Sprinter Takes the High Spot | VAN REVIEW-Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

Stuart Martin reviews the new Sprinter from Mercedes-Benz. 

Shots have been fired back across the bow of former bedfellow Volkswagen with the arrival of the new Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. No longer will Sprinter and Crafter follow down the same production line under the terms of the original joint venture with similarities as to body but with differences of engine, driveline and badging. From now on Mercedes-Benz is focused purely on achieving dominance of the medium to large van segment with a three-pointed star out front, leaving VW to its own future of manufacturing Crafter in its own factory in Poland.

The third-generation Sprinter has now launched in Australia with a new nose and tail design for more than 1700 model variations, starting with the van and cab/chassis range and extending to the minibus and what the company calls ‘tractor-head’ (5th wheeler or cab/chassis) variants in early 2019.

Also coming in the first half of the new year is the 12-seater minibus model, followed by the all-wheel-drive variants mid-year, but there’s no sign yet of the all-electric eSprinter being on the same boat.

One of the most significant changes to the Sprinter range is the new front-wheel-drive model, mirroring its main opposition from VW.

The Benz front-wheel-drive models lay claim to an extra 50 kg of payload with the change in drivetrain, as well as an 80 mm lower rear load height.

The updated drivetrain now boasts a nine-speed auto for the front-drive models, as well as a six-speed manual option with certain engine variants, despite the fact that manual gearboxes comprise less than five percent of the Sprinter’s sales.

Payloads for the new van and cab/chassis range stretch from 1169 kg to 2929 kg, with the vans boasting a cargo volume range from 7.8 to15.5 cubic metres, while encompassing load lengths from 2607 mm to 4810 mm.

Pricing for the panel van starts from $46,008 for the 311CDI short-wheelbase front-drive manual, which claims a 3.55-tonne GVM. The same wheelbase and GVM can be selected in the 314CDI with the 105 kW drivetrain starting from $51,763.

Medium and long-wheelbase models in front and rear-drive are also offered, topping out at just over $60,000. Stepping up to the 120 kW model removes the front-drive variant, which stops at a 4.1-tonne GVM, and puts the pricing into the $60,000 bracket.

The auto-only medium-wheelbase V6 starts from $66,374, and the options for this van top out with a V6-powered 5.0-tonne GVM long-wheelbase auto for $76,069.

Those looking at the cab/chassis side of the pricelist start at the same point – a 311CDI 84 kW six-speed front-wheel-drive manual with 3.55-tonne GVM is priced from $41,238, rising to $46,993 for the more powerful 105 kW 314CDI.

The front-wheel-drive options extend to the 84 kW 411CDI, with 4.1-tonne GVM and a six-speed manual from $43,108, or the 105 kW 414 CDI asks from $48,863.

As the driveline switches from the front wheels to the rear wheels, the wheelbase grows to compensate from here on up, with peak power expanding to 120 kW in the 316CDI, and a price tag starting from $52,939.

Mercedes-Benz claims any small price increases are more than offset by extra features and specification added to the new Sprinter, and it’s here that Sprinter continues to impress.

The new spec includes keyless ignition, power-folding mirrors, rear step, reach and rake steering adjustment, overhead storage, semi-automatic climate control, cruise control, a 7.0-inch display for the MBUX system, ad USB and 12-volt outlets within the plentiful dashboard storage.

Selectable options include a leather-wrapped steering wheel, electric park brake, wireless phone charging for compatible devices, power-adjustable seats and wheelarch boxes. Meanwhile, the standard safety equipment includes the carry over crosswind assist, active brake assist system, blind spot warning and reversing camera (not on cab/chassis), lane keeping, and driver attention assist systems. There’s also stability control (which encompasses rollover and brake drying among its many features), as well as dual front and side airbags.

Amongst the optional safety kit inclusions are the radar cruise control system, LED headlights, traffic sign assist, active lane departure and the Parking Package with a 360-degree camera and autonomous emergency braking.

Warranty is a three-year 200,000 km cover (matching VW but less than Ford with five years, both with unlimited kilometres) with roadside assistance, and with service intervals every 40,000 km or two years.

Benz is offering a number of servicing plans, including a prepaid plan that reduces the costs by about 20 percent.

The ‘Best Basic’ to cover the first three scheduled services would cost – at the time of writing – $3785, whereas prepaying would drop that to $2265, which, like the warranty, is neither the best nor the worst in the segment.

Benz is also boasting new standards when it comes to telematics, with the Sprinter becoming the first LCV and second Benz overall behind the recently-launched A-Class to be equipped with the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) satnav and multimedia system.

MBUX has a 7.0-inch HD touchscreen display as standard, with the option of a broad 10.25-inch head unit, controlling much of the vehicle’s functionality, as well as delivering satellite navigation, luxury car levels of connectivity and the ability to store data that tailors the vehicle for up to 10 different profiles.

Android Auto is already on board, but Apple users will have to wait until the end of the year for CarPlay; but the system is comprehensive. The driver also gets a large colour centre display between the traditional dials, which has myriad displays including digital speed readouts.

The Sprinter also inherits the touch-based steering wheel controls from its passenger car siblings as an alternative to control the system when underway.

MBUX also brings with it a new voice control system, mimicking the Apple and Google systems with a “Hey Mercedes” phrase to get instruction underway, with a far less rigid menu vocabulary that responds to everyday phrases.

When considering the choice of four and six-cylinder power plants they are all equipped with diesel particulate filters. The flagship engine is the only V6 in this segment and is a 3.0-litre unit producing 140 kW and 440 Nm between 1600 and 2600 rpm, and it is only available with the seven-speed automatic transmission. The four-cylinder, common-rail, direct-injection turbodiesel is offered in twin and single turbo guises for the rear and front-wheel-drive models respectively.

There is a difference in power and torque ratings between the front and rear-wheel-drive models, and, for those choosing to send the power to the back end, the figures come out at 84 kW and 300 Nm, 105 kW/330 Nm or 120 kW and 360 Nm, all of which will be offered with a standard six-speed manual gearbox, or an option up to the seven-speed automatic that adds $2875 to the purchase price.

The new front-drive model is also offered in 84 kW/300 Nm and 105 kW/330 Nm, with the motorhome-specific model delivering 130 kW and 400 Nm, teamed to the nine-speed automatic, also a $2875 option. Both autos get the ability to shift manually with wheel-mounted paddles, and will hold the selected gear.

The first example of the new Sprinter driven by Delivery magazine during the launch event was the 314 long-wheelbase van, with the 2.1-litre turbodiesel four-cylinder producing 105 kW and 330 Nm to the rear wheels via the seven-speed automatic.

Boasting a GVM of 3.55 tonnes, the 4.5 m length cargo deck had 500 kg of concrete retaining wall sleepers lashed to some of its dozen load restraint points, plus two occupants, all of which gave the drivetrain a solid load to move.

Highway speed was maintained up a steep grade with a wide-open throttle and cruising speeds well maintained on undulating terrain, but the venerable seven-speed auto is clearly chasing fuel economy. Engine noise is well subdued at cruise, but the noise from the cargo bay is less suppressed, with tyre rumble on coarse-chip and degraded surfaces punctuated by panel wobble from the load bay’s flanks.

The driver gets a first-rate instrument panel with large centre display and digital speed readout, all controlled by touch-sensitive controls.

The van was fitted with the new (but optional) wider touchscreen for the MBUX system, offering myriad functions and could potentially integrate with aftermarket dispatch and fleet control systems.

A stint behind the wheel of a single-cab/chassis model followed, a 416 mid-wheelbase rear-driver also sporting the seven-speed auto but directing 120 kW and 360 Nm to the back wheels. It too had 500 kg of retaining wall sleepers strapped into the tray but was not quite as nimble.

Early impressions of a quiet power plant were reinforced in the cab/chassis variant, but neither model was sporting the standard fitment of the plastic steering wheel or the smaller touchscreen.

The steering response is light and direct, feeling more-so in the latter, but both left an impression of manoeuvrability in tight spots, tested by an exercise using only the proximity sensors and the external 360-degree camera (with windows blacked out) and negotiating a small course forwards and backwards.

There’s no question that the new Sprinter is a major step forward for the Benz workhorse badge, bringing with it a raft of new in-cabin technology and class-leading safety for the asking price.

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