon this article find it helpful if you're planning something similar while in Germany.


More parts of this Series:

Part 1: Driving 2,177km in a Mercedes Vito Tourer

Part 2: Autostadt and Driving a Volkswagen e-Golf

Part 3: Automotive History At The Mercedes-Benz Museum
Part 4: Racing Heritage At The Porsche Museum




 

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