There’s a bridge in Melbourne that is fast becoming an iconic landmark, for all the wrong reasons. Barely a day passes when the Montague Street light-rail overpass in Port Melbourne isn’t in the news due to some muppet misjudging the height of their vehicle and realising they haven’t quite balanced the whole 'unstoppable force meeting immovable object' thing.
Normally, for us low-level car dwellers, the bridge’s low 3.0-meter clearance isn’t cause for much concern… but, I’ll admit, driving the 2016 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 416 LWB ‘High roof’ had me approach the steel monolith with slight trepidation.
In sheer volumetric terms, the Sprinter consumes a lot of space. At just under seven metres long (6961 mm), 2.5m wide (2426 mm) and just a school ruler of height away from bridgemageddon (2692 mm), the Sprinter has a footprint roughly half that of a Melbourne tram.
The best bit, is that the 416 LWB model we have isn’t even the biggest! There is an extra-long and extra-high version available (2905mm high) – just in case you want to dance with that low-bridge devil even more daringly.
There are over 40 variants in the current line-up, comprising nine engines, four wheelbases, three roof heights and configurations that include bus, cab-chassis and van - making the Sprinter one of the most diverse platforms offered in the market.
Prices start at $44,490 (before options and on-road costs) for a SWB low-roof 310 model (70kW/250Nm 2.1-litre diesel) all the way to $72,205 for a LWB 519 (140kW/440Nm 3.0-litre diesel. There is also a 12-seater bus available from $79,900.
The bus shares the same engine as our $66,790 416 model, a 120kW/360Nm 2.1-litre diesel. This EURO 5-compliant motor offers peak torque between 1400 and 2400rpm and is paired with a seven-speed 7G-TRONIC automatic transmission.
Our van, resplendent with some (not so) subtle Mercedes-Benz branding decals, is finished in Obsidian Black metallic paint, one of 11 colour options available.
You couldn’t really miss it, even at night where the side-marker lights draw further attention to the van’s size.
Unladen, the Sprinter tips the scales at just under 2.5 tonne (2490kg) and the diesel shuffles the big, empty void around with a relatively relaxed demeanour.
The automatic box takes all the work away and it’s not until a conditioned glance in the rear view mirror, showing the rear barn doors ($690 option) a long way away, that it really clicks on how easy this thing is to drive – despite its cavernous size.
Steering is light and forward vision excellent, making the transition from much smaller vehicles to the Sprinter a very easy one. Turn-in is sharp and accurate, and you do need to remember to swing wider than normal, due to the length, but the Sprinter is generally a very effortless machine to move about town in.
The cab is big and you have to reach wide to access the furthest buttons on the central 5.8-inch infotainment screen. But, once used to the space, the ergonomics are good, helped in part by the generic Merecedes-Benz switchgear.
Storage is excellent, too, with a tray above the windscreen, cubby in the central dash-top, as well as shelves in front of the driver and passenger – the driver’s side offering a USB and 12-volt point.
There is another cubby in the lower dash stack, as well as cup holders and door pockets.
The head-unit itself is pretty basic, and the software powers the older COMAND interface that is gradually being phased out of Mercedes-Benz passenger cars. That said, it is easy to get used to and, as a working vehicle, the phone-pad numbers make dealing with calls very simple.
Bluetooth pairing was quick and audio quality impressive, especially given the empty space behind you.
The navigation system works well, but unless you desperately need an integrated solution, it is a $980 option (or included as part of the $1546 safety pack), so you would likely be better off using a third-party or mobile-phone based solution.
Our van is fitted with the optional comfort pack ($1860) which adds front and rear parking sensors (pretty handy), foglamps (yay!) and a heated suspension seat for the driver.
I’m not totally foreign to vanning about, but this is the first suspension seat I have experienced and, without putting too fine a point on it – where have you been all my life!
You can adjust the damping of the seat to accommodate the driver’s weight and it takes a lot of harshness out of the ride that is naturally provided by a load-bearing vehicle chassis. For a working vehicle, keeping the driver fresh and comfortable after hours on the road is paramount, and we found the floating comfort of the seat a huge benefit.
Further OH&S guidance is provided via the assistance package ($2475) which adds blind-spot detection, pre-collision and lane departure warnings, as well as an automatic high-beam function.
The blind spot system is of particular importance, given the 4325mm wheelbase and slab-sided nature of the Sprinter. When paired with the large side mirrors - which offer a lower wide-angle section - vision from the cab is surprisingly good.
Parking the big guy is a two-spot minimum, which can be challenging in urban areas (hooray for loading zones amiright?), and a reverse camera is fitted as part of the safety pack ($1546).
Mounted high above the rear doors, the camera offers a very wide hemispherical view that looks more down than back, but does make it easier to position the van for parking or loading.
Additionally, the mirrors feature a side proximity-based light system, that show a sequence of lights to indicate how close you are to objects. It’s the same principle as the front/rear light array, and a very useful inclusion.
But, in terms of standard occupant safety, there are only two airbags: front driver and passenger. You can option side airbags ($726), and curtain head airbags ($1230). But, surely, in this day-and-age, and for a brand like Mercedes-Benz, these should be standard equipment.
The reason for choosing a large van like the Sprinter is load ability, and with 4300mm between the barn-doors and front seats, there is plenty of that.
You can easily fit three standard Australian pallets (1165mm square), loaded through the rear or the standard side door (1300mm aperture). The pallet will fit inside the wheel-arches too (1228mm gap).
There are a raft of tie-down locations, including recessed D-shackles in the floor, and the 416 offers a load capacity of just under 2.0 tonne (1990kg).
There is 1940mm of height inside too, which allows all but the tallest people to walk around, and a total load volume of 14 cubic metres. For context, a Mercedes-Benz E-Class has a 540-litre boot, the Sprinter has 14,000-litres available. Plus our van has a neat LED ceiling light ($410 option).
It’s a flexible space, and while we aren’t in the business of moving tall and awkward objects around – other than Mike Costello - you can see how the cavernous cavern (you can thank Paul for that descriptive chestnut) can come in handy.
So much so that we decided the Sprinter would make an excellent mobile office on a particularly pleasant Autumn day. We loaded up some key elements that make CarAdvice tick – a desk, some mobile devices and the fooseball table – and headed to the beach.
I won’t lie, we didn’t do a very good job of securing our load, but even with all that clobber in the back, the Sprinter still felt empty.
Running through inner Melbourne to secure a pleasant parking spot down by the bay, the big Benz was still largely effortless to operate. There’s no rocketing acceleration – which was ideal given our poor tie-down usage – and the pace could well be described as ‘leisurely’. The 416 Sprinter is more at home at a constant cruise than dashing around urban appointments.
Parking up in St Kilda to make some calls, reenact the 2014 FIFA World Cup final and generally enjoy the serenity of it all was worth the effort. With the side and rear doors open, the Sprinter made an excellent office away from the office – albeit a slightly tongue-in-cheek one.
We did take loading a bit more seriously the following day and laid out roughly 500kg of stone tiles along the load bay. The suspension settled somewhat, and while the weight addition was noticeable, the performance didn’t really change.
The big load step at the rear of the Sprinter came in very handy for manually lifting heavier items in too. The floor was easy enough to slide the crates along, but you can option a wooden floor if this is what you are doing most of the time.
Over the week, we saw an average of 12.1L/100km fuel consumption, which relaxed to exactly 10L/100km with extended highway usage. This is up on the European claim of 7.5L/100km.
For owners, Mercedes-Benz offers a three-year/200,000km warranty on the Sprinter, with 12-month or 30,000km service intervals.
The huge size may not make the Sprinter the most suitable vehicle for all working drivers, but, considering the big Merc outsells its smaller Vito sibling by two-to-one, it shows there is still a real need for larger and more flexible working vans on the roads.
With the depth of options available, you can spruce up the Sprinter to suit your working and comfort needs, but be selective, as these can drive the costs up quite quickly (our options totalled $6981) on an already pricey van.
Whatever the case, the 2016 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter gives you an easy to drive, easy to use transport solution, with immense flexibility and functionality – that in the LWB high-roof configuration, still fits under the Montague Street bridge.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.