BLUE COL­LAR WITH BOW TIE

Flashy pas­sen­ger car con­ve­nience comes to the van mar­ket

The Chronicle - - Motoring - GRANT ED­WARDS

Lash­ings of lux­ury have been added to Mer­cedes-Benz’s work­horse van range.

Sprinter vans now come with a flashy touch­screen and dig­i­tal driver in­stru­ments that can be con­trolled via steer­ing wheel-mounted con­trols.

Safety has also im­proved with the op­tion of the lat­est life­sav­ing tech­nol­ogy — in­clud­ing radar cruise con­trol, rear cross-traf­fic alert and ac­tive lane-keep­ing as­sist that au­tonomously stops the ve­hi­cle stray­ing out­side the lines.

Power has been bol­stered across the four-cylin­der and V6 turbo diesel en­gine line-up, as well as the ad­di­tion of front-wheel drive vari­ants, com­ple­ment­ing rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive op­tions.

Prices have in­creased in line with the im­proved equip­ment, ris­ing $3000–$5000 de­pend­ing on the model — where there is no short­age of op­tions.

Mer­cedes says 1700 dif­fer­ent Sprinter vari­ants are avail­able when you com­bine body types, drive con­fig­u­ra­tions, cab de­signs, body lengths, ton­nages and load com­part­ment heights.

That’s more than the out­go­ing model but the pri­mary goal of this lat­est it­er­a­tion is to bring pas­sen­ger-car com­fort and con­ve­nience to vans.

Sprinter is Mer­cedes’ fourth most pop­u­lar model in Aus­tralia, only trail­ing the C-Class, GLC SUV and com­pact A-Class.

“It can be trans­port­ing ce­ment, fresh pro­duce all the way through to VIP trans­porta­tion for events or a high-end mo­torhome,” Mer­cedes-Benz’s Blake Vin­cent said.

“It has re­ally broad scope so it needs to be multi-tal­ented.

“It works off a build­ing block prin­ci­ple … we have a lot of cus­tomi­sa­tion and it can be tai­lored to a spe­cific cus­tomer’s needs.

“We have more flex­i­bil­ity than we have ever had.”

Launch­ing from this week, the range won’t be com­plete un­til next year, with the 12-seater minibus due in the sec­ond quar­ter while

all-wheel drive mod­els will land about June.

There will also be a trac­tor-head op­tion, which en­ables mo­torhome builders to at­tach the front end to be­spoke bod­ies.

WHAT’S NEW

Look at the skin and the Sprinter main­tains tra­di­tional pro­por­tions — mi­nor changes have been made to the grille, head­lamps and bon­net.

The rear-wheel drives have an iden­ti­cal load area to en­able seam­less up­grades. They are avail­able in mid, long and ex­tra-long wheel­base.

Front-wheel­ers, only avail­able with four-cylin­der en­gines in short and mid wheel­base, come with a 50kg ad­di­tional pay­load and a 80mm lower load­ing sill.

DRIV­ING

De­spite the Sprinter’s length and breadth, they’re a sim­ple ve­hi­cle to drive.

Safety ad­di­tions be­come vi­tal tools in traf­fic, en­abling con­fi­dent lane changes, while the op­tional cam­eras of­fer im­pres­sive all-round vi­sion — an ex­er­cise in­volv­ing a com­pletely blacked out cabin proved their value in con­fined spa­ces.

Sam­pling the mid-spec four-cylin­der and the V6, both proved solid but it’s the lat­ter that is the choice for those want­ing more se­ri­ous punch (that’s also the donk used by the na­tion’s am­bu­lances). While six-speed man­ual trans­mis­sions are avail­able, au­to­mat­ics ac­count for about 98 per cent of sales.

Steer­ing is light while the new in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem is sim­ple to nav­i­gate once you have your bear­ings and steer­ing wheel touch pads mas­tered.

While Mer­cedes has brought main­stream lux­u­ries to the seg­ment, there are var­i­ous stor­age spots and a lot of hard-wear­ing plas­tics through­out the cabin. It’s de­signed for long-haul har­di­ness, not first-class.

Ser­vic­ing pack­ages are avail­able in three tiers — ba­sic, se­lect and com­plete — and are claimed to be at least 20 per cent cheaper than pay-as-you-go op­tions. In­ter­vals are long at 40,000km or an­nual.

War­ranty cov­er­age is on par with the in­dus­try, three years or 200,000km with road­side as­sist for the same pe­riod, only trumped by the Ford Tran­sit which is five years and un­lim­ited travel.

SAFETY

Vans have of­ten been over­looked in the past for the lat­est safety gear but for the first time Sprinter comes with ac­tive brake as­sist and at­ten­tion as­sist. For­mer op­tions like lane-keep­ing as­sist, blind spot warn­ing, re­verse cam­era, four airbags and cross-wind as­sist are also now stan­dard.

Blind spot and re­verse cam­era are not avail­able on cab-chas­sis mod­els.

Up­ping the ante are a range of new op­tions, in­clud­ing a 360-de­gree cam­era with park­ing pack­age ($1232), ac­tive lane-keep­ing as­sist which can au­tonomously keep the ve­hi­cle be­tween lines ($554), park­ing pack­age ($792), traf­fic sign as­sist to pro­vide a con­stant re­minder of speed lim­its ($385) and radar cruise con­trol that al­ways main­tains a safe dis­tance when trail­ing other ve­hi­cles ($1067).

TECH­NOL­OGY

Em­bed­ded within the Sprinter is Mer­cedes’ bil­lion-dol­lar baby.

Sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment was re­quired to de­liver the Mer­cedes-Benz User Ex­pe­ri­ence (MBUX).

It’s like Siri or Google Home for your car. Mak­ing its de­but on the just-re­leased A-Class, there is a cen­tral seven-inch touch screen (op­tional 10.25) and a dig­i­tal dis­play for the driver that sits be­tween the speedo and tachome­ter.

On the touch­screen, you can press, hold, drag, zoom, pinch and swipe like you would on a smart de­vice.

There are two touch pads on the steer­ing wheel that of­fer the same func­tion­al­ity as the touch­screen — on the left you can also con­trol the main screen, while the one on the right dic­tates what is seen in the driver’s bin­na­cle.

It can per­son­alise and house up to 10 pro­files — learn­ing the driver’s pref­er­ences in terms of sat­nav des­ti­na­tions, mu­sic, con­tacts and even the seat po­si­tion (if you have elec­tric seats).

One func­tion ex­pected to be avail­able next year is Mer­cedes Pro, which will en­able po­si­tion track­ing and full ve­hi­cle anal­y­sis.

Fleet man­agers will be able to ac­cess driver logs, have real-time data on ve­hi­cle con­di­tion and know ex­actly when ser­vic­ing is re­quired in real time.

Avail­able from West-Star Mo­tors Mer­cedes-Benz, cor­ner of James and Hume streets, Toowoomba.

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