I can remember driving a Sprinter for the first time, and although I had only limited experience of the old square-box Mercedes TN van, the Sprinter was from another planet. The German brand had not just caught the opposition – they had lapped it.

The third generation, in face-lifted guise from 2014, is our subject here. It is one model step before the current version and offers plenty of choice on the used market. A French-speaking light commercial vehicle designer once told me that the main quality in a large van is that it should be large, and even with my poor grasp of the French language, I knew what he meant. The Sprinter conforms to that doctrine.

If you need to park in your garage at home, you need a car-derived van; cross a field, and what you require is a 4X4 pick-up. But if you need to carry huge amounts of material, tools and kit, then the overall length of the van, its width with mirrors out or folded, or how much the rear step sticks out, is totally irrelevant: you want a big box. Mercedes knew that with the old TN van and the Sprinter built upon it. That’s why there are so few short-wheelbase Sprinters around; they’re all cab and no van.

In our beloved panel van format this means a total of four wheelbase lengths from 3.25m to 4.2m, giving a range of overall lengths that stretch from 5.2m to 7.3m. These correspond to internal load bay lengths of 2.6m, 3.2m, 4.3m and 4.7m. Load volumes range from a respectable 7.5m3 up to 15.5m3 in the extra-long wheelbase and high-roof combination. That’s a wide choice, and in the case of the extra-LWB high-roof version seriously capacious, so watch out for overloading as it’s easy to get carried away, and if stopped by the boys in blue, you very well might be.

Payloads suffer a little, of course, with the biggest body combinations, but looking only at the 3.5t GVM models you can bank on 796kg through to 1,360kg in versions that are shorter in both vertical and horizontal aspects.

Engines are available in 2.2- and 3.0-litre options with power outputs from 95hp through to 190hp. Our favourite is the 130hp version, and the majority of the used Sprinters we found had this version of the 2.2-litre. It offers lower numbers than the 3.0-litre but is one of those engines that punches above its weight and does its best work at low revs.

A cast-iron service history is a must on Sprinters. Avoid short-wheelbase low-power ‘site hacks’ with towing jaws – the clutches get thrashed – but high mileages on lighter-duty courier vehicles should not be a worry.

Overall quality is good, and although the latest ones are just as plasticy in-cab as the competition, they seem pretty tough. The Sprinter is a big tick, in a big box.

Get your hands on…

130hp engine
Automatic transmission
High-roof option
Driver Assist Pack
4WD option

Steer clear of…

Lowest-output engine
Standard roof
Dual cab
3.0-litre in SWB