If there’s one word that encapsulates why the new Sprinter deserves to win our Large Van award, it’s ‘innovation’.

In bringing it to market, Mercedes set out to break new ground – both with the design of the vehicle itself and in the way it’s bought and run.

A big development is the introduction of a front-wheel drive option – previous Sprinters had been rear- or all-wheel drive only. This contributes to a line-up that certainly won’t leave buyers short of choice, with 1,700 variants spanning eight body types.

There’s a new nine-speed automatic gearbox, available alongside a six-speed manual – both are impressive – while engine options are a 2.1-litre diesel with 114hp, 143hp or 177hp, or a 3.0-litre diesel with 190hp. The driving experience features a composed ride, and easy, car-like manoeuvrability, with light and accurate steering and good all-round visibility. The new Sprinter also comes loaded with advanced safety features as standard, including Active Brake Assist, Attention Assist, Crosswind Assist, Headlight Assistant and hill-start assist.

The cab raises the bar for sophistication and comfort in the large van segment. Most conspicuous is the new MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) infotainment set-up, which is so advanced that the Sprinter was only the second Mercedes vehicle to get it, after the A-Class family car. A 7.0in touchscreen is standard but a 10.25in unit is optional, as is satnav. Mercedes claims it is self-learning, so picks up the driver’s routines and automatically presents their favourite features.

It enables two phones to be paired via Bluetooth simultaneously – business and private, for example – and can store multiple user profiles to cater for several different drivers. It also comes with the Hey Mercedes voice-activation system, the firm’s answer to the likes of Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. Other interior highlights are comfortable and supportive seats, designed to be easy to hop in and out of for delivery drivers, and soft plastic finishing of the highest quality you’ll find in the class.

So that’s why the van itself impresses, but Mercedes was determined to go further. It says it has a fresh philosophy, which means going from being merely a vehicle manufacturer to “a provider of transport and mobility solutions”, with the brand directly offering van rental and sharing solutions as well as outright purchase. Central to this is its adVANce strategy, which focuses on improving connectivity between drivers and fleet managers and places the Sprinter squarely within the Internet of Things.

At the heart of this is Pro Connect, a telematics fleet management system that allows assignments to be managed online and information about a van – such as location, fuel level or maintenance requirements – to be retrieved almost in real time. Packages within Pro Connect include Vehicle Supervision (which displays data and vehicle usage over a defined period), Vehicle Operations (covering location and geofencing), Fleet Communications, Maintenance Management, Eco Monitoring, Theft Management (which monitors the alarm and predefined geofencing to warn against possible thefts), and a digital driver’s logbook.

Put together with an impressive vehicle this adds up to a formidable package, which is why we’ve picked the new Sprinter as the class’s best.

Highly Commended: Volkswagen Crafter

As last year’s winner of this category, and also our outgoing LCV of the Year, the Volkswagen Crafter has plenty to offer. It comes in front-, rear- and all-wheel drive 4Motion formats, and in three wheelbases, three roof heights, and as a single- and double-cab chassis cab, with load volumes of between 9.9m3 and 18.3m3.

Engine options are a 2.0-litre diesel with 102hp, 122hp or 140hp, or a bi-turbo TDI with 177hp, and there’s a choice of six-speed manual and eight-speed automatic gearboxes – both of which are impressive. Other standout aspects of the driving experience are a high-quality ride and agile handling, the latter assisted by speed-adjusted electromechanical power steering.

Inside, drivers will find interior trim that feels sturdy and well put together, and there’s a good array of storage space.

Standard safety features include both Front Assist with City Emergency Braking, which reacts to prevent collisions, and Automatic Post-Collision Braking, which if an incident does occur applies the brakes to avoid a secondary shunt.

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