If you’ve never driven a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, the name could strike you as odd. It’s hardly a lithe, athletic thing, is it?
But there’s some aptness to the moniker, especially for this 2017 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 316 CDI MWB (mid wheelbase) model, because it is surprisingly quick for a big box-moving bus.
The 316 CDI model is powered by a 2.1-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel with 120kW of power (at 3800rpm) and 360Nm of torque (from 1400-2400rpm), and while those figures aren’t enormous, it’s the way the tried-and-tested oil-burner goes about its business that makes this a sprightlier thing than you otherwise might expect.
Our test vehicle is the seven-speed automatic model, and the automatic is part of the reason the van drives so well. It’s a clever gearbox, with brilliant gearing that allows it strong acceleration, and smooth shifts whether it’s un-laden or loaded up,
All Sprinters are rear-wheel-drive, meaning there’s no torque-steer here, but with nothing in the cargo area it can spin its tyres at times before the traction control helps out – never in a Ken Block way, though.
This MWB model isn’t the smallest version of the Sprinter range available – there’s a SWB (short wheelbase) model, and there are less powerful engines, too. For those concerned about the fuel consumption – as you would be, if you’re a business buyer – the Sprinter used an average of 8.3 litres per 100 kilometres on our test, which included freeway, urban and commuting, predominantly without much weight on board.
The MWB, however, is a likely choice for a lot of commercial van buyers. It measures less than the average parking space in length, at 5926mm, but the height of it will rule it out of most underground car parks (2324mm). The wheelbase is 3665mm, and the width is about the same as most large SUVs, at 1993mm.
Those dimensions allow it a fairly huge load space, spanning 3265mm long, 1780mm wide (with 1350mm between the wheel arches, making pallet loading a non-issue) and 1650mm tall – that latter point is a particular point that buyers should consider, because in a front-wheel-drive van, which doesn’t have a driveshaft running to the back axle, the floor can be lower, and therefore you can have more height in a van that isn’t necessarily as large on the outside.
The payload for this version is 1470 kilograms, which we didn’t even get close to during our time in it. If you need to tow, the Sprinter has a braked capacity of 2000kg, or 750kg for a non-braked trailer.
It may seem strange but the Sprinter certainly doesn’t feel big on the open road. It drives confidently, with good ride compliance and composure even un-laden, and trusty steering that is precise for lane changes, and quick enough to make parking moves simpler than you’d imagine. Because of its size, it can be pushed around a bit by the wind – like when you’re overtaking a truck.
Where it does feels its size is when you need to reverse the thing: look over your shoulder and the big, solid side panels make reversing out of driveways particularly hard, and the high-mount rear-view camera looks down rather than out, meaning you’ll struggle to see what’s behind you as you back out. Forward vision is excellent, though, and the split side mirrors make lane changes a lot easier, too.
The Sprinter comes standard with a single sliding side door and barn doors at the rear, the latter of which open up to 270 degrees – very handy for fork-loading. The door apertures are accommodating, too, with the side opening spanning 1300mm wide by 1520mm high, and the rear doors offering an almost square opening of 1565mm wide and 1540mm high.
In the cargo zone there are eight floor-mounted tie-down points and an additional two attachment points in the B-pillars. It has a lined floor, but no ceiling or wall lining, and there’s just one halogen light at the rear of the cargo area.
You can option a bulkhead to separate the occupant area from the back if you need to, and the front cabin is a nicely thought out area.
There are dual overhead folder holders with large sun-visors (but no vanity mirrors), a clever little document clip below the media screen, and excellent dash-top storage with enough space for clipboards and devices, with a USB and auxiliary jack on the driver’s side.
There is manual climate control air conditioning, and the knobs and dials – not to mention the general fit, finish and materials – all feel of an excellent, if hard wearing, standard.
Our test vehicle had the standard 5.8-inch Audio 15 sound system with (brilliantly fast to re-connect) Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and the optional Becker Map Pilot satellite navigation system. Now, it’s worth noting this isn’t a touch-screen media system, and those numbers on the side look very much like a 1990s car phone. But it is a reasonably simple, if aged and simplistic, system to use.
The Sprinter range is massive, spanning 46 variants including cab-chassis, dual-cab, van and bus models. This particular panel van version has a list price of $58,820 plus on-road costs – and then there are the options available because, hey, you’re buying a German premium-branded model, so of course there are boxes that need ticking.
Options like the Obsidian Black metallic paint, which costs $2200, and that rear-view camera is $776 or $1645 as part of the Parking Package with front and rear sensors. That’s just rude. And so is the non-fitment of side/curtain airbag protection as standard – dual front airbags are standard only. Forget rude, that’s almost disrespectful to buyers.
That’s despite Mercedes-Benz’s claims in its brochure that “your safety is our highest priority”, which is in direct reference to the company’s electronic stability control system, which features clever things like crosswind assist, brake disc wipe and pre-load, and an adaptive element to the algorithm that can adjust the responses of the ESC based on the weight on board. The crosswind system works, but like I said, it’s still hardly an aerodynamic case study.
Our car had the Driving Assistance package, with forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, lane keeping assist and auto high-beam lights. And it also had the Driver Comfort pack, with the front and rear parking sensors, a heated driver’s seat with pneumatic suspension and an armrest, and halogen fog-lamps.
So, just like there are heaps of variants for buyers to choose, there are plenty of ways that customers can tailor their Sprinter to their specific needs. But if you just want a Benz van, the Sprinter 310 CDI manual SWB can be had for as little as $42,990 drive-away. That could be a great option for fleet customers.
For business buyers there are three different levels of cover available for ownership – BestBasic (just maintenance, estimate $50 per month, or $1800 over 36 months), Select Plus (maintenance and some repairs, budget $85 per month, or $3060 over 36 months) or Complete (wear and tear cover plus maintenance, estimate $100 per month, or $3600 over 36 months). Servicing for the Sprinter is due every 12 months or 30,000km (whichever occurs first), and there’s a three-year/200,000km warranty on Benz vans.
For all buyers, though, a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is comparatively more expensive than, say, a Ford Transit or Renault Master, which is something that needs to be kept in mind when considering this otherwise accomplished large van.