The new Mercedes-Benz MWB 314 brings front wheel drive for Sprinter fans. – Report by Warren Caves, images by Torque it Up.
The third-generation Sprinter van provides substantial upgrades over its predecessor to provide market-specific solutions to cover a wide spectrum of operational needs.
While that explanation may sound like something a marketing person would mutter in their sleep, Sprinter does offer tailored options to customers, achieving that goal by drawing from a selection of over 1700 variations of design across a broad spectrum of applications.
Front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, automatic or manual transmissions and either four-cylinder or V6 diesel powerplant options combine with body configurations of vans, cab-chassis and chassis cowl units, (vehicles supplied with cabs constructed from the B-pillar forward) allowing freedom of design for motorhome, ambulance or emergency service applications.
Delivery recently had the opportunity to test a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, MWB front-wheel drive van fitted with the long-serving OM 651 2.1-litre, single turbo, intercooled, DOHC, four-cylinder diesel engine, and 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission. It complies to Euro6 emissions standards, well in advance of its mandated adoption, and achieves this goal by way of SCR and DPF after-treatment technologies.
The Sprinter ticks many boxes in terms of safety and technology, leaving many of its competitors in its wake outdated and unable to play catch up.
This third-generation Sprinter brings with it a deeper grille and narrower headlights, adding a subtle change to the external appearance, but let’s face it, there’s only so much you do to enhance the styling of a van which is essentially made for work.
The greatest changes have taken place for the new Gen-Three version is within the cabin. Here it’s all about safety, with technology and interior styling upgrades dominating the interior space.
Cabin entry and exit is a simple and uncomplicated task with wide door openings and a large step to provide secure footing. There is however a negative on this score, as the door-mounted grab handle for me is positioned too far forward for comfortable use. I much prefer a handle securely fixed to the A-pillar.
Once onboard, the Sprinter cockpit provides comfortable cloth seating with numerous adjustments to find that “just-right” position, all at the push of an electric button located in the door panel, adjacent to the electric mirror and window controls. Although, in saying that, as is often the case rearward seating travel for the base and the backrest was a little hindered by the fitment of a cargo bulkhead behind the seats. There were no armrests fitted to this vehicle, and, with the Sprinter’s elevated driving position, would be a worthwhile addition.
Operating the MBUX multi-media system via the steering wheel or seven-inch touchscreen is a fairly user-friendly task and had my phone paired and some tunes located within a couple of minutes.
There is an option for a third seat as a dual-passenger seat that fills in the open space between the seats, but with only single-passenger seat and a full-width fitted bulkhead there’s a good case for better using the space by fitting a console/storage bin to keep loose items secure and out of sight.
Standard safety features are active brake assist, blind-spot assist, cruise control, reversing camera, daytime running lights and driver and passenger airbags as well as side-window airbags. The electronic stability programme features hill-start assist, ABS, cross-wind assist, roll-movement intervention and more.
Vision from the driver’s seat is excellent and the large dual-lens mirrors clearly show events to the rear and side of the van body. If that still isn’t enough information about your surroundings, the blind-spot assist warning lights in the mirrors will lend a hand when contemplating a lane change, and as a last line of defence, the 360-degree camera system and front and rear parking sensors have well and truly, got your back (and your front and sides).
Previous test reviews I have done with Sprinters have been with rear-wheel drive models, and to be honest from the driver’s seat there is little to give away the east/west engine orientation of this Sprinter. The only indicators that you are driving a FWD was the trademark torque steer (or front-wheel pull) under fast acceleration off the mark, and when unladen the rear end seemed a bit light with the solid rear axle, perhaps a little uncompliant in terms of suspension articulation and damping.
Interior noise levels when on the road and at highway speeds were quiet and comfortably suppressed, influenced strongly by the cargo bulkhead, which had a huge impact on insulating the driver and front seat passengers from the drumming and echoing noises that can be generated off the various road surfaces. There are good reasons to consider making the fitment of a full bulkhead mandatory for any delivery vehicle carrying freight on the grounds of safety and for the benefit of a quieter working environment.
The DISTRONIC system fitted did an admirable job of maintaining a safe distance from any vehicle ahead in the same lane, responding to my having selected the two-bar incremental setting to keep around a 40-metre spacing. It remains necessary to maintain attentiveness when using the DISTRONIC system, as when approaching a slower vehicle, it can be quite easy to not notice the automatic speed reduction of your own vehicle that takes place in order to match it to the vehicle ahead.
The plucky 2.1-litre engine provided a maximum output of 105 kW of power at 3800 rpm and 330 Nm of torque at between 1200-2400 rpm. It’s this wide plateau of torque, combined with the nine gear ratios, that make the Sprinter really drivable, supplying virtually instant response when it’s needed and eliminating any lag points.
Emissions are controlled by SCR (selective catalytic reduction), using Ad-Blue and DPF systems. The Ad-Blue filler is located under the bonnet which should go some way to alleviating the occurrence of putting Ad-Blue in the diesel tank (it happens more than you may think). On the down-side there doesn’t seem to be an Ad-Blue gauge indicating the level in the 22-litre tank, instead relying on a warning in the dash display to alert the operator that it’s time to top up.
The OM 651 engine accompanied by the Mercedes 9G-TRONIC transmission form a harmonious alliance. The low-down torque available from the little four-cylinder gels nicely with the gearbox’s shift parameters to yield an effortless drive. While this test was conducted unladen, previous drives have proved that a few hundred kilos of weight do not greatly affect the Sprinter’s performance.
Keeping up with city traffic and stretching its legs on freeway duties were all in a day’s work for the Sprinter, and the performance output belies the engine’s small cubic capacity to yield more than adequate performance.
For the sporty at heart, gearshifts can be manually operated via the shift paddles on the underside of the steering wheel. There are additional controls located on the face of the steering wheel spokes for the majority of the vehicle’s commonly used features including cruise control, Bluetooth phone, fuel data display and audio controls. Once familiarised with the buttons, I found it quite easy to access these functions whilst driving, without the need to take my eyes off the road for any length of time.
The Sprinter front suspension is by way of a coil-over shock arrangement, while the rear is a solid axle accompanied by leaf springs. This combination provided reasonable performance well suited to the vehicle’s intended use. Ride quality was good with a sense of road holding security, the electric-assisted steering also insulates the driver well from road feedback through the wheel and demands effortless input for low-speed manoeuvring.
The Sprinter is shod with Pirelli 225/65/16 “Carrier” tyres. These were quiet and grippy and the sensible sizing should make tyre replacement a moderate cost burden.
The cargo area is generous in proportions with 9.5 cubic metres of space available. Dimensions are 3300 mm in length, 1700 mm in width with 1400 mm available between the wheel arches. These dimensions are well suited to accepting standard Australian pallets which can be easily loaded by forklift through the 180-degree opening rear doors. All that space can be filled with 1369 kg of cargo to take the Sprinter’s weight up to its maximum GVM of 3.55 tonne.
Ten floor anchor points are provided for securing loads; however, I would like to see anchor points part way up the wall for securing tall, lighter items to the wall. Two small incandescent lights are fitted within the cargo area, making the LED upgrade option would be well worth the investment.
What the front-wheel drive option does achieve, by way of no rear driveshaft, is a reduction in floor height of 80 mm. This could prove valuable to operators loading and unloading heavy items by hand, plus it provides easier entry to the cargo area. It’s also a plus for motorhome manufacturers looking to achieve greater internal living area space without the need for a higher roof, plus the further bonus of maintaining lower roof heights for hire fleets where renters are prone to cause overhead impact damage.
For class-leading safety and technology, you would be hard pressed to go past the Sprinter. The configuration availabilities should provide a solution to nearly every transport need and for the driver it’s also nice to spend your day in a van that surrounds you with a modicum of European refinement.
The Sprinter MWB 314 was fitted with the following extras:
Electric seat pack $2530 inc. gst
Parking package with 360-degree camera $1232
Active Lane Keeping Assist $554
Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC $1067
Full Bulkhead with fixed window $611
Navigation System $980
Metallic paint and wooden flooring $2200
Leather steering wheel $231
Smartphone wireless charging tray $185
Smartphone cradle $92
Electric park brake $358
9G-TRONIC automatic transmission (9-spd) $2875
To give a total retail price of $66,779 inc. GST plus ORC’s