Mercedes-Benz is confident it has once more raised the bar in the large van sector with its new Sprinter as it tries to keep its great rival, the Ford Transit, within its sights.
Having first tried it last month in front-wheel drive form, we’ve now been given the chance to sample a rear-wheel drive model on UK roads.
Mercedes makes big claims for the new Sprinter’s level of technical advancement – and justifiably so, as the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment system it comes with only made its debut on the manufacturer’s car range this year. Included with MBUX is Mercedes’ Amazon Alexa- or Apple Siri-style voice-activation technology, triggered by saying ‘Hey Mercedes’.
We found this worked impressively well when issuing instructions on the optional satnav – speak an address, even just a street and a town, and it was able to programme the correct navigation instructions, a feature sure to be a boon for delivery drivers on the go.
It didn’t perform faultlessly though, with some requests for radio stations giving it trouble, with the subsequent annoyance that comes from arguing with a computerised voice rather than just re-pressing a button.
If voice instructions aren’t your bag then there is the option to operate the system via the touchscreen or steering wheel-mounted touch controls, and there also remains good old-fashioned physical buttons and dials for functions such as temperature control.
The Sprinter we drove came with the standard 7.0in touchscreen, while a 10.25in unit is optional. The one in our van had clear graphics and was responsive enough, but would have
been easier to read if it was closer to or angled towards the driver.
The satnav (£670, prices exclude VAT) worked well, except at complex roundabouts, where despite having the guidance also shown on a low-resolution display in the instrument panel it wasn’t always clear which exit to take, meaning that to be sure we needed the voice instructions switched on, which may annoy some drivers.
The rest of the interior feels well put together, with the plastics used solid and hard-wearing and the switchgear to the same standard as Mercedes’ cars. There are plenty of storage cubbyholes, including a closable compartment in the top of the dashboard. The seats were comfortable and came with plenty of adjustment, as did the steering wheel, making it easy to find a suitable driving position.
Sweetening the deal for operators is Mercedes’ range of Pro Connect fleet management features, with those available at launch including Vehicle Supervision, Vehicle Operations, Fleet Communication, Maintenance Management, Accident Management and a Digital Driver’s Log.
The high-speed internet connection used to run these services can also be used as a hotspot for mobile devices, and a three-year live traffic subscription is included with the satnav.
All-round visibility was good, both out of the windows and in the mirrors, while low-speed manoeuvring was made easier by the reversing camera, a £440 option, which produces an impressively high-res image.
The Sprinter is impressively easy and car-like to drive, with light and accurate steering.
The 2.1-litre engine in the 314 CDI model we drove produces 143hp and 330Nm of torque, which is enough to propel the van along comfortably with a half-load on board.
Our van was equipped with the standard six-speed manual gearbox, which was snappy to use, allowing us to shift between speeds quickly and precisely. The ride was impressive too – never harsh, and with bumps in the road well cushioned, although predictably things got a little bouncier at speed with less than a full payload in the back.
The new Sprinter comes loaded with advanced safety features as standard, including active brake assist, attention assist, crosswind assist, headlight assistant and hill-start assist.
The load bay is accessed via a sliding side door or double rear doors and, as a £285 option on our van, the load space was wood-trimmed up to the roof.
In comparison with the segment’s best-selling model, the Ford Transit in 350 RWD L2H2 guise, the Sprinter driven here has an identical load volume, at 9.5m3, but a marginally lower payload, at 1,264kg compared with 1,277kg. Its engine develops 13hp more, but is slightly worse on economy and emissions, while the price is nearly £1,685 higher than the Ford – before considering that many of the Sprinter’s most impressive features are cost options.
|Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 314 CDI RWD Manual L2H1|
|Price (ex VAT)||£31,635|
|Price range (ex VAT)||£24,350-£44,275|
|Load width (min/max)||1,350/1,787mm|
|Load bay height||1,719mm|
|Combined fuel economy||35.8mpg|
The new Sprinter rides and handles impressively and is available with a host of technology options to make it even easier and safer. Spec it wisely and real benefits should be available in day-to-day operation.