The Mercedes Sprinter, the original Euro-style full-size van, gets an updated front fascia and four-wheel drive, making it kind of a Jeep Wrangler for your neighborhood plumber. It also gets competition in the form of the Ford Transit and Ram Promaster, both new to our shores but battle-tested in the same European markets that spawned the Sprinter.
A new (to U.S. Sprinters, at least) four-cylinder diesel with a seven-speed automatic transmission is now offered on 2WD models, boasting fuel economy in the high 20-mpg range, according to Mercedes representatives. It's the same engine found in the GLK250 and ML350 Bluetec models, and a super low-emission vehicle (SULEV) option is offered, a first for a diesel engine anywhere in the world; the 3.5-liter V6 diesel/five-speed automatic combo continues, standard on 4x4 Sprinters and available on other models.
Acknowledging the concerns of anyone who has driven a tall, slab-sided machine like the Sprinter, Mercedes has also made its Crosswind Assist system standard on all Sprinter 2500 models. Crosswind Assist is essentially another dimension for the electronic-stability program, measuring and correcting for horizontal drift, in addition to yaw.
What's it like to drive?
If you've never driven a light- to medium-duty commercial vehicle, particularly one with a diesel, you may be surprised to hear they're a ton of fun. Several tons, actually. You are finally driving the bus, the perennial grade-school coup fantasy come to life. A Sprinter driver sits high and far forward with exceptional visibility, huge mirrors and a reasonably modern, easily understood instrument panel ahead of him or her.
The 2015 Sprinter van interior is basic but contains everything the average commercial van driver needs.PHOTO BY MERCEDES
If peak fuel economy is your main concern, as it will be for fleet operators and commercial customers, the 2.1-liter diesel four delivers plenty of punch; the tradeoff is higher NVH levels. Coach conversions and motorhomes will likely get the 3.5-liter V6, which has limitless-feeling torque and smooth, quiet operation -- it's the same engine featured in our long-term Mercedes GL350 luxury SUV (albeit with a five-speed automatic, in this case), and we can attest to its buttery-smooth power delivery.
Sprinter's 4x4 system won't shame the neighbor's Hummer H1, but it's effective on the kind of rutted, construction-site terrain a cargo van is likely to see. Two flavors are available: high-range only or 4x4 with both high and low range. The system is activated by a dash-mounted button (which also allows the operator to stay in 2WD mode when 4WD isn't needed), after which the brakes are modulated to direct torque from slipping wheels to those that have traction.
All Mercedes Sprinter vans are built in Dusseldorf, Germany; the passenger models slated for our market are then driven onto a ship and brought to the States like any other imported passenger vehicle. ...
When it came to testing Sprinter's Crosswind Assist system, Mercedes wasn't taking chances with the weather: The company arranged for a trio of 600-hp airboats to blast the van with a 90-mph wind as it passed by at 45 mph. As is often the case with stability controls, the most dramatic evidence of the system's effectiveness was its lack of drama; from inside the van, a slight wiggle and a few pulses from the ABS system were the only indication we'd encountered anything out of the ordinary.
Do I want one?
Do you need to move all your earthly belongings to a shack at the end of a rutted two-track? If so, the Sprinter 4x4 is what you want. It'll swallow hundreds of cubic feet of stuff (the exact volume depends upon which configuration you choose), get it all moving with limitless-feeling diesel power and traverse moderate off-road trails with surprising sure-footedness.
That used to be the end of the story -- you either chose the Euro-style diesel Sprinter (or the identical Freightliner version if you needed to appease a "domestic sourcing" requirement) or you settled for a traditional body-on-frame gasoline van from Ford or GM. With the arrival of the Ford Transit, though, the Sprinter is suddenly faced with a true domestic rival with a nicer cockpit, more engine options (including an entertaining EcoBoost twin-turbo gas V6 and a five-cylinder diesel) and an equally modern appearance.
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