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June 26 2017
By Tim Deakin

Tim is the Senior Journalist at routeONE magazine is also the title’s chief test driver, with considerable vehicle knowledge


The Spanish Solution: UNVI's Vega GT

Choice is modest for those operators that are in the market for a coachbuilt mini, but those that are available must meet some high standards. How does the UNVI Vega GT perform? We find out

The coachbuilt UNVI Vega GT is one of a small number of its type here

Coachbuilt models account for a modest part of the minicoach market. Nevertheless, they have a clear niche; coachbuilt comes at a premium over a conversion, but it offers more internal space and greater luggage capacity.

UNVI’s Vega GT is one of a handful of such minicoaches sold here. Part of the wider Vega range, it is 7.52m long and it seats up to 22 passengers. It is built on the 5,500kg GVW Sprinter.

Base vehicles are supplied as chassis cowls, and as seen in one Vega GT recently delivered to Staffordshire operator Plants Luxury Travel, there is a great deal of scope to incorporate whatever the buyer wants.

“We have added quite a lot to the basic specification,” says Director Mark Plant, who runs the business with his wife Julie.

Plants’ Vega GT often handles undertakes duties for a high-profile client, and it has almost £12,500-worth of extras. Most are for passengers’ benefit, but a three-stage Frenelsa retarder is present along with various cosmetic items.

The result is a completely bespoke vehicle that satisfies even the most demanding hirers, and the Vega GT supplied to Plants by UK and Ireland importer UNVI Bus and Coach has most of the comforts expected of a full-sized luxury tourer.

With a modest mileage on the clock, it has so far returned around 25mpg. That’s slightly below a comparable conversion, but along with the price premium, it’s an acceptable trade-off.

Interior of Plants’ Vega GT is nicely finished, will full-leather seating fitted

On the inside

UNVI makes good use of some of the best products in their respective fields in the Vega GT. Boarding is via a Masats plug door, and three steps lead to the platform. The first is lined in yellow and the other two have blue LED-lit edges.

Although the climb is minimal, handrails are present on both sides of the door. That on the left is upright, while the courier seat base has a horizontal grab within it. The base locks in position when stowed.

Plants has specified wood-effect flooring throughout, although in the steps and the sunken aisle it is covered with carpet. Nevertheless, the flooring is clearly visible beneath the seats and it adds to the overall ambience.

An upmarket feel continues with the 19 Brusa seats. They are finished in two-tone grey leather and have drop-down tables, while all aisle positions come with side-shift functionality.

The Mercedes-Benz three-pointed star is embroidered into the headrests and each seat has a three-point belt. Every passenger has a USB charging point within the side wall, and UNVI can fit 240v sockets if required, although to do that an inverter is necessary.

To the Mercedes-Benz Audio 15 sound system has been added a Bosch DVD player within the dash’s centre console. It feeds through a manually-lowered front-mounted monitor. The dash section has an optional cover, and so the head unit is out of sight.

A further extra is saloon climate control. It governs the standard roof-mounted air-conditioning unit and perimeter radiators, and it is effective at maintaining a consistent temperature.

The driver controls it via a display in the cab and airflow from the air-conditioning is via both a grille in the ceiling and vents in the passenger service units. The desired temperature is set and the rest is done automatically, with the aid of an auxiliary coolant heater if needed.

To the left when boarding is a top-loading, lockable fridge. It is deceptively big, and it can hold many more bottles of water than the vehicle can carry passengers.

A large boot is one of the attractions of the coachbuilt Vega GT body

Quality on the outside

Plants’ Vega GT is finished in Mercedes-Benz Graphite Grey, which forms the basis for the operator’s livery.  It includes Plants’ trademark reflective decals; the reason that no rear window is fitted is to provide a large space there for the fleet name.

On both sides, the one-piece panel beneath the panoramic double-glazed windows is deep enough to provide sufficient space for a large vinyl, and the extended windscreen also has space for one at the top without compromising the driver’s view.

The minicoach has been supplied with a chromed grille and wheel trims, to which the operator has added matching mirror backs. Combined with the metallic grey livery and reflective decals, that creates a cohesive appearance, which is furthered by heavily-tinted glazing.

At the rear, a large drop boot is accessed via a manual parallel-lifting door, although as Julie and Mark’s daughter Gemma observes, closing it is not the easiest task for shorter drivers.

That is certainly true, and even taller individuals will need to use both hands to lower the door. Once it is in position, however, slamming it is not necessary; instead, modest pressure at the upper top corners generates an audible click as it locks into place.

A powered boot door is optional, but UNVI acknowledges that it eats into space within the compartment. Additional storage is within two side lockers.

Underneath, the Frenelsa retarder is obvious. To accommodate it, UNVI replaces the OEM prop shaft with a two-piece unit, and as a result a 75-litre fuel tank is fitted. A retarder is no longer mandatory on 5,500kg GVW Sprinters, although it remains available.

Another factory-fit option is rear air suspension, although UNVI has not yet installed it on any Vega GTs for UK or Irish buyers. Mark notes that when loaded, the ride at the rear is good enough on steel springs.

Cab comforts

The Vega GT’s driver is looked after well. In Plants’ minicoach, the seat – like the courier position – matches those in the saloon and it is also heated. Also of benefit to the driver is a two-piece sunblind, and twin USB charging points in the dash.

Cab is well-specified and controls are all to hand; A-pillar base is thick

Controls for interior equipment that is part of the UNVI build are within a bank of one-touch buttons by the driver’s left knee. Although hidden slightly by the steering wheel, they are self-intuitive.

Plants has chosen a reversing camera that is coupled to the Audio 15 head unit. The standard-fit camera would otherwise be connected to its own monitor, with the camera within the rear spoiler. To meet Plants’ requirement, a Mercedes-Benz example is instead fitted above the spoiler.

Storage in and around the cab is reasonable, with space behind the seat for a bag. Access from either side is good, with only the handbrake in the way of reaching the driver’s seat from the saloon.

On the road

The area surrounding Cheadle gives a good opportunity to put the 2.2-litre, 163bhp engine and the 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic gearbox through their paces.

On flat ground there is more than enough power and the Sprinter drives as would be expected of a luxury car. It accelerates smartly and despite a substantial body it handles well, with no roll or wallow evident; that is impressive given the substantial roof-mounted air-conditioning unit.

Roads around Alton Towers is particularly hilly. When climbing, the small engine has enough power to keep up with the general flow of traffic, but in very testing terrain it is at its limit at a 5,500kg GVW.

Nevertheless, even when under full throttle the OM 651 does not intrude unduly, and the saloon ambience remains relaxed.

Descending steep hills gives chance to test the retarder. It performs well. In the third stage, and when combined with engine braking, it held the minicoach at around 15mph on a 14% grade, which is testament to its capabilities.

Visibility is good enough, although the nearside A- and B-pillars are close together. That slightly compromises vision there, although both mirrors are well sited.

Minicoach is returning in the region of 25mpg; no benefits to having V6

What’s the verdict?

On a cost-per-seat basis, Plants’ Vega GT is more expensive than many full-size coaches. But buyers should bear in mind that from a passenger’s perspective, the coachbuilt UNVI is a scaled-down version of those larger vehicles, and in its niche, it is a highly-competent performer.

It’s no surprise that the Vega GT gains approval when used on work for corporate clients, and the operator reaps the additional reward of a respectable fuel return.

“We are happy with 25mpg given the size of the bodywork, and I see no need to specify the V6; with the four-cylinder engine, the Vega GT never drops below 62mph on any motorway hill,” says Mark.

“Additionally, the retarder is very good and it handles most braking when used sensibly. I also regard the additional cost of climate control to be money well spent and I would have it again.”

The verdict on the Vega GT from an operator which has very high standards – it was a finalist in 2016’s routeone Awards in the excellence in minibus operation category – is mainly positive. miniplus echoes those thoughts. The coachbuilt UNVI is an attractive cruiser inside and out.



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