We find almost total perfection in the latest Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Transfer Bus
With every report of a minibus accident there’s further reason for Australian legislators to revisit the whole business of moving people safely from one place to another.
Some of the forward-control people movers wander horribly under the influence of freeway cross winds, and, when driven by those without proper training, the opportunities for serious accident multiply dramatically.
What makes this scenario worse is that many drivers are simply parents or retirees trying their best to help out when a footie team needs to be transported to an away game. A call to the local hire fleet and they’re on their way. Whether they come back in one piece, though, is a different matter.
The driving dynamics of a fully laden people mover can be totally unlike those of a conventional car. The driver is often inexperienced, the passengers often distracting through noise and excitement. And when concentration levels decline, the risk of accident increases.
Delivery has recently been driving a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Transfer Bus around central Melbourne, complete with our own rent-a-crowd of nine passengers. We collected travellers from the airport, ferried them across town to their hotel, took them to the shops, and then eventually returned them intact, laden with gifts, to Tullamarine airport for their homeward flights.
On face value that doesn’t sound like a recipe for fun, rather a functional requirement for a large people mover that gets the job done.
But that’s where the Sprinter Transfer Bus not only created a totally new impression for the business of shifting passengers, it resulted in the human cargo commenting on how comfortable and safe they felt as they travelled.
So, what makes the Sprinter Transfer Bus stand out from the crowd?
Dimensionally, it appears compact, and with an overall length of 6065 mm and a width of 2055 mm, wing mirror to wing mirror, it’s well sized to scoot around inner city streets without feeling like a substitute tram.
There’s a choice of roof height, with 2595 mm being the standard roof and 2850 mm being that of the medium roof height version. The additional headroom and feeling of spaciousness by choosing the medium-height version is not going to prevent access to any of the major hotels, theatres and car parks. Both versions will stop you going into underground car parks.
Seating is provided for 11 passengers, and this leaves ample space behind the rearmost seat row for luggage. Two of the passengers are accommodated on a dual seat next to the driver, leaving nine seats in a two-seat, two-seat plus single, then four seats layout spread over three rows.
With the medium roof height version the internal floor to ceiling height is 1820 mm, meaning that your fare-paying clientele just walks on board and doesn’t have to stoop and then shuffle along. There’s a slide-out step that runs the width of the sliding side door, and there are large, well placed grab handles that will assist even the very wobbly in their quest for somewhere to sit safely.
Even though seats are alongside each other, especially the four across the rearmost row, each are individual. Not a bench dual seat in sight. Each is trimmed in cloth and each has a retractable lap/sash and diagonal inertia reel seat belt.
Some utes on the market have a turning circle of 13 metres, and yet the Sprinter Transfer, which is considerably longer, turns in just 13.6 metres. That’s manoeuvrable in anyone’s language.
Those of our readers that checked out the Sprinter van report in our last issue will already know that it received the award of Delivery Magazine Van of the Year for 2013. That is quite an accolade for a vehicle that was first released around seven years ago.
What confirmed the award was a series of upgrades that have improved an already good design and made it particularly noteworthy amongst its competitors. Given that the Sprinter Transfer Bus is based on that award-winning van, it then logically follows that many of the points recognised in the award apply to the passenger-carrying version as well as the load carrier.
From a driver’s perspective, the big news comes from the inclusion in the current model of the 7G-TRONIC, full fluid, automatic transmission that’s matched perfectly to the four-cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled diesel engine.
The driveline that results from putting seven gears at the disposal of an engine that produces 120 kW of power and pumps out a torque rating of 360 Nm all the way from 1,400 to 2,400 rpm is undoubtedly the jewel in the Sprinter’s crown.
The sweetness of this engine and transmission combination is just so impressive, that if you ferry people around your parish with any regularity you owe it to yourself to try it out and experience it for yourself.
With two more gears than most alternatives, and the seamless changes of a fluid automatic, rather than a power on, power off and power on alternative of a AMT (Automated Manual Transmission), the vehicle is a delight to drive. It also benefits the wallet of the operator, improving fuel economy by nine percent.
The fifth ratio is actually a direct drive, enabling the overdriven sixth and seventh ratios to drop engine rpm while cruising within the ideal torque range.
In fact, it doesn’t feel like a commercial vehicle at all. Other than being longer and wider, the clear vision of traffic ahead through the large windscreen and the vibration free mirrors with spotter mirrors that show everything happening around you, make it very simple and safe to drive.
But safety for the Sprinter is not just confined to vision. The safety inclusions now available in the Transfer Bus are further justification for taking a close look at purchase options.
Opening and closing the sliding side door is completed at the touch of a button, and there’s a failsafe device to prevent squashing one of your patrons if they’re a bit slow to load. As mentioned, a sliding step glides out to match the door width and make small work of stepping up to the cabin. Cruise control with an upper speed limiter setting takes some of the worry out of slightly creeping over the regulated limit.
Driver and front seat passenger safety comes as standard with SRS airbags, with front window airbags available as an option. Controls for the stereo system Bluetooth connectivity are all on the steering wheel.
The air conditioning operates throughout the entire vehicle, all controlled from the driver’s seat. Headlights and wipers react to rain and darkness automatically, again meaning the driver concentrates on driving, not finding buttons.
Just released onto the European market, and available here shortly, is an electronic control system that mitigates the effect of crosswinds on the vehicle, such as can be experienced on a freeway at cruising speed. This safety system works in consort with the other systems on board that include adaptive electronic stability programming (ESP 9i), antilock braking systems, acceleration skid control, brake assist and electronic brake force distribution. Hill start assist is also included.
Adaptive ESP 9i is a considerable safety benefit as it improves braking performance in critical situations. As well as doing all the usual things like preventing brake lock-up and maintaining steering stability, the system monitors the variance in loading to maximise brake application having considered the overall weight and centre of gravity. In wet weather, the system even applies light braking pressure at regular intervals to keep the disc rotors as clean and dry as possible.
If the driver is faced with an emergency stop, the overall stopping distance will be at its best possible minimum due to the system having reduced the distance between the brake pad and disc to apply the brakes faster while under full pressure and control.
Even the Eco aspect of driving a light commercial vehicle has been considered, with the Sprinter offering engine idle stop/start function, an ECO oriented power steering pump, alternator management and an electronically controlled fuel pump, all of which combine to reduce fuel consumption and lower exhaust emissions.
Mercedes-Benz has incorporated safety systems that used to only be available in prestige luxury cars into multi-passenger transport. At the very least, you owe it to your clients to look after them to the highest level of safety, not the lowest priced alternative.