What is it? The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is the brand’s long-established large van and chief rival to the Ford Transit.
Key features: Variety of sizes/payloads, ease of use, seven-speed auto.
Our view: The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is a practical LCV that is very easy to live with – certainly a viable option to the dominant Transit.
Type of review: Road test
The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is a very familiar sight on UK roads, chosen by a wide range of operators for its combination of quality, reliability and payload capability.
The Sprinter dates back to 1996, and has not changed markedly since, merely been facelifted to meet the challenge posed by major rivals such as the Volkswagen Crafter, Vauxhall Movano and of course, the market-leading Ford Transit.
The latest Sprinter facelift was carried out back in 2013, but the van still continues to hold its own in the market – in 2016 it was still picking up a raft of awards and maintaining a high reputation.
The Sprinter is sold in some nine body styles, ranging across the standard panel van in four body lengths and three roof heights, to pickups, a minibus and of course a chassis cab on which the purchaser can place any type of specialist conversion – from bespoke CV to ambulance.
Our test vehicle, neatly coinciding with the reviewer’s need to move his eldest offspring into a flat, was the medium length variant of the standard panel van. This means a wheelbase of 3665mm, compared to the 3250mm short version or the 4325mm long variant – which itself can have its rear overhang extended by 400mm… And in terms of roof heights we are looking at an increase of 300mm over the standard model, to 1840mm.
All of which frees up an internal load volume of 10.5 cubic metres, our example’s payload capability 1216kg. While more than enough to move the contents of a youngster’s first home, it is beaten for payload capability by some rivals.
The interior is well finished and practical to load. Ours had a fitted floor and plywood panelling all round and stretching to the roof. The sliding side door and rear doors that fold back flush against the sides made for easy loading.
The most recent facelift dropped the ride height of 3.5-tonne van variants by 30mm, which helps with loading, while a nice touch is the loading step that pops automatically out when the side door is opened – though this is an option. Plenty of load securing rings and slots in the floor and sides make strapping down the furniture an easy process.
In the cab
To those not used to driving a van on a regular basis, the sheer size of even the medium-length Sprinter can appear intimidating at first, but this impression soon disappears once in the cab.
For a start, said cab is very well appointed. Up to three occupants (in the standard panel van) enjoy upright but comfortable seats and a dash layout that is functional and well put together. All the controls are close to hand, notably the infotainment with its telephone keypad. On our model, this had been upgraded with a navigation system that also provides the screen for the reversing camera, a real boon for a vehicle of this size.
The gear lever is mounted on the dash and is a short, stubby unit very easy to use. While we had the standard six-speed manual, Mercedes also offers the seven-speed auto unit lifted directly from its passenger car range – a rare treat for van buyers.
The version of the 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel engine fitted to our Sprinter was the mid-range unit of 130hp – there are also 96 or 165hp versions and if you really need to shift heavyweight loads Mercedes offers a 3.0-litre V6 with 194hp on tap, as well as a 160hp unit combining natural gas and petrol.
Also included with our van was the BlueEfficiency eco package, encompassing such niceties as start-stop. Low rolling-resistance tyres and a gearshift indicator on the dash.
On the road
More unusual is the fact that you cannot buy a front-wheel-drive version of the Sprinter – rear-wheel-drive is standard, with all-wheel-drive an option. Initially it feels slightly different to drive compared to other LCVs of similar size, but the impression soon changes to the sheer ease of controlling this vehicle.
On the motorway the Sprinter cruises with confidence whether empty or loaded, while negotiating twisty country roads or sinuous urban streets is no problem at all thanks to light but communicative power steering and a commendably tight turning circle.
Mercedes is very proud of the safety package fitted the Sprinter. Notably most 3.5-tonne Sprinters come as standard with Crosswind Assist, a system that uses slight applications of the brakes to keep the vehicle on course in choppy conditions.
Optional safety upgrades include Collision Prevention Assist, warning the driver of collision dangers and aiding emergency braking, and blind spot and lane-keeping functions.
Other standard equipment includes phone and audio controls on the chunky, comfortable steering wheel, cruise control and loads of cabin storage spaces including a large area under the twin passenger seat.
The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter does not appear to have changed much from year to year, but on the strength of our test there is a very good reason for that. This is a very capable LCV with a version to suit all. No matter which you select, if you can drive a car you will find taking charge of a Sprinter just as easy.
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter – key specifications
Model tested: Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 314CDI Medium HiRoof BlueEfficiency
Base price (plus VAT): £31,155
Insurance group: 11A-T2
Engine: 2143cc Diesel
Load Length: 3265mm
Load width: 1780mm
Load height: 1940mm
Load Volume: 10.5 m3
Key rivals: Ford Transit, Volkswagen Crafter, Renault Master
Test Date: August 2016