We revisit the Delivery van and people mover of the year and end up even more impressed

It’s an interesting phenomenon that despite the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter not being the latest model in its market segment, continuing development has enabled it to keep pace with the newcomers. So much so, that every time we drive the large load carrier we find something else that commends its ability.

This month Delivery looks at two distinctly different models, the standard-roof Sprinter Transfer minibus and long-wheelbase high-roof 419 CDI panel van. You have to choose your words carefully when selecting your perfect Sprinter as there’s a wide choice to be had and some will be better suited than others.

Mercedes-Benz_Sprinter_P2Starting with the Sprinter Transfer minibus, we’ve always been of the opinion that a high roof would be the preference, giving better headroom for passengers as they clamber down the centre aisle to find their seats.

By using the bus for general work and for carrying passengers we’ve now come to the conclusion that the standard roof height model provides sufficient headroom for easy access and egress. Ordering a high-roof version simply means you are carrying around a lot of empty space, literally over the heads of your passengers.

What matters most is the size of the seat, the three point lap/sash diagonal retractable seat belt for each passenger, the luggage space at the rear, which is accessed by the large barn doors, and the safety. All that extra headroom you move through the air with the high-roof version costs money in the form of added wind resistance and lower fuel economy.

If you have driven the standard commuter solution in the form of a flat-fronted Japanese-designed people mover, then you would be used to less than acceptable roadholding, poor directional stability in strong crosswinds, narrow seats and a relatively high interior noise level coming from the engine, transmission and passing wind – the latter point generally not being attributable to the passengers.

That’s where the Sprinter Transfer makes its first mark. The interior noise levels are very low, in fact almost car-like by comparison. The wide sliding side door is power assisted and operates from a dashboard switch or the remote button on the key fob.

There’s easy access into the passenger area and well-placed grab handles for those that like a firm grip on the world. At the rear, the luggage area can accommodate probably all the luggage that’s carried by its 11 passengers. If you need more luggage space you can close up the seat spacing, and if your passengers are strictly just day-trippers you can slot in another seat row, in lieu of luggage space.

Weighing in at around the 2.5 tonnes mark, the standard-roof Sprinter will turn about within 13.6 metres, can tow a braked trailer with a gross weight of two tonnes, and is powered by a 2.2-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled diesel engine. The standard transmission choice here is a seven-speed auto, but only Scrooge would try to demand the six-speed manual available Mercedes-Benz_Sprinter_1in the van version when the standard 7G-TRONIC auto provides such a better solution.

The auto ‘box matches the 120 kW and 360 Nm of engine ability to such an extent that most drivers would think they were powering along in a much higher output engine. The torque spread occurs through from 1600 to 2400 rpm, and this explains to a certain degree why fuel economy is so impressive. With seven gear ratios, and unless the driver has a very heavy right foot, the attainable fuel economy figure is going to as low as 8.6 l/100 km. Just think back and remember that it wasn’t that long ago that a family sedan, albeit with a petrol engine, was returning mid 12s.

While we were re-experiencing the Sprinter Transfer we also spent a good deal of time in the large van equivalent, the 419 CDI high roof. This is the van for the speedy courier set, boasting a 3.0-litre, V6 diesel and raising the power and torque to 140 kW and 440 Nm. Maximum power comes through at the same rpm as the minibus, at 3,800 rpm, but torque spread is broader, from 1,400 to 2,400 rpm.

What both models do share is the 7G-TRONIC transmission, and once again this is what seals the deal.

The 419 CDI van has a high-roof option and this makes it ideal for ferrying furniture around, delivering plants or carrying express parcels interstate in the 14.0 cubic metre volume of the cargo area. With a payload capacity of 2,182 kg and a load floor length of 4,300 mm, this is a big van, and, consequently, it needs more space to come about, with a turning circle of 15.3 metres.

Our version came complete with a full-width, floor to ceiling cargo barrier behind the front seats, and this reduced the cargo floor length to 4,200 mm. The floor height at the rear is 750 mm and there’s a full floor to roof measurement of 2,000 mm.

A full-length rubber mat covered the floor, but if we were buying we would want to have the floor and walls clad in plywood to protect the interior of the body. While applying the cladding we would also add soundproofing glued to the walls to reduce interior noise levels and the transmission of road noise inside the van.

There is a larger cargo volume on offer of 15.5 cubic metres in the super-high-roof, extra-long version, but payload drops right off to just 1230 kg. It’s also noticeably longer to park; making our recommendation of staying put with just the long version a better solution.

Both the models tested by Delivery were packed with safety features including cross-wind assist, driver and passenger airbags, a rear-view camera, blind spot assist and lane departure assist.Mercedes-Benz_Sprinter_4

From an added safety perspective Sprinter comes with Adaptive ESP in conjunction with ABS, ASR, EBV, BAS, ESP, trailer stability assist, ESP disc brake wipe and ESP electronic brake pre-fill.

Explaining each abbreviation is only going to send our readers to sleep, so, suffice to say, we don’t know of any comparable people mover or van that offers this much by way of inbuilt safety. If you don’t want to be saved or protected by electronic intervention systems that’s your business. But, when carrying passengers it is their business that counts.

All the latest upgrades have made the Sprinter really pleasant to drive. By now even the most myopic van buyer will have come to realise our appreciation for the seven-speed auto, as this makes a good van so much better, while at the same time reducing fuel consumption and engine noise.

There is a tendency amongst sales people to offer more options than necessary, and in our view the Sprinter range could be culled down by around one third. This would make selection actually easier and improve model availability on the grounds of not going overboard when it comes to the extent of the choice.

To be a success requires an active sales force, and in the commercial vehicle world that means giving up your company car and driving home every night in a van. It’s only when you understand the product you are selling that you’ll find yourself speaking the same language as the buyer.

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