Mercedes Sprinter

At the Mercedes Sprinter launch in Australia, Jacqui Madelin finds there’s a lot to like.

Mercedes Sprinter
Mercedes Sprinter

After 11 years and 11.3 million sold, the Mercedes Sprinter has finally made way for its replacement. And this is no rush job. German-based project manager Peter Janssen has been working on the new Sprinter since 2001, with the clear aim to make it the first choice on any buyer's shopping list.

Its credentials are impressive. Forget the fact it meets Euro 4 exhaust regulations - it's safer, build quality is up, ergonomics have improved and there are more variants. Janssen claims 1000 possibilities, given three wheelbase lengths (3250/365/4325mm), four van body lengths (5243mm to 7343mm), and three roof heights (1650mm interior, 1940 or 2140) plus, of course, the cab chassis. Then there are four engines and either a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission.

This Sprinter gets the new generation four-cylinder common rail CDi turbo engine with Piezo injection. It's that which is part of the clean, green equation. Cooled exhaust gas recirculation, with intake air throttling and a diesel particulate filter - a first for this weight class - are key. The particulate filter is self-regenerating; it features periodic combustion of trapped particulate matter either automatically, at high exhaust temperatures and rpm, or by diverting fuel from one of the seven injectors.
This 2.2-litre unit comes in four iterations, offering 65kW, 80 kW, 95 kW or 110kW - the two more powerful versions using turbo charging to broaden the power band - while torque ranges from 220 to 330Nm. All include particulate filters to reduce emissions.

Not enough grunt? There's a 3.0-litre V6, too, already used on some Mercedes passenger cars and here tuned for working use. Power tops out at 135kW but there's 400Nm of torque on offer, from 1600 to 2500rpm.And it really is a grunter, as I found at Sprinter's launch in Australia. Admittedly, we carried only a light load, but it made short work of the long wheelbase body - leaping away from the lights with an eagerness more usually associated with cars.

The promised "car-like" interior works well, too. The Sprinter is easy to drive, radio and temperature controls are thoughtfully-sited and there's a generous array of cubbies - though Ford's latest Transit may have the edge here. What Transit can't beat, though, is Sprinter's very clever ESP system. Stability control has been standard on Sprinter since 2003, to "protect the driver's most valuable asset, his life," says Janssen. Now it's adaptive according to acceleration, braking, vehicle mass and centre of gravity. Better still, it works out the weight on board and its position, right down to which wheel it's sitting over. Professionals may pay attention to load distribution, but ordinary punters may not, and how many couriers redistribute their load on each delivery?

The system is a lifesaver. Being taken to a test track and asked to swerve violently off, then onto the tarmac feels like an invitation to suicide. However, the massive van briefly feels its weight then, without any effort from the driver, it all comes back into control - far quicker than the best driver could respond. While Mercedes is keen to point out it can't beat the laws of physics, and properly fastening your load is vital, I suspect it could also save your bacon if your load shifts and destabilises the van.

What else? Great brakes - a fully laden 3.5-tonner can stop from 100kph in 40 metres, and I found performance of vans and flat-decks on a wet skid-pan astounding. The Sprinter's been crash-tested to within an inch of its life, and comes with a driver airbag standard. Window and thorax bags are optional as are stuff like parking sensors.
Overall, the Sprinter's a truly impressive achievement. Everyone from ordinary drivers to working stiffs can appreciate what's obviously on offer - from the easy-to-use cab, to the pallet-friendly doors, to the plentiful choices of body and powerplant. That it handles better and will be safer if things turn pear-shaped is the icing on the cake. Not surprisingly the price list is too long to list here, but Sprinter starts out at $45,900.


Mercedes Sprinter specification


Length: 5245/5910/6945/7345mm - plus cab chassis
Width: 1993mm
Height: wide range, from 2415 to 3050mm
Wheelbase: 3250/3665/4325mm
Engine: Four-cylinder common rail direct electrically controlled direct injection diesel with 65kW at 3800rpm and 220Nm at 1400-2600rpm, or
80kW at 3800rpm and 280Nm at 1600-2500rpm, or
95kW at 3800rpm and 305Nm at 1200-2400rpm, or
110kW at 3800rpm and 330Nm at 1200-2400rpm:

3.0-litre V6 common rail electronically-controlled direct injection turbocharged diesel with 135kW at 3800rpm and 400Nm at 1600-2600rpm

Gearbox and driven wheels: Six speed manual or five speed auto driving rear wheels
Towed weight braked/unbraked: 2000/750kg
Gross weight rating: 3000/3500/4600/5000kg


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