We’ve been driving the revised Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, What Van?’s 2014 Large Van of the Year and one of the first LCVs to meet the new Euro6 exhaust emission rules, which look set to have a major impact on buyers of new light commercials when they come fully into force by 2016.
But why has a Euro6 Sprinter appeared so early? Partly it is because heavier models in the range that come under the Euro6 truck regulations have had to comply since January. It is also partly to give those operators who run lighter Sprinters the opportunity to underline their environmental credentials by paying £1120 extra and voluntarily adopting Euro6 early. If they do not fancy doing that then they can still have the Euro5 version instead.
Complying with Euro6 involves topping up the tank under the bonnet with a liquid called AdBlue every few thousand miles. A mix of two-thirds demineralised water and one-third synthetic urea, it is required by the vehicle’s selective catalytic reduction (SCR) emission-control system. It is sprayed into the exhaust gases to ensure they stay within the legal limits. Fail to keep the tank topped up and a warning light will show on the dashboard. Keep ignoring it and the van will eventually slow to a crawl until you take action.
With this in mind, we took to the highways in a new 3.5-tonne gross vehicle weight long-wheelbase high-roof Blue Efficiency 313CDI . Mercedes has restyled the Sprinter’s front and made some modest changes to the cab interior to coincide with Euro6’s arrival. The firm has also lowered the vehicle by around 30mm to enhance the aerodynamics and make it easier to load and unload.
A step plus a big door aperture aid entry to the three-seater cab, although there is no grab-handle on the A-pillar. In its absence, you tend to lunge for the steering wheel to help haul yourself aboard, although that’s not an option for the passengers, of course.
Settle down behind that wheel and there is no doubt that you are ensconced in a high-quality environment. Some manufacturers reckon to save a few pennies by using low-grade plastic for the fascia and all the other fixtures and fittings, but not Mercedes. The same goes for the seat trim.
Drivers will welcome the commanding vision provided by the deep windscreen, and the clear view down the van’s flanks afforded by the big, electrically adjustable and heated exterior mirrors, with their separate, lower, wide-angle section. Drivers will also applaud the headroom, shoulder room and the height-adjustable seat too, although they are likely to be disappointed by the absence of a height-adjustable steering wheel.
Their mood will be improved again, however, when they realise how much storage space they have. It includes a lockable glove box and a deep bin in each of the doors that is split in two, with a separate section designed to accommodate a big bottle of water. Beneath each bin is a lidded compartment, one of which holds a medical kit. On top of the fascia there are no less than five shelves of various sizes, with the middle one designed to swallow an A4 clipboard plus paperwork. Two of those shelves incorporate cup-holders. Flip down the centre section of the middle seat and it turns into a desk with two more cup-holders plus a clip for a pen.
On the front of the dashboard you will spot a clip for invoices, or perhaps scrawled directions. There are also two more shelves, but that’s not all; look up, and you will see a shelf above the windscreen on the driver’s side. The outboard passenger gets one too.
The windscreen on our demonstrator featured heat-insulating glass with an additional sun-strip filter – yours for an extra £146 (all prices quoted here exclude VAT).
Access to the echoing 14.0m3 cargo bay is by means of a sliding nearside door or twin rear doors that can be swung through 270°. Both apertures are generously proportioned: the rear one is 1565mm wide by 1840mm high while the dimensions for the side aperture are 1300mm by 1820mm. A grab-handle is provided in each case so that you can pull yourself aboard.
Opening the side door reveals a step, but if you want the (exterior) step – fitted at the back of our demonstrator – it will cost an extra £109. There are steps in the front bumper as well.
A substantial-looking full-height steel bulkhead should help ensure that any unrestrained loads that hurtle towards the cab under heavy braking will be stopped. Mercedes has made it as easy as possible to strap down cargo, though, with the provision of a generous 10 tie-down rings set into the floor, which has a slip-resistant timber cover, plus two at the base of the bulkhead. The sides of our test van’s load area and the sides of its doors – although not its wheel-boxes – were protected against minor scratches and scrapes by neatly installed ply lining.
Indeed, neatness is the abiding impression created by the load area. That includes the plastic trunking that runs along the top of the nearside wall and carries the wiring for the rear lights.
The maximum load length is 4300mm. Maximum width is 1780mm narrowing to 1350mm between the wheel-boxes while maximum height is 1940mm. The rear loading height is 785mm. The vehicle’s maximum overall length is 6945mm with a 4325mm wheelbase, while the maximum overall height is 2815mm. Maximum width, including the mirrors, is 2426mm.
Offering a gross payload capacity of 1082kg – 34kg less than the closest equivalent Euro5 model – our demonstrator could tow a braked trailer grossing at up to 2000kg.
Power comes courtesy of a four-cylinder 16-valve 2.1-litre common-rail turbocharged and intercooled diesel delivering 129hp at 3800rpm. Top torque of 305Nm kicks in across a wide 1200rpm to 2400rpm plateau, and the engine is married to a six-speed manual gearbox. Drive is to the rear wheels through a 240mm-diameter single-plate dry clutch, and a particulate filter is fitted.
Chassis and steering
Independent suspension is installed at the front while parabolic springs help support the rear. Stabilisers are fitted front and back, and our Sprinter sat on 16-inch steel wheels shod with 235/65 R16 C Michelin Agilis tyres. A spare wheel is provided. Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is standard, too.
The Sprinter’s handling is exemplary. Point it in the direction you want to go and that is where it heads, tracking nicely through bends and showing no inclination to deviate off course. For a big van it is remarkably manoeuvrable too.
As our low-mileage Sprinter felt as though it was still bedding-in, the on-the-road performance was adequate rather than outstanding. We were left with the impression that it had more to give, and are confident that things would improve after a few thousand miles. We doubt the advent of Euro6 hampered the performance.
There was rather less give in the suspension – although fine on smooth road surfaces, it struggled a little on uneven ones, especially when the van was lightly laden.
The gear-change could stand to be a tad smoother too, and while in-cab noise levels were well under control at around-town speeds, they were a little too high on the motorway for our tastes. There is no denying the van’s stability though – Crosswind Assist, which prevents you from being blown into the adjacent lane on a motorway or dual-carriageway by a sudden gust of wind, certainly helped to keep us on track – and once again the extraordinarily high build quality meant that there were no annoying rattles or squeaks.
We averaged around 32mpg – not far off the quoted combined figure of 35.8mpg, which is 0.9mpg better than the Euro5 figure.
Our Sprinter arrived with electric windows, a power point in the cab, Bluetooth connectivity and aircon with an automatic heater control for an extra £593. Also installed was an Audio 10 radio with remote controls on the steering wheel and MP3 compatibility. However, there was no CD player – a sign of the times.
Buying and running
Mercedes has taken steps to cut running costs, with the Sprinter’s Assyst onboard maintenance computer permitting a service interval of up to 37,500 miles. The interval is likely to be a lot shorter, however, if you happen to be in a particularly demanding trade, and the rigours of the workload shouldered by so many Sprinters mean that periodic safety inspections over and above the interval between major services are a good idea.
A three-year/unlimited mileage warranty comes as standard with an up to 30-year – yes, you read that correctly – warranty against the body corroding from the inside out. Break down and you will be aided by a pan-European four-year Mobilovan Roadside Assistance package.
Fuel costs should be kept in check by the Blueefficiency Eco stop/start system and by intelligent alternator management. It charges the battery during braking and when the van is decelerating.
Side rubbing strips should help protect the body from minor scrapes, while side marker lights should ensure that the LCV is spotted when pulling out onto a main road after dark.
Mercedes has always prided itself on the high safety standard set by its vans, and the latest Sprinter is no exception. Included in the safety package alongside ABS is an adaptive electronic stability programme (ESP) that takes into account the positioning of the van’s load prior to intervening. The package also embraces Start-off Assist, which should stop you rolling backwards when moving away on an incline.
Other features include acceleration skid control (called ASR), hydraulic brake assistance (known as BAS), and electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD). To that can be added cruise control with a Speedtronic speed limiter and the aforementioned Crosswind Assist.
With disc brakes on all four wheels, our test van was also equipped with Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist and Collision Prevention Assist. The first-named feature does exactly what it says on the tin: it spots other road users lurking in your blind spot and alerts you to their presence. The alert is delivered courtesy of a red triangle that lights up in the nearside or offside exterior mirror as appropriate. Ignore it and indicate that you are pulling out and the triangle will begin to flash to the accompaniment of a warning buzzer. Lane Keeping Assist alerts you if you begin to doze off at the wheel and the Sprinter lurches into an adjacent lane. Collision Prevention Assist warns you if you are getting too close to the vehicle in front, giving you sufficient time to apply the brakes, slow down and avert the danger. And if it all goes pear-shaped, then at least the driver is protected by an airbag.
Yet another feature is Highbeam Assist, which stops you dazzling other drivers. All four items are included in a Driving Assistance Package for an extra £1090.
Turning to security, remote central locking is fitted, and there’s a notice on the driver’s cab door window explaining that the van’s catalytic converter is security-marked and registered.
Well put-together and offering a superb working environment, the Sprinter is just the workhorse you need if you spend your life delivering packages or lugging other important loads.
Quick to adapt
What’s the fastest van on the motorway? Yes, you’ve guessed it – it has to be Mercedes-Benz’s apparently indestructible Sprinter.
Launched 19 years ago, it has garnered an enviable reputation as an efficient and cost-effective workhorse and won a fist-full of fleet orders as a consequence. Those 19 years have seen a few changes, however, as the van kept up with – and on occasions was probably ahead of – the times.
One of the most important changes was in 2006 when it underwent an all-encompassing internal and external re-design, with its load capacity increased to 17.0m3. Its 2.2-litre diesel was reworked so that it produced more power and torque, and a 184hp V6 diesel was added to the line-up.
Hardly three years elapsed and the 2.2 litre was gone in favour of the
current 2.1-litre diesel. Today, that is available with Euro6 emission-reduction technology as the Sprinter heads into yet another era.