SPRINTER UPDATE | VAN REVIEW – Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

Brenton O’Connor takes the wheel of the rear-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 314 Long Wheelbase Van

Late in 2018, Mercedes-Benz Australia launched the all-new Sprinter range. This included, for the first-time, front-wheel-drive offerings in addition to the rear-wheel-drive, all-wheel-drive, cab chassis and transfer bus options that Sprinter customers have come to expect.

It’s this expansive product offering of 1700 variants that is one of the reasons behind the continued success of the Sprinter, and it cements Mercedes’ position as market leader within the large van segment.

At the time of writing, Mercedes-Benz did not have a front-wheel-drive Sprinter available for test, but Delivery was able to acquire a 314 long wheelbase, rear-wheel-drive − a suitable stop gap until a front-wheel-drive model becomes available.

Power comes from the 2.1-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel known as the OM651. This engine is carried over from the previous generation Sprinter, but differs through being certified to Euro6 emissions standards, which are the norm in the Sprinter’s home of Europe.

The output of the engine is 105 kW and peak torque is rated at 330 Nm. The van was fitted with the optional (and excellent) 7G-Tronic seven-speed torque converter automatic transmission in place of the standard six-speed manual gearbox, adding $2785 to the price tag. This is a fluid automatic, rather than an automated manual, and is certainly preferable when compared to the AMTs on offer by competitors to the Sprinter. IVECO has matched Sprinter with a fluid auto in its Daily range called the Hi-Matic, which has eight ratios.

The list price of the van is $60,110 including GST but excluding on-road costs. Our van on test came with a range of useful options that bumped the price to $67,891. The options fitted included a co-driver bench seat ($610), which increases seating to three legal persons. Other highlights included a useful smart phone holder and wireless charging pad that would be ideal for a courier driver, as it places the screen in a position that is easy to read whilst driving. Other options included Distronic active distance control ($1971), LED headlights ($1971), and satellite navigation ($980).

Firstly, I must report on the Distronic – it’s simply outstanding, making stop/start driving in traffic through Melbourne’s clogged freeway system both easier and safer. Although the speed of traffic flow was dictating a maximum of 40 km/h, I could leave the cruise control set on the speed limit  of 80 km/h, relying on the Distronic system for its ability to slow the vehicle down to the speed of the traffic in front whilst maintaining a safe braking distance, which can be adjusted by a control on the multi-function steering wheel.

The system was smart enough to bring the van to a complete stop when influenced by heavy traffic congestion. There were a few occasions in heavy traffic flows when speeds dropped from 60 km/h to a standstill immediately, prompting the system to brake firmly in order to avoid hitting the car in front.

Most cautious drivers will already have their foot poised over the brake pedal, but the system performs so well that it actually instills confidence in its electronic ability. Whilst it’s quite an expensive option, I feel that particularly in city driving, it’s worthwhile as a safety feature through its ability to prevent accidents caused by momentary inattention.

The OM651 diesel engine made light work of shifting the rather large van around and, as mentioned earlier, the automatic seven-speed transmission is outstanding. Gear selection is no longer organised through the clunky dash-mounted selector of the previous-generation Sprinter, replaced by a direct select steering column-mounted stalk for engaging forward, reverse, neutral and park. The latest Sprinter is also fitted with paddle shifts for the transmission, to enable the driver to make gear changes manually or pre-select a set ratio. Fuel consumption recorded over the period of testing was 8.5 L/100 km, which seems very frugal.

The two most impressive things on the new Sprinter were the seats and the steering. Firstly, the standard driver’s seat. Trimmed in Caluma black fabric, this was incredibly comfortable and supportive, although the fitment of armrests would be particularly useful for longer trips. The second point needing a mention is the revised steering system, which is excellent. It provides plenty of assistance at low speeds, yet the right amount of resistance and road feel on the freeway. Crossing over from the passenger car range is the new generation of Mercedes steering wheel, already being used by car models including the W213 E-Class saloon.

The new steering wheel enables fitment of the cruise control buttons directly on the steering wheel spokes rather than the previous stalk on the steering column. All Mercedes vehicles have used a column stalk the since the company introduced cruise control − or “Tempomat” as it was then known − in the early 1980s on the W126 S-Class flagship.

Personally, I’d much prefer the previous stalk-mounted cruise control for its ease of use, especially as steering wheel controls have become somewhat cluttered with so many different functions.

The latest steering wheel includes the new ‘touch pads’ to operate functions both on the in-dash display and on the MBUX entertainment system, which included the optional satellite navigation. Again, I don’t feel they are as easy to use as some previous-generation systems, with the exception that the screen now includes touchscreen functionality.

Ride comfort was, as expected, compliant and well-mannered − as one would expect from a Mercedes-Benz. The maximum payload of this LWB model is 1136 kg and without a bulkhead fitted, there’s a disappointingly loud intrusion of road noise and rattles from the cargo area.

The intrusion of road noise within the cabin area was particularly noticeable at freeway speeds, making phone calls via the Bluetooth audio system near impossible to interpret. Furthermore, there were some very annoying rattles from the cargo area − particularly noticeable on rough roads − which I believe came from the sliding left-hand door, and in particular the trim fitted to the sliding door.

There are good reasons these days to include a fixed bulkhead, not least being that it compartmentalises the cabin to enable the airconditioning to work more effectively. On a hot day, the aircon struggles to cool such a massive area (14 cubic metres), particularly as the walls of the van are not lined – just sheet metal.

Service intervals have been stretched on the new Sprinter to both reduce operating costs and to reduce time off the road – intervals are now two years or 40,000 km. Warranty is three years/200,000 km all-inclusive.

The fitment of a bulkhead to isolate the driver from the cargo area, to both allow the climate system to work more effectively and also to reduce the road noise (and rattles) into the cabin, would make an otherwise excellent van nearly perfect.

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