With around 1700 variations to choose from, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter has perhaps the most dizzying amount of variety in one single range.
From all of those options, this one might be the best fit for the Australian market: 4x4, ute, V6 diesel, big wheelbase and plenty of tech. What more could you want?
The full name is 2020 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 519CDI LWB Cab Chassis, which means single-cab ute with the long (4325mm) wheelbase.
Pricing for this specification starts from $62,890 as a rear-wheel drive, but our test model has a host of options ticked. $24,989 worth, in fact, taking the before on-roads price to $87,189.
Nearly twenty-five gorillas' worth of additions does sound alarming, but there are two main culprits here: the all-wheel-drive system ($13,660) and the Scattolini steel tray ($4400).
Many smaller additions make up the rest: leather steering wheel ($230), digital radio ($250), 10.25-inch ‘MBUX’ infotainment display ($1600), adaptive cruise control ($1100), climate control ($1000), traffic sign control ($380), lane-keep assist ($570), reverse warning system ($368) and Jet Black paint ($741).
Some of these options strike me as good value, like the leather steering wheel and up-sized (from 8.0 inches) and modern infotainment system. However, considering that initial outlay, and the fact that there isn’t a reversing camera on our test model, charging extra for things like digital radio and the reverse warning system (the beeping) seems a bit off.
The 3.0 litres of V6 diesel under that snub-nosed bonnet delivers 140kW at 3800rpm and 440Nm at 1600–2600rpm. While it’s the same base engine, Sprinter specifications aren't at the same levels of the ill-fated X-Class, but more than the G-Professional range. And, it’s plenty enough for this application.
That power runs through a seven-speed ‘7G-Tronic’ automatic gearbox powering either the rear or (in our case) all four wheels.
Our tester has a gross vehicle mass of 4490kg, allowing it to be driven on a passenger car licence. However, it can also be registered with a GVM of 5000kg, which in turn needs an appropriate light-truck licence.
The engine provides plenty of accessible grunt, surging forward with good purpose up to highway speeds. And once cruising, it’s a smooth and quiet operator. Kudos to the gearbox in this case, which offers smooth and smart shifting. It’s a driveline combination that has seen plenty of action in a wide variety of applications, and it feels well dialled in for the Sprinter.
Mercedes-Benz doesn't offer any average fuel consumption data for the Sprinter, presumably because the wide variety of options, fit-outs, weights and body styles would make a big difference.
We averaged 13.4 litres per 100km on our test, which included plenty of town and highway driving, along with some driving at a full GVM. Shorter economy samples showed 15.0L/100km when only pounding around town.
The rear leaf suspension, with plenty of bump-stop spacing, handled being loaded right up the legal limit with bulker bags without any worries. And it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume it would handle an extra half tonne also – the suspension felt smooth and controlled, and although the drivetrain was stretching its legs at times, it never felt out of its depth.
Similarly, that slight heaviness to the steering felt perfectly at home when loaded. Thanks to Peter at Nepean Landscape Supplies for helping out with the ballast. In this case, we had close to 1.6 tonnes of sand.
Unladen, the Sprinter’s ride feels a little sharp over your bigger bumps and potholes. Otherwise, it’s mostly compliant and plenty comfortable enough for a decent truck with a big payload. That unladen sharpness pulls focus given the payload that runs well beyond the usual one-tonne ute mark (2137kg without a body, or 1637kg with the fitted tray).
Any sense of slumming it in a commercial vehicle is long gone when you climb up and into this Sprinter. No doubt helped by the optional inclusions, our test vehicles felt and looked impressive. The steering wheel adds to the premium experience, especially for a light truck.
Buttons are well laid out, and the small swipe-sensitive pads make navigating through various functions quite easy. As a model fresh in its life, and with plenty of MB passenger car cues to draw from, the Sprinter holds up well.
The big main infotainment display is also very good, especially for a commercial truck. Using the ‘MBUX’ brains, it’s easy and intuitive to navigate through the many functions. Important functionality is all covered off, like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, digital radio and native navigation. The worst critique I could level at it is that because of the wide screen ratio, Android Auto (in my case) rendered a lot of the screen useless.
Interior practicalities are also solid. There are eight cupholders for the three maximum passengers, and loads of storage atop the dashboard. The centre spot is lidded, and also hides two USB-C plugs and one 12V plug. Look underneath the four lower cupholders and you'll see an extra USB and USB-C slot.
Small parcel shelves are handy, and the black roof lining adds a premium touch to the cabin. Door cards have multiple spacious compartments, and the two passenger seats flip up to reveal big under-seat storage area.
The tray seems to be good value at $4400, especially when you consider it's over 4m long. Extra boxes underneath the tray are handy for your ratchet straps, as are the many tie-down points that go flush into the floor. The floor, by the way, is a kind of masonite that seems grippy and hard-wearing.
Sideboards fold down easily, with the rearmost panel including a metal step. There's also a yellow wheel chock smartly mounted below the tray.
Driver aids are aplenty in this Sprinter: radar cruise control, active brake assist, lane-keep assist and attention monitor. Even though we have a massive display at our disposal, the cab-chassis goes without any form of reversing or rear-view camera.
There is no blind-spot monitoring either in this cab-chassis format. It’s made up for by big mirrors and smaller convex mirrors, but when these are dialled in for reverse parallel parking, you’ve still got a decent blind spot along that 6864mm length. Forward visibility is otherwise very good thanks to the high-riding position, massive windscreen and semi-bonneted front end.
If you’re caught wandering in your lane, or making full use of the road width, the lane-departure warning can feel harsh sometimes. And if you’re not used to piloting such a large rig, the system can get a bit of a workout.
The turning circle at 15.2m is naturally bigger than most vehicles. However, that’s what you get from a 4.3m wheelbase. Vehicle width is quite manageable at 2020mm, but the height is less so: 2451mm when equipped with 4x4. No Westfield carparks, then.
Let’s talk about the most expensive one on the list: drive to all four wheels. The Sprinter Cab Chassis uses Mercedes's well-known van platform, but adapts it for use as Australia’s seemingly favourite body style – the ute!
And to further improve potential appeal to the Australian market, this Sprinter has the 4x4 option ticked.
Unfortunately, this expensive option doesn’t bring all of the benefits that it could. It’s more of an all-wheel drive than a four-wheel drive. The centre differential isn’t lockable, which means two things: you can use four driven wheels on-road, but you don’t get a massive benefit off-road.
In our testing, the Sprinter felt at home punting down some typical dirt roads. Even unladen, the suspension handled dirt roads well. Sharper bumps and holes yield a solid buck, which is something that would undoubtedly soften off with some load in the back. Engage all-wheel drive and the sense of grip and competency only increased.
As soon as you lift a wheel through low-speed ruts and bumps, progress quickly grinds to a halt. The suspension and chassis don’t offer any articulation, and you’ll notice the rear leaf shackles are both short and vertically mounted – not conducive to suppleness or articulation. Traction control takes quite a long time (and plenty of throttle) to do its thing in minor cross-axling situations. It works, but you wouldn’t want to depend on it a lot.
Ground clearance grows from 176mm to 192mm – a 16mm increase with the 4WD system's raised suspension.
An ability to lock the centre differential (for off-road use only) would be a handy addition. A full wish-list for a 4WDer would be locking differentials and bigger tyres (Super Singles at the rear), and then it would be a different story. But as it stands, the 4x4 Sprinter cab-chassis isn’t in the same league as an Iveco Daily 4x4, for example.
Continuing on this theme, ‘low-range’ isn’t actual low-range. Rather, it’s a driving mode that tweaks the gearbox's shifting patterns to better suit low-speed driving. However, if true off-road is your poison, don’t forget about the much bigger (and more expensive) Mercedes Unimog.
For those who want some extra flexibility on low-traction surfaces like dirt roads, grass, snow or hilly and wet roads, then this Sprinter adds in a healthy dose of tractive ability. But the cost is undeniably high.
The core requirements of the Sprinter are well executed. Although a lot of it is optional, there's plenty of safety technology available. It's also comfortable, easy to drive and relatively fuel-efficient. Perhaps most importantly, it handles being loaded up without any issue.
Plenty of the optional gear should be included, in our opinion, and the optional 4x4 driveline is bordering on being prohibitively expensive. Furthermore, it doesn't give the Sprinter true 4x4 ability. There is a premium sense to the Sprinter as a commercial vehicle, and for those who will be behind the tiller, it's comfortable and practical.