What is it?
The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is the German brand’s large van range, available in a very wide number of formats.
Vast range, new front-wheel-drive variant, new connectivity technology
While technically an all-new vehicle, the new Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is effectively an evolution of its predecessor, albeit an effective one.
The bits that work well have been left alone and a previously dull cabin has been significantly improved, while the arrival of connectivity technology, fleet management software and a front-wheel-drive model will widen the van’s appeal to business customers.
The third generation Mercedes-Benz Sprinter launches into a crowded market where of course everyone is trying to beat the Ford Transit. Well not entirely…
To many, the Sprinter – with its high technology, comfort and refinement – is the pick of the large van market. Take a straw poll of vans passing you on the road and you may be surprised just how many are Sprinters.
So one might think Mercedes does not really have to work too hard on a new model, and as is usually the case with vans, there is not much that could be called radical about the new Sprinter. This is very much an evolution of its predecessor, a typical case of doing everything that van did, just a little better.
Save for in one area – connectivity. With the new Sprinter, Mercedes rolls out its ‘adVANce’ philosophy, arguing that the brand needs to transform from being a vehicle manufacturer into ‘a provider of transport and mobility solutions’.
And it is very serious about this; in an extensive presentation at the launch of the Sprinter, Mercedes-Benz Vans UK MD Steve Bridge talked a lot about connectivity, of how leading van users such as the Ocado food delivery company are pioneering software solutions – but told us virtually nothing about the new features of his van…
So the Sprinter comes supplied with a host of electronic tech, especially in the area of connectivity and including the MBUX multimedia system that features a voice assistant called ‘Hi Mercedes’. Here, there could be an argument that a step too far has been taken too soon…
Buying and owning a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
As is typical of the large van market, it’s virtually impossible to provide a complete review of the Sprinter because there are so many different versions. Mercedes claims some 1,700 options in all, ranging across panel van, Tourer, dropside, plain chassis to build one’s own conversion on, buses – the list goes on.
Depending on powertrain chosen there are up to four body lengths available, three heights and three wheelbase lengths. Further choice comes from two engines and three power outputs, as well as rear-wheel-drive, all-wheel-drive, and now, front-wheel-drive too.
The new front-wheel-drive option has some attractions. Without all the rear axle extras, payload goes up by 50kg compared to an equivalent RWD model, and the rear loading sill can be dropped by 8cm – good news for an urban delivery service driver required to jump in and out of the load bay all day long.
Said driver will likely also appreciate replacement of the standard-fit six-speed manual gearbox with the nine-speed auto transmission that can be supplied with the FWD model – we’ve never seen so many ratios in a van. Rear and all-drive models, by the way, can specify a seven-speed unit, while the AWD version also has its ride height jacked up a bit to ease off-road travel.
The load bay is sensibly constructed, with a nice square layout, a quality non-slip floor and the wheel arches only as intrusive as they need to be – and able to have heavy loads placed upon them, thanks to robust cladding.
Capacities range from 7.5m3 on the shortest standard model to 17m3 if you go for the longest wheelbase, highest roof model. This is close to (though not quite) best in class, and is offered alongside a maximum weight capacity of up 5.5 tonnes.
In terms of engines, there is far less new to talk about. The 2.1-litre diesel remains the core powerplant, available in FWD and RWD forms with 114hp or 143hp. Rear-drive versions can also be had with 163hp, while if you go for a camper van variant of the FWD you can choose a third variety with 177hp. For those that need a lot of power, the 3.0-litre V6 engine remains in the range, with 190hp on offer.
Coming soon is an eSprinter – an electric variant with a range of between 71 and 93 miles between charges, depending on whether one goes for the 940kg standard or 1,040kg maximum payload. The two types employ different batteries, the latter having a range of 71 miles which should suit inner city deliveries.
A positive move is the Sprinter’s safety package, which can now include adaptive cruise control, a 360-degree camera, lane-keeping and traffic sign recognition. However, for the full suite one does have to raid the options list…
Inside the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
Anyone who has driven a previous-generation Sprinter will immediately notice the transformation in the cabin. Clearly some guidance has come from the car side of the business, with a new, curvier and much more attractive dashboard dominating the interior.
Having said that, the plastics remain a bit grey and scratchy, what one might have once expected in a basic van but certainly not in a modern Mercedes. There are storage pockets and boxes dotted about, but not as many as one might expect in such a large vehicle.
The major dials are well lit and easy to see, while the steering wheel boasts a host of buttons – one brand oddity is the mix of indicators and wipers on one stalk, which takes a bit of understanding on first encountering.
Atop the centre console is the touchscreen of the infotainment system. As standard it’s a seven-inch screen, which in such large surroundings appears very small indeed. It works okay, but the ten-inch screen of higher spec models is far better, if of course more expensive.
For many years Mercedes employed Garmin satnav systems. They have gone, replaced by in-house developed software as part of the MBUX system. The Sprinter is only the second Mercedes to launch with the system, after the latest A-Class car. We’d heard rumours of issues, and we were warned that the units fitted were brand new and “might be a little clunky….”
The navigation itself is okay, the graphics easy to read but programming a bit fiddly. But this shouldn’t matter because you are supposed to take the easy option, wake up the voice assistant by saying “Hi Mercedes”, tell her where you want to go and she will do the rest.
Quite simply, Mercedes is no Alexa, or Google. No matter how many different ways your reviewer, and his driving partner, tried talking to it, the system refused to work for us. We simply got more annoyed with it, until, seemingly unable to plot a route back to the launch venue in central Birmingham, we finally plugged in a smartphone and used Google instead. More work needed Mercedes, a lot more work…
Connectivity that will interest fleet managers is the launch with the new Sprinter of the Mercedes PRO Connect fleet management telematics – the communication module for this software is fitted as standard.
Features available can extend to vehicle operation tracking, communication, maintenance management and the use of a digital driver’s log, plus a host of extras, including tailoring to individual requirements. These will make the new Sprinter an attractive option to fleet buyers.
Driving the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
The mid-power 140hp engine is expected to be the most popular of the new front-wheel-drive Sprinters and this is no surprise. Even in its longest format, the van is very easy to drive – the power steering is now speed-sensitive and at low speeds the steering is very light, making manoeuvring through tight town centres a breeze.
Out on the road at higher speeds, the van now feels more refined to drive – a combination of more comfortable seats and better sound insulation ensures that the engine note is less intrusive than previously, while the suspension does a good job of smothering less than perfect road surfaces even when running with an empty load bay.
In terms of its basic function, the Sprinter ticks the boxes and a driver working a day’s shift in one of these should not find it an over-tiring experience.
One can load vans with as much technology as is available, but first and foremost they need to do the job, and anyone coming out of a previous Mercedes-Benz Sprinter will not be disappointed by this one.
There could, perhaps, have been a little more effort to further enhance the ambience of the cabin, but what has been done is a definite step forward. However, the one area where Mercedes seriously needs to have a rethink is in the MBUX multimedia system. If you are going to abandon experienced specialist equipment and do it yourself, it has to be at least as good as the opposition and preferably better – currently, MBUX is neither.
Leaving that aside, the model ticks all the practicality boxes, while the new front-wheel-drive versions and the PRO Connect fleet management software will widen its appeal. It should easily be enough to ensure the Sprinter is a model van buyers cannot ignore.