Mercedes-Benz Sprinter EcoStart

Date: Thursday, October 28, 2010

While electric, gas and hybrid commercial vehicles all have their virtues, the plain truth is that the majority of vans are still powered by diesel engines. That’s likely to be the case for many years to come.

As a consequence, anybody who wants to make a major contribution to cutting CO2 output has got to find a way of making those engines burn less fuel. Mercedes-Benz has come up with one option, and that is to equip Sprinter with something called EcoStart.
If you’re stationary in a traffic jam, or waiting at the traffic lights, and you put the gear-lever into neutral, the engine dies after a couple of seconds. To re-start it, all you need to do is dip the clutch.

 

Net result?

There are several pleasing consequences as a result of this, namely fewer nasty pollutants pumped out of the exhaust, a lower carbon footprint, and less fuel being wasted because the engine is being allowed to idle. There’s less wear and tear on engine components too.
Mercedes reckons that EcoStart can cut diesel consumption by around 7-10% if you’re on city centre delivery work and we see no reason to disagree. In its own understated way EcoStart could be making as much of a contribution to cutting global warming than all the expensive new technologies coming to market that keep grabbing the headlines put together.
Having the engine cut out at idle is not always ideal however, especially if you want to use a power take-off to run machinery, and it is worth noting that EcoStart can be switched off if needs be.

Technical

We sampled EcoStart, a £545 option – as usual, all prices quoted here exclude VAT – in Mercedes’ medium-wheelbase 3.5-tonne 313CDI Sprinter van. It was fitted with a high roof, the middle of three heights, for an additional £1095.
Last year saw Mercedes unveil a revamped Sprinter that meets the Euro 5 exhaust emission rules; a first for a van of this size. It features an all-new 2.1-litre four-cylinder common rail diesel at 95hp, 129hp and 163hp plus an updated 190hp version of the V6 3.0-litre diesel fitted to the previous model.
The 313CDI gets the 129hp lump, with a CO2 figure of 222g/km. Top power kicks in at 3800rpm, with maximum torque of 305Nm making its presence felt across a 1200rpm-to-2400rpm plateau.
As well as the EcoStart system, a particulate trap is fitted as standard, and all Sprinters come with a new, six-speed ECO Gear manual gearbox as standard too. In our case the engine had been made to comply with EEV – Enhanced Environmentally-friendly Vehicle – requirements for an extra £130.
A whole package of safety measures should help ensure you don’t get into too much trouble.
As well as ABS it includes an adaptive Electronic Stability Programme, Acceleration Skid Control, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Brake Assist. Disc brakes are installed all round.
Independent suspension is fitted at the front, leaf springs at the rear, and anti-roll bars are installed front and back. Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is included in the deal.
Decorated with smart plastic trims for £60, presumably in the hope that they’ll be mistaken for alloys, our demonstrator’s 16-inch steel wheels were shod with 235/65 R16C Continental Vanco 2 tyres.
Our Sprinter could handle a 1240kg gross payload and was capable of hauling a braked trailer grossing at 2000kg.

Load area

No matter whether you climb in via the nearside door or the twin, opaque rear doors – which can be swung through 270 degrees and latched against the van’s sides – entry to the 10.5cu m cargo area is aided by a grab-handle. The side door gets a step too, but you’ll pay an extra £100 if you want one fitted at the back.
A full-height bulkhead is installed while eight floor-mounted rings are provided so that potentially-wayward cargo can be tied down. A £120 shelf above the cab accessible solely from the cargo bay gives you somewhere to stow load lashing straps and it’s good to see that three interior lights are provided.
That makes life a lot easier if you’re loading or unloading early in the morning or late at night.
Our Sprinter’s cargo bed had an optional tailored cover to defend it against scratches while the sides, excluding the wheel-boxes, were clad with protective ply to their full height. Fitted with ply panels, the doors were partially-protected against minor damage too. This comprehensive ply lining package costs £235.
As far as the load bay is concerned, maximum load length is 3265mm. Maximum width is 1780mm, narrowing to 1350mm between the wheel boxes, while the maximum height is 1940mm.
As far as actually loading the Sprinter is concerned, the rear loading height is 720mm. The rear door aperture 1565mm wide and 1840mm high, and dimensions for the side door are 1300mm and 1820mm respectively.

Cab comfort

If you want to reduce the risk of bodywork damage, then you should look at specifying a reversing camera if rearward vision is obscured by a solid bulkhead or unglazed back doors.
Our test vehicle was equipped with a factory-fitted camera that allowed us to see clearly what was directly behind when we backed up. Not only are you less likely to clout a wall or a concrete bollard, more importantly you’re less likely to hit a child or the proverbial little old lady.
While the steering column isn’t height-adjustable, the optional £90 Comfort driver’s seat is, and the angle of the seat cushion can be altered too. That makes it reasonably easy to achieve a comfortable driving position.
The Sprinter comes with a standard three-seater cab. Flip down the middle seat’s backrest and it turns into a handy table that can be used to complete paperwork. It also features a couple of cup-holders plus a pen tray, and there is no shortage of places to stow oddments around the cabin.
Facilities include big bins in each of the doors with a moulding that will accommodate a flask or a bottle of water, a lockable glove-box, and a shelf on top of the centre part of the dashboard that will swallow an A4 clipboard. Not far away is a clip to hold paperwork.
There’s a shelf on top of the fascia on the passenger side plus one behind the instrument binnacle. The former boasts a cup-holder and there’s one to the right of the instruments too. Pull out the ash-tray and you’ll find yet another cup-holder. Look up, and you’ll spot a lipped shelf above the windscreen on the driver’s side. There’s one on the passenger side as well.
In addition to electric windows, a driver’s airbag and a 12v power point at the bottom of the dashboard, our Sprinter boasted air-conditioning (£850) a £155 electric auxiliary heater and heated electric mirrors (£190) with a manual wide-angle section.
It also came equipped with CD player – with controls on the steering wheel – satellite navigation and Bluetooth in a combined package under the COMAND banner for £1825. The image from the reversing camera appears on the unit’s screen, an arrangement that reduces the camera’s cost to £390. It’s really not cheap, but money well spent if possible, in our opinion.

On the road

EcoStart is a real boon in big city traffic or if you’re stuck in an interminable motorway traffic queue (in road works on the M1 near Luton in our case). Doing exactly what it’s designed to do, it’s easy to get used to, works first time every time, and makes no discernible difference to, for example, how rapidly the driver can nip away from the lights. It reacts quicker than it needs to, and is almost impossible to catch out.
It also means that your van is graced with a BlueEfficiency badge.
While the 313CDI isn’t the most powerful Sprinter in the line-up, it nonetheless offers plenty of performance, even when heavily laden. Accelerating strongly through the gears, it transforms itself into a rock-steady high-speed low-noise intercity cruiser.
Our Sprinter was limited to 75mph however – a £45 option becoming increasingly popular – to ensure we didn’t get too carried away.
Motorway performance is undoubtedly aided by the presence of twin turbochargers. Only the entry-level 95hp version of the 2.1-litre diesel doesn’t have them.
The set-up consists of a small high-pressure turbo working in conjunction with a big low-pressure one. They’re connected in series.
At low engine speeds only the small one is active, allowing a high charge pressure to be built up quickly to boost responsiveness. At high engine speeds the bigger one kicks in, allowing good progress for such a large vehicle.
Having been disappointed with the quality of the ECO Gear box when the van was initially launched, we’re happy to report that it’s improved significantly.
All the stodginess and lumpiness has gone. Instead, gear changes can be executed smoothly, without the need for a wrestling match with the stick.
The Sprinter handles well and is easy to manoeuvre at low speeds; a reversing camera clearly helps. The sole drawback is a slightly uneven ride when lightly-laden, something that disappears one you put some weight in the back.
Fuel economy? We averaged 35.0mpg; probably slightly better than we would have done without EcoStart, though the technology is clearly most beneficial to those spending the most time in stop-start urban traffic.
Remote central locking is included in the deal and a button on the dashboard allows you to lock and unlock the load area independently from the cab.
Our test van was finished in metallic silver for £595 with deep side rubbing strips to help protect the paintwork from damage.
A step in the front bumper makes it easy to climb up and clean the tinted windscreen. In our case it had an additional darker tint band at the top as part of a £135 glazing package.
A sensor automatically switches the wipers on when it’s raining and puts the lights on at dusk for a further £140.
Sprinter’s Assyst service interval indicator tells you when a visit to the workshop is required. The maximum interval is 24,000 miles.
A three-year/unlimited mileage warranty is included in the price, while the insurance group is 7A.?

Verdict
There’s no denying that the latest Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is a hugely impressive package. In Euro 5 313CDI guise it offers ample performance, delivers it smoothly and quietly, and handles well. Easy to get used to, EcoStart cuts exhaust pollution, CO2 output and noise levels, and your fuel bill into the bargain. For your money you get a comfortable well-laid-out cab with ample storage space and the easily-accessible cargo area is sensibly-designed too. Build quality is outstanding. Drawbacks? Only a slightly uneven unladen ride mars the picture. Otherwise, it’s an excellent package, and one Mercedes has every right to take pride in.


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