Chris Mullett takes to the Sydney peak hour with the latest version of Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
As any delivery driver in Sydney would know only too well, peak hour extends from around 5:15 a.m. through to just after 6:45 p.m. Yes, there are brief periods when the traffic seems to reduce, usually when other drivers need feeding, but in general the traffic congestion remains as a full-time companion.
The Sprinter design in its present form has been around now for seven years.
But, as with most vehicles these days, there has been a regular series of upgrades to the product that have sharpened its competitiveness.
The similarity between the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and the Volkswagen Crafter is obvious from a visual perspective. This is hardly surprising, considering the joint collaboration between both manufacturers, and the joint venture that sees both products built in the same East Berlin factory at Ludwigsfelde, in Germany.
It’s the features that are not similar that are of particular interest for this evaluation, and here we are looking in particular at the engine and driveline, both totally different for those wearing VW or three-pointed star badging.
The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter on test was the 316 CDI in medium wheelbase (MWB) with a standard roof height. Under the bonnet is the four-cylinder, in-line, common-rail, fuel-injected diesel that runs to Euro V emissions standards.
With 120 kW on tap at 3,800 rpm and peak torque of 360 Nm rated all the way through from 1,400 to 2,400 rpm, the engine spread of performance is certainly impressive. The power comes through smoothly, and, thanks to two-stage turbocharging and intercooling, there are no sudden surges or lapses in the engine’s delivery.
The automatic transmission choice for the van was originally confined to that of a six-speed, full-fluid automatic, or, in the cab-chassis versions, that of a five-speed auto. But, since the second quarter of last year, there’s now an optionally available seven-speed auto called the 7G-Tronic, and that’s where this model now shines out from the competition.
The 316 CDI Sprinter MWB comes with a GVM of 3,550 kg, weighs in at an unladen weight of 2,050 kg and offers a payload of 1,500 kg. At an overall length of 5,910 mm it’s not too large that it can’t fit onto a standard parking bay, but, with a roof height of 2,415 mm, it’s not going to squeeze into any underground carparks.
The cargo area provides 9.0 cubic metres of loadspace, and it does so through an interior floor to ceiling height of 1,650 mm and an interior length of 3,265 mm. The width between van walls is 1,780 mm, narrowing down to 1,350 mm between the wheelarches that cover single wheels of 235/75R16 sizing.
Access to the cargo area is either a walk through from the cabin, stepping through the gap between the single passenger seat and the driver’s seat, or by a sliding kerbside door of 1,300 x 1,520 mm (W x H), or though wide opening barn doors at the rear of 1,565 x 1,540 mm (W x H). It’s possible to add an optional right-hand-side sliding door, and if you want the ultimate in delivery luxury, these can be powered electrically to open and close at the tough of a button.
Our drive programme, for a typical courier run, covered freeway running up the Hume Highway in time for the normal congestion at the Campbelltown junction. A switch to the M7 for a pick up from Eastern Creek soon followed, then our route lay out to Penrith for a drop off, then back into Marrickville for a further drop before spending the rest of the day battling traffic around St. Peters and the inappropriately named Princes Highway. A final run south down the Hume finished the trip.
The immediate impression for a driver is that of excellent visibility. The large view afforded through the door mirrors covers everything happening around the van, backed up by convex spotter mirrors under the main mirror heads. All controls fall easily to hand and the onboard trip computer provides a constant read-out of fuel economy, average speed and journey time.
Bluetooth connectivity for a mobile phone is included, and this works off push buttons on the steering wheel for accept or decline, with a duplicate 0-9 number pad on the dashboard. The system also brings up recent incoming calls, calls that have been missed or recent outgoing calls, all displayed on a central screen.
Cruise control plus an upper speed limiter control are included and work off a single wand behind the steering wheel rim. This is particularly easy to use and easy to understand.
Having settled in behind the wheel, the next impression for the driver is that performance is certainly adequate for any variation in cargo loading from empty through to full payload. The engine matching of performance and torque that’s available with the new seven-speed 7G-Tronic transmission is excellent.
Considering the peak torque comes through from 1,400 to 2,400 rpm, this is right where the seven-speed transmission smoothes everything out. At 100 km/h the engine revs sit at 2,000 rpm. Take the speed up to 110 km/h and the engine revs along in 7th at 2,200 rpm. The gear changes are imperceptible, and, as the engine and transmission stay within the ideal torque range, the fuel economy available is a standout feature of this vehicle.
Our early morning run up the Hume brought in a fuel consumption of 6.8 l/100 km, before hitting the usual traffic congestion for the Eastern Creek area that raised consumption to average around the 7.4 l/100 km area. It wasn’t until we got caught in the aftermath of a B-double rollover that caused havoc in the afternoon peak around the M7 and M5 junction that fuel consumption in heavy traffic rose to 8.4 l/100 km.
These economy figures are almost unheard of for a 3.5 tonnes GVM delivery van, and that’s what really appeals about the Sprinter. Those needing more interior room can increase roof height by 290 mm to the High Roof version or go to the Super High Roof for an additional 490 mm above the standard roof height.
If it’s additional length you need then the options are to extend the overall length to 6,945 mm for the long-wheelbase version or 7,345 mm for the extended-length version. At this stage, the load compartment expands to 4,700 x 1,780 x 2,140 (L x W x H), but the vehicle is no longer going to fit in standard parking bays and takes on the overall dimensions of a medium rigid truck. You also reduce manoeuvrability by increasing the turning circle by 2.0 metres from the standard 13.6 metres.
As mentioned earlier, we found the available power and torque to be an ideal match for the 7G-Tronic transmission, and this same gearbox is now available with the smaller output, four-cylinder 313 CDI that provides 95 kW at 3,800 rpm and peak torque of 305 Nm rated at 1,200-2,400 rpm.
If you are contemplating a bank raid and looking for the ultimate getaway vehicle, there’s another option for you – the 319 CDI that comes with a V6 diesel with 140 kW at 3,800 rpm and peak torque of 440 Nm ranging through from 1,400 to 2,400 rpm.
Frankly, we found the 316 CDI to be such a good match for all types of delivery work that this model would form the basis of our recommendation. The other details that also need to be mentioned are those of safety.
With a full five-star crash safety rating, the Sprinter comes with the ultimate alphabet of safety features. With adaptive electronic stability programme (ESP) with ABS, the remaining standard features include ASR, BAS, EBD, ROM, LAC, RMI and USC. The driver gets an SRS airbag as standard, window and thorax airbags are optional. Suspension seats for driver and/or passenger are also optional, together with B-Xenon headlamps with a cornering function, light and rain sensing wiper and headlamp operation, parking sensors, a front dual passenger seat and a cargo bulkhead between the cabin and the cargo area.
The windscreen washer jets are part of the wiper arms and direct water straight onto the windscreen, and the wipers arc across the screen. The result is excellent and really appreciated for those congested mornings in peak-hour traffic and constant drizzle.
Also released as an upgrade to the Sprinter in 2012 was the introduction of the extended ESP package to improve brake performance in critical situations and enhance the safety of passengers and other road users.
Called ADAPTIVE ESP 9i, like the previous system it replaced, it takes the vehicle load into account. Depending on the weight and the position of the vehicle’s centre of gravity, the ESP sensors will ascertain the vehicle load at any given time; this information informs the ESP 9i so that it can stabilise the vehicle with individually modulated intervention action.
This upgraded ESP system will also intervene selectively if a trailer begins to sway, thus helping drivers to stabilise their vehicle and trailer combination.
ADAPTIVE ESP 9i has two important additional functionalities: Brake Disc Wipe and Electronic Brake Prefill.
In wet weather, light braking pressure is applied to the wheel brake at regular intervals to wipe the film of water off the brake disc. If emergency braking occurs, full braking power is immediately available. This gains valuable stopping distance compared with braking with wet brake discs.
If the accelerator pedal is released suddenly and quickly, the brake pads will automatically be gently applied so as to eliminate in advance the air gap between brake pad and disc. If emergency braking then occurs, valuable milliseconds will have been won since the friction surfaces of the pads and discs will already be in contact, facilitating effective deceleration.
This functionality also reduces stopping distance, which, depending on the circumstances, will either avoid an accident or diminish its severity.