Twenty-First Century Van.
As Mercedes-Benz head of Van Sales Steve Bridge, told the assembled motoring writers at the recent UK launch of the third generation Sprinter, ” Mercedes-Benz Vans is undergoing a transformation from a vehicle manufacturer into a provider of transport & mobility solutions. “ As the way we purchase & use our vans changes, Daimler have invested an awful lot of time & money, making the latest Sprinter, the first Mercedes CV to embody their adVANce philosophy. adVANce is designed to take a more holistic look at transport & mobility in the commercial vehicle sector, with vehicle ‘connectivity,’ the key to how business will use their vans in the future. This investment will put the MBCV brand at the forefront in future proofing it’s entire commercial range, for the inevitable technological changes ahead.
In the meantime, for those of you who want to know more about the latest Sprinter & how it differs from what went before, read on…
The new third generation Sprinter is an evolution of the van that came before it. It now contains the brand’s Pro Connect advanced technology, accessed from a new centrally located 10.25” touchscreen. The interior features a new touch-capable multifunction steering wheel, natural voice control, a clearly laid-out uncluttered instrument panel, wireless charging for smartphones & some features from the Mercedes-Benz car range, such as the air-vents, all giving this new Sprinter the most car-like interior of any van to date.
The top of the dash features three closing storage cubby’s, the larger central one hiding the USB connection. Further storage comes in the form of door pockets large enough to hold a couple of bottles, two storage spaces underneath the dashboard controls, shelving above both driver & passenger & two smaller spaces under the central air-vents. There’s a quality finish to the dash & the neat & tidy matt black interior. The lack of switches on the dash is a little disconcerting. The touchscreen & functions therein, do take a little while to get used to, but it’s not as complicated as most modern cars. Once you’ve spent some time behind the wheel, everything clicks into place with the the toggle heating controls for example, becoming second nature to adjust. Everything you need, is within easy reach from the drivers seat as well.
From the outside, it’s still unmistakably a Sprinter. Subtle updates include slender headlights, with LED bulbs on higher spec vans, a more upright windscreen, blistered wheel arches & a softer profile.
Both the inside & outside may be new, but the engine range is the same as the last model. For the first time the Sprinter is offered with Front-Wheel-Drive, powered by a 2.1-litre four-cylinder unit offered in three power outputs; 114hp, 143hp & 177hp, with the most powerful version exclusively reserved for the camper van.
Rear-Wheel-Drive also features on the 2.1 litre unit & offers power outputs of 114hp, 143hp or 163hp. And, if you need one, a 3.0-litre V6 diesel FWD version, is now offered for the first time. As before, the Sprinter AWD is also available with four-wheel drive and a raised ride height to give it some extra off-road ability.
As standard, the Sprinter get’s a six-speed manual gearbox, while the rear-drive model has the option of a 7Gtronic auto. The FWD mode also features a new nine-speed torque converter auto for improved efficiency & performance. If you’re a buyer looking to reduce emissions, especially for last-mile deliveries in urban areas, the all-electric Mercedes eSprinter will join the range in 2019.
If you’re looking for your large panel van to be just right for you, the latest Sprinter offers 1,700 variants, be it panel van, Tourer, dropside, chassis, bus or tractor head. Maximum load capacity is 17m3 & up to 5.5 tonnes. The addition of FWD increases payload by 50 kg & this model is also available with a 9-speed auto transmission. FWD also offers an 80 mm lower loading sill to make loading/unloading & access/exit more convenient.
The panel van comes in a variety of sizes, with four wheelbases & six body styles. The FWD version comes in two wheelbases (3,259mm or 3,924mm) & is offered in panel van, chassis cab or tractor head guises, the latter being designed for camper van conversion.
Go for the Sprinter RWD, and you have a choice of three wheelbases in either panel van, chassis cab, crew cab or passenger carrying Tourer bodies, while the RWD version also offers a double-wheel option for loads up to 5.5 tonnes.
The panel van has a load area that features a large, flat, plastic-trimmed floor, plus a plywood lining , which is now standard across the range. The box wheelarches have been strengthened and are able to carry as much weight as the load floor itself, while standard & high-roof variants are also offered.
In terms of electronics, the Sprinter now comes with electric power steering, so it’s able to make use of Mercedes’s latest safety systems from its car range. Distronic adaptive cruise control is also available which is capable of bringing the Sprinter to a complete stop before driving off again & it can cope with congested driving. Lane keep assist is on offer too, while the active system can automatically brake the vehicle if it senses the Sprinter is drifting across road lanes.
Depending on body type, wheelbase, roof height, drive configuration & engine variant, the fuel consumption figures vary between 41.5 and 29.1 mpg, with CO2’s of between 178 & 253 g/km. Nitrogen oxides after combustion falls by over 80% & the AdBlue tank capacity has increased to 22 litres
We were able to drive a FWD manual MWB version first. Leaving our Birmingham City Centre location, the first thing that strikes you about the latest Sprinter, is just how easy it is to drive. Much like the latest Crafter & MAN TGE, it’s incredibly car-like in movement & feel. The speed sensitive electric power steering is light & well balanced & although our 114hp test model lacked a bit of poke, it did enough with two on board & a load of bagged concrete on a small pallet, to keep up with traffic on the M6 heading south. In & around the city, it coped well with rush-hour traffic & the light clutch was a real bonus.
From a connectivity point of view, Mercedes Pro Connect from launch will allow you to utilise 8 services out of the projected 18 that will be available over time, a very useful tool for fleet managers & delivery drivers alike. These include, Vehicle Supervision, Vehicle Operations, Fleet Communication, Maintenance Management & Accident Management & a Digital Driver’s Log. There’s also a high-speed internet connection in the New Sprinter, which is available for the connectivity services of Mercedes Pro, but can also act as a hotspot for separate mobile devices. For the first 3 years, the Mercedes Pro service “Live Traffic” is available for free with the navigation system
The infotainment system offered, included an AM/FM radio, with my own favourite 6Music DAB station, found using the built-in TuneIn internet radio App. Mercedes SatNav was straightforward to set up & generally worked well, although as with many counterparts, if you rely solely on it, you will need to keep your wits about you as it has a tendency, visually anyway, be a little slow to point out the next turn, leaving you unsure as to which right hander you really should be going down.
The driver seat & seat adjustment were exemplary. Fore & aft, up & down are all on offer & it was easy for me to get comfortable behind the wheel. There’s space for three up front & the steel bulk head keeps the cab quiet, a bonus if utilising hands-free Bluetooth, or if you’re just chatting to a colleague.
The steering wheel also features buttons to access the infotainment system, the hands-free Bluetooth phone connectivity, the cruise control & vehicle information. Adjusting the air-con & fan to your liking, is achieved by toggling the relevant switches up & down. These are located to the left & right hand side of the central dash underneath the touchscreen. There’s also a push-button starter, standard across the range, wiht keyless entry & exit. The electronic hand brake is located just below the steering wheel. All in all, the interior is very clutter-free & Scandi-Like in it’s ergonomics & design.
After lunch we drove back through heavy traffic in a RWD LWB auto version of the new Sprinter, which proved to be equally as impressive to pilot as the smaller manual. Stop-start traffic proved no problem with the auto box, in which the seven-gears were well spaced. At one point, I did take a wrong turn & with the excellent reversing camera located in the dashboard & viewed in the touchscreen, the LWD Sprinter is a cinch to make a 3-point turn in a cul-de-sac.
Most of the return journey was spent negotiating the type of driving roads with associated traffic, that delivery drivers encounter daily. In comparison with the previous model, this latest Sprinter does everything from the drivers point of view, better than it’s predecessor & better than the competition.
Prices for the new van will start from £24,350 excluding VAT on the road, for a standard roof, FWD, SWB L1 panel van, with a 111bhp 211CDI diesel four-cylinder engine. Chassis cab Sprinter models will start slightly cheaper than van bodied variants, kicking off at £23,370 before VAT, while crew cab models begin from £31,800. These prices make it competitive against the Volkswagen Crafter & the MAN TGE, it’s natural competitors.
So in conclusion, what do we have with the new Sprinter ? In essence, we have a large panel-van that does anything & everything you’d want a large panel-van to do. A myriad of sizes, options & a good choice of engines, in manual or auto, FWD, RWD or AWD, should keep customers happy. The ultra-modern, clutter free interior, high quality fixtures & fittings, hard wearing finish & standard safety features also help, but what really sets this new Sprinter apart, not just only from it’s predecessor, but from the class leading VW & MAN large vans, is the new Mercedes-Benz Pro Connect service system, a system designed to help business users utilise data, enabling them to simplify the use of vans within their day-to-day use.
Daimler has created the first van, that will be ready for the technological changes ahead, a van that will enable, like Apples’s OS operating system, to change with the times, whilst still offering customers more of what they want.
The latest Sprinter may not be cheap, but by our reckoning, it’s well worth the extra investment & takes it’s position as the new class-leader