Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Safety Van

Date: Monday, April 14, 2008

How much do you care about safety? We mean genuinely care; not just paying lip service to something we know we should all be concerned about but, if we're honest about it, don't always treat as a priority. Do you for example care enough to spend almost £13,500 on a stack of options that will make your van the safest on the highway? Because that's what you'll be doing if you go out and purchase Mercedes-Benz's Safety Van.


 

Based on a 315CDI Long high-roof Sprinter — base price £24,085 (all prices quoted here exclude VAT) — it showcases all the extra-cost devices the manufacturer has available to make it less likely that you'll be involved in an accident and more likely that you'll survive if you do.

We're not just talking about items such as ABS, Acceleration Skid Control, Brake Assist, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and an adaptive Electronic Stability Programme. They all come as standard anyway.

 

Pick 'n' Mix

What we've got in mind is a £1,995 Telma brake retarder, 4designed to make controlled descents of steep hills much less fraught and to minimise service brake wear.

What we're also thinking about is a reversing camera for £362, not to mention £575 Xenon headlamps, complete with a cornering function that makes it a lot easier to see round bends at night. They work amazingly well when you're negotiating the pitch-black roads of rural Lincolnshire.

Don't worry; we're not going to list every single goodie. But the line-up also includes high-visibility orange front seat seatbelts for a, rather more modest, £20. If you're despatching drivers out on a job it makes it much simpler for you to check that they've got their belts on when they leave the yard.

 

Pressure Test

If you don't select anything else from the safety options list, then at least splash out £215 on a tyre pressure monitoring system complete with an onboard dashboard display. It works by measuring the pressure and temperature at the valves of the four tyres in baseline conditions and under changing conditions. Aerials in the wheelarches pick up radio signals carrying the data and relay them to the control unit.

Regularly bounced up over kerbs, van tyres lead a hard life and aren't always as well looked after as they ought to be. As well as having implications for safety, running tyres at the wrong pressure means they will wear out earlier than they would otherwise do, leading to expense that could have been avoided when you have to fork out to replace them.

Even the best-maintained of tyres can suffer a puncture, of course, and Sprinter's monitoring system gives the driver automatic warning of sudden deflation so that he can take emergency action.

 

Load Restraint

Sensible van operators do everything they can to ensure that cargo doesn't break lose in a collision, avalanching into the cab and injuring the driver. Load restraint in light commercials is a topic currently being addressed by the Transport Research Laboratory at the behest of the Freight Transport Association, with a report due to be published in plain English in May/June.

As well as a full-height steel bulkhead with a window, Safety Van comes with £525 worth of tracking to which load restraint equipment can be attached as well as plenty of cargo tie-down rings.

 

On the Road

There's no denying that the camera system fitted to our vehicle made it a lot easier to manoeuvre in confined areas. Slip into reverse and it gives you a view of what's behind you in the sat nav — a painful £1,825 — system's display screen. As a result you have no excuse whatsoever for collecting rear end dents and scrapes when you're trying to park, especially when the camera is combined with reversing sensors for £595.

Finished in marker-pen bright yellow, our Sprinter came with automatic transmission for a further £995. Offering a smooth, user-friendly driving experience, it's nicely-matched to the 315CDI's 2.1-litre 150hp diesel which of course offers ample performance.

Sprinter rides and handles well too — remarkably well for a van of its size — and is as quiet as it is solidly-built.

Aside from some vibration coming through the driver's foot-well and pedals — something we've noticed before on one or two Sprinters we've driven — we've got very little negative to say about the Three Pointed Star's big load-lugger. It's undoubtedly one of the best vans in its class.

Good to see that while the gearshift is mounted on a moulding that sticks out from the front of the dashboard, it doesn't impede cross-cab movement. Being able to slide across the cab from behind the steering wheel and hop out on the pavement side of the vehicle can be a lot safer than using the driver's door and stepping straight out into passing traffic.

Good to see too that Sprinter offers ample in-cab storage space. As well as a standard driver's airbag our Safety Van came with a passenger airbag (£395), thorax bags in the seats (£295) and window bags in the door frames (£505). There's an argument that air conditioning (£850) is a safety aid because it stops drivers becoming tired, stressed and thus accident-prone on blazing hot days.

Technology can be tripped up by something very simple. Keyless entry is all very well, but when the battery in your remote goes flat — as happened to us — you have to extract the slim emergency metal key from it to open the doors.

 

VERDICT

While it's unlikely that even the most dedicated safety fanatics will order all of the extras we benefited from, they may order two or three. And that additional bit of expenditure could spell the difference between thousands of miles of carefree driving and an almighty shunt.



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