There’s something quite impressive about watching a carmaker waltz into a segment and bust it wide open. Actually, Mercedes is essentially taking all matters of luxury car/truck/van/utes segments and stuffing them with so many products that one would think their plan is to take over the industry. In case you were not aware, they will be introducing the compact Metris (to compete with the Transit Connect) in the fall of this year.
I’ve never taken the time to count the number of nameplates they have (A, B, C, CLA, CLS, E, G, GL, GLA, and now V, and so on and so forth, as well as AMG, smart and Sprinter) but I think the figure is somewhere in the thousands. Mercedes’ reach is huge and almost everything they touch turns to gold (with the exception of the CLA…).
Where vans are concerned, Mercedes’ has been at it with the Sprinter since the mid-‘90s and at vans since the mid-‘70s, so they’ve learned a thing or two in the process. The latest Sprinter is incredibly simple but mind-blowingly competent. We quickly forget how sophisticated this rolling hyperrectangle really is. Easy to drive, powerful and efficient, the Sprinter defines its category in North America.
Putting it to the test
It can be difficult to actually put a large van to the test properly, hence why my booking coincided with my moving into my new house with the girlfriend. Between she and I, we’ve accumulated an alarming amount of junk, and so the Sprinter was loaded something fierce -- four times over.
With nearly 14,000 litres of space (just under 500 cubic feet), the “trunk” swallowed couches, mattresses, desks, chairs, bookshelves, sugar glider cages (they be big), and far too much more. The beauty about the High Roof and 170" wheelbase version is that the Tetris loading game is not necessary. There is such a thing as a super high roof but it best serves those who, like plumbers or electricians, that need the cargo hold outfitted with shelving units and cabinets.
Where the power’s at
North American manufacturers have excelled at stuffing dinosaur-like (in size and age) V8s under the bonnets of their commercial vans since forever. Occasionally, a V8 diesel badge would grace the sides of the vehicle, but even then I’d always been under the impression that the extra cylinders were required to move the extra weight around. Mercedes does things differently.
The base Sprinter van is equipped with a 2.1L 4-cylinder turbo-diesel engine. Yes, you read that right. For a van with a gross vehicle weight rating of 3,880kg (8,550lbs) (!) including a payload capacity of 1,413kg (3,117lbs), a 4-pot does the job. As well, my Sprinter can tow up to 2,268kg (5,000lbs).
This engine generates 161 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque and is mated to a 7G-TRONIC PLUS automatic transmission. The optional 3.0L diesel V6, with a 5-speed automatic, is slightly more powerful putting out 188 horsepower and 325 torques. The latter is the only obtainable mill when the newly available 4x4 option is selected.
Even when loaded, the 2015 Mercedes Sprinter is uncannily stable. Despite the insanely long wheelbase and high roof, the Sprinter barely leans into corners and onramps are negotiated much as it would be done in a large car; being mindful of the overall length is the only aspect to truly consider.
The ride quality is very good, laden or not. My tester’s optional suspension with heavy-duty front and rear stabilizers and rear comfort springs do wonders to limit punishment over rough roads.
I assure you that all possible doubts you may have as to the 4-cylinder’s ability to move the big van and its cargo are unfounded. Unladen, I even enjoyed minor bouts of streetlight racing (OK, not really) but thanks to the fact that all its torque is on as of 1,400 rpm, taking off from a dead stop was fun. The 2-stage turbocharger is not hindered by lag. As such, thrust is instantaneous.
The brakes on the Sprinter are powerful, but not grabby. My heaviest load hovered around 375kg (825lbs), but the van never noticed, be it in seat-of-the-pants acceleration or braking.
Cozy, for two
My cargo Sprinter 2500 featured seating for two but a crew van package will add a 3rd seat up front. A passenger Sprinter will accommodate up to 12 occupants, making it nothing short of a bus.
Although sparse, the Sprinter cargo can be well appointed with optional heated seats, navigation and other niceties. There’s tons of space overhead and between the seats for tools, hand and lunch bags. The comfort seat package and telescoping steering combine to create a decent driving position, good enough for a long-distance haul.
It can get a little noisy at highway speeds, but Mercedes has covered with the optional luxury interior package that includes additional insulation and nicer interior trim.
Vans are making a comeback
In the last 24 months or so, this previously limited segment has grown with the addition of two important new players. The Ford Transit is the more important of the two, but the RAM Promaster is not without its merits. The other remaining American offerings are marginal, at best.
Despite my appreciation for the Ford and its lower base price, I’d spring ('cause I need a massive van...) for the more expensive Mercedes (base price $41,300) and likely get the exact version I test-drove which sported a sticker price of $52,330. A fully decked-out 2500 4x4 passenger Sprinter can set you back roughly $75,000, in the event you were wondering.