Given the Sprinter’s global presence and domination of heavy van markets in Europe, it’s quite surprising to think the Sprinter name was completely unheard of 20 years ago. Such is the presence of the Sprinter, that if you type “Sprinter Euro-6 Launch” into Google, it will direct you to websites in all corners of the globe.
There are just four nominal GVWs between 3 and 5 tonnes, giving a payload range of 734kg to 2,515kg. The four body lengths (5,245mm, 5,910mm, 6,945mm and 7,345mm) and three roof heights (2,435mm, 2,820mm and 3,050mm) offer load volumes starting at 7.5m³ up to 17m³.
The breadth of power, which stretches from 129hp to 190hp, is supplied by three different units; the 1.8-litre petrol (156hp), the 2.1-litre diesel (129-163hp) and the 3-litre diesel (190hp) engine. The Sprinter retains its rear or all-wheel-drive driveline, and there is a choice of either a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmissions.
The Sprinter is available as a panel van, kombi, minibus or chassis cab. The only manufacturer conversion is a dropside.
The big news regarding the engines is the option of petrol, which has been rare in a van of this size since, well, forever.
It’s not expected that the 1.8-litre, 156hp engine will be of much interest to the average van buyer, but it could prove useful for niche markets that specialise in light duty work, and operators wanting to convert to natural power.
However, despite the dramatic reduction in emissions, there were very little changes to be found on the Sprinter’s existing engines. The ever-popular 2.1-litre four-pot diesel retains the same 95hp, 129hp and 163hp power ratings of the previous generation, as does the 3-litre V6 unit with the 190hp and 440Nm that it has to offer.
The six-speed manual transmission is now more efficient, with a greater transmission speed and broader gear ratios. The old five-speed automatic has been replaced by a new seven-speed transmission called 7G-Tronic Plus, and the Sprinter will also be the first van to feature a lock-up clutch to reduce power loss.
The Sprinter emissions have now been reduced to as low as 197g/km on some versions, thanks to the cleaner Euro-6 emission standard. The new legislation means will be phased in between September 2014 and September 2015, and requires a 80% reduction in NOx particles and 67% drop in particulate matter.
In the back, its business as usual for the Sprinter range with load volumes ranging from 7.5m³ on the short wheelbase standard roof to 17m³ on the extra-long wheelbase, high roof and payloads ranging from 734kg to 2,515kg. One point worth noting is that the load area (and overall ride height) is now 30mm closer to the ground. This should help reduce back strain when loading and improve access – albeit, only fractionally.
One of our favourite pieces of kit available in the LCV market can be found on the Sprinter. For too long, man has suffered the burden of carrying a heavy package or item, only to reach the vehicle, lower the item, unlock and open the vehicle and then proceed to load.
But on the Sprinter, there is the option to bypass this rigmarole with Keyless Entry and Slide. It detects the approaching, struggling mule and, as the name suggests, slides the door open automatically – job done.
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The Euro-6 deadline has also given Mercedes-Benz the chance to freshen up the cab, and make tweaks where they thought they could do better. While the exterior hints at only a modest upgrade with a new radiator grille and headlights, most of the important work has taken place underneath the body panels.
If we look at the vital statistics though, not much seems to have changed. The diesel engines have exactly the same output; it has the same load volume and only a slight change in weight. To the untrained eye it also looks almost exactly the same.
The stereo was an obvious new feature, with the Sprinter’s infotainment system now featuring a USB and SD card reader, Bluetooth and telephone keypad as well as an optional Becker Map Pilot navigation system.
The rest of the cab remains relatively unchanged, apart from modifications to the steering wheel and gear knob, and a new heavy duty covering for the seats, to reduce wear and tear.
On The Road
We tested the 3-litre V6, which provided more-than-enough power and was unassumingly quiet, while the accompanying gearbox was smooth and efficient. The colossal 440Nm of torque can be a concern for some drivers, as this is often associated with wheel spins, jerkiness and the hard wearing of gears, but the Sprinter clutch releases the torque gradually to allow for fluid acceleration off the blocks.
The Sprinter is by far the most refined of the large panel vans, and this has been further enhanced by the lowering of the suspension. This is most noticeable on the motorway, where, even at 70mph, noise levels are only slightly louder than one would expect from a passenger car.
The lower chassis and stiffer suspension are also noticeable when cornering, resulting in less body roll, and a firmer ride.
Safety was clearly an area of special interest for Mercedes-Benz through the design stage, as the new model boasts no less than three safety debuts.
The debutants are Crosswind Assist, which counteracts a gust of wind pushing you off your intended track, Collision Prevention System (CPS) and Blind Spot Assist (BSA). Crosswind Assist will feature as standard, with the latter two available as options due to the required cost of installing new detection systems.
CPS is a radar-based system, that works with the existing Brake Assist system to detect an approaching object and ensure the correct degree of braking force is selected in order to lower the risk of a rear-end collision, while BSA also uses radar to monitor areas that the driver wouldn’t normally be able to see.
Despite the technological advancements, Crosswind Assist didn’t score very highly on our ‘functionality’ scale, when we put it to test on England’s highest motorway on one of the windiest days of the year.
The system requires a large degree of trust in the electronics as it will only operate if you don’t manually counteract the crosswinds, which is not something that comes naturally when travelling on the M62 with 70mph gusts of wind. However, when we did finally muster the courage to let the system takeover, it worked remarkably well and compensated immediately. It is more a system for the novice driver, as those who are used to driving large vans will no doubt autocorrect out of instinct.
Also new on the Sprinter is Highbeam Assist – which adjusts the headlamp range automatically to the distance of oncoming traffic or vehicles in front with their lights on – and the now widely known Lane Keeping Assist which warns the driver when he or she is drifting out of their lane.
Total Cost of Ownership
New and higher prices are always going to accompany a new emission standard, and there’s no exception with the Euro-6 Sprinter. While the Sprinter has always been at the higher end of the pricing scale, the increase isn’t quite as bad as expected with prices starting at £20,825 plus VAT.
Of course, Mercedes-Benz argues that the new Euro-6 Sprinter benefits from 20% better fuel economy and longer 37,000 mile service intervals, which will bring down costs in the long run. Warranties remain the same at a generous three years with unlimited mileage.
While it remains to be seen which routes other manufacturers will take, MB have chosen Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR). The downside to this is that the Sprinter will consume about 0.486 litres of AdBlue every 100 miles, which is the equivalent of around 25p and therefore shouldn’t affect operating costs too much.
Additional exhaust treatment systems have increased the pressure inside the cylinders, as well as optimise the injection and combustion processes, resulting in lower fuel consumption and less engine noise.
Some of the larger and carbon conscious fleets may be interested to read that, with the BlueEfficiency Plus package the Sprinter managed to achieve 44.4mpg on the combined NEDC cycle, an incredible result for a van of this size.
With BlueEfficency Plus, the usual package of stop-start technology, alternator and battery management and more, is coupled with the ASSYST maintenance calculation system to give the driver and manager an overview of his or her driving efficiency.
The Sprinter’s traditional strengths of driver comfort and unrivalled build quality have now been coupled with great fuel economy and some fantastic safety systems, which will no doubt consolidate Mercedes’ position at the top of the heavy-duty van market. We would prefer to see options like Keyless Entry and Slide made standard, instead of Crosswind Assist, but a no-cost safety feature is not to be sniffed at. Now, all that remains is to see what the other manufacturers come up with for their Euro-6 products.