Sprinter sets new stan­dards in ride com­fort

DRIV­ING IM­PRES­SION/ Mark Smyth put the new Mercedes Sprinter to the test ahead of its launch in SA next year

Business Day - Motor News - - COMMERCIAL NEWS -

The van has not al­ways had much to brag about. Cars are all about com­fort, per­for­mance and tech. Trucks are about big torque fig­ures, big pay­loads and big pres­ence.

The van sits in the mid­dle, go­ing about its busi­ness of de­liv­er­ing goods and be­ing the vi­tal means of trans­port for small busi­nesses. It is also a ve­hi­cle of im­mense ver­sa­til­ity with the abil­ity to be trans­formed into any­thing from a lux­ury minibus to a fully equipped am­bu­lance. Some vans have even be­come icons, like the Ford Tran­sit or the Volk­swa­gen Trans­porter.

For some the van has been the best of all worlds, par­tic­u­larly to the en­tre­pre­neur who has needed some­thing big­ger than a bakkie. They all but live in the van, spend­ing hours in it ev­ery day, whether it be for their own busi­ness or as a driver for a com­pany.

The van is be­com­ing far less mod­est than it once was. Ac­tu­ally it’s dif­fi­cult to be mod­est when the van in ques­tion mea­sures in at a whop­ping 6.96m long and more than 2.6m high. In fact, when the lat­est gen­er­a­tion Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 316 L3 H2 RWD was de­liv­ered, it dwarfed my house and part of the neigh­bour’s house too. So not mod­est at all and quite men­ac­ing in Ob­sid­ian Black Metal­lic, an op­tional colour.

The new Sprinter will launch in SA late in the first quar­ter or early in the sec­ond quar­ter of 2019, but we got our hands on the lat­est gen­er­a­tion in the UK re­cently. Mercedes says it sets new stan­dards. Nor­mally we would pass this off as mar­ket­ing hype. But it does.

Be­fore I get into some of those new stan­dards, some es­sen­tial fig­ures be­cause for some it will not be about the fact that the new Sprinter can be fit­ted with the same Mercedes-Me con­nected in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem as the new A-Class.

The range will start with the L1 at 5,297mm long. All mod­els by the way are 2,345mm wide, in­clud­ing the mas­sive dual wing mir­rors, which in­ci­den­tally can be elec­tri­cally folded in, very use­ful when squeez­ing through packed city streets. The long­est is the L4 at 7,367mm. Ve­hi­cle heights range from the H1 at 2,365mm to the H3 at 2,831mm.

Then there are the load ar­eas. All are 1,787mm wide with a 1,555mm wide door width. The L1 has a cargo length of 2,607mm with the long­est, the L4, fea­tur­ing a huge 4,707mm. Our L3 on test has 4,307mm.

Gross com­bi­na­tion weights range from 5,000kg to 7,000kg de­pend­ing on the deriva­tive.

Un­der the bon­net is either a 2,1433cc or a 2,987cc tur­bod­iesel en­gine with power rang­ing from 83kW to 142kW and torque be­tween 300 and 440Nm. In Europe all en­gines are Euro 6b, cur­rently the clean­est of the clean diesels un­til RDE comes along but SA will get Euro 5 and Euro 6 en­gines. In the case of the 316, this one is Euro 6b but the one in SA will be Euro 5. Only the top spec 319 CDI will be Euro 6.

Price? We have no idea yet be­cause Mercedes-Benz SA says it has not yet de­cided its fi­nal pric­ing for the range and given the volatil­ity of the ex­change rate, they will prob­a­bly leave it un­til the last minute to an­nounce it. What we can tell you is that in the UK the range starts from R455,000 ex­clud­ing VAT but that also does not fac­tor in SA im­port du­ties and other taxes. The Sprinter we tested has a base price of R636,554 but then there are op­tions.

These op­tions are where things get more car-like be­cause the model we tested had quite a few. They in­cluded nav­i­ga­tion, Temp­matic air-con­di­tion­ing, re­vers­ing cam­era, blind spot as­sist, ac­tive lane keep­ing as­sist, Eco stop/start and that Ob­sid­ian Black metal­lic paint.

The MBUX or Mercedes-Me sys­tem was stan­dard and it pro­vided a wide range of down­load­able apps, ac­ces­si­ble through a seven-inch touch­screen, as well as the op­tion for con­nect­ing to your smart­phone and stream­ing me­dia from var­i­ous sources. It also in­cludes the abil­ity to utilise pro­duc­tiv­ity apps from Daim­ler or other providers. But as the say­ing goes, there’s more be­cause you can con­trol it all us­ing your voice or us­ing the su­perb but­tons on the steer­ing wheel, but­tons which are sim­i­lar to those you will find on an S-Class lux­ury limo.

This brings me to the ride com­fort. I’ve talked be­fore about how com­fort­able vans are be­com­ing but the Sprinter takes things to an­other level. Whether on bumpy back roads or smooth mo­tor­ways, the en­gine pro­vided ex­cel­lent re­sponse which just a hint of lag from the seven-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. We even used the pad­dle shifts on oc­ca­sion — yes, re­ally, the new Sprinter has pad­dle shifters on the steer­ing wheel.

The sus­pen­sion and elec­tronic sys­tems kept things nice and level at all times too. I’ve driven cars with more body roll than the Sprinter, which is good be­cause ob­vi­ously the ar­rival of a nearly 7m long van had me sent off to col­lect fur­ni­ture. Even the loose fur­ni­ture com­po­nents ly­ing around that cav­ernous space did not roll around as I drove. It’s all rather clever but there are nu­mer­ous tie down points and a load rail sys­tem for the pro­fes­sion­als.

Load­ing is easy cour­tesy of the rear doors which open al­most flat to the side of the van and a vast side-open­ing door too. Even the load­ing sill is at a good height.

It’s also an easy van to drive in spite of its large di­men­sions. The driv­ing po­si­tion is ex­cel­lent as is the vis­i­bil­ity. On that sub­ject, the two re­vers­ing cam­eras at dif­fer­ent heights make re­vers­ing to park or turn around easy too.

Safety tech is also su­perb. It has ac­tive lane keep­ing to keep you from veer­ing out of your lane, blind spot de­tec­tion to en­sure you do not pull out when you shouldn’t and some­thing I had never ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore — cross­wind de­tec­tion. It was a bit odd be­cause as I passed a truck sud­denly I felt the wind hit the side and the elec­tron­ics con­trolled one of the wheels to en­sure ev­ery­thing straight. Very clever.

The new Sprinter is def­i­nitely much more than just a van.

Over the years there have been a few that I have de­scribed as car-like in their ride but the new Merc takes it a step fur­ther to be car-like in ride, com­fort and equip­ment.

For some it will be a hard choice whether to buy a small truck or a large Sprinter and much will de­pend on the price when it ar­rives. If Mercedes SA gets it right then the Sprinter will be a hard one to bet against. stayed

IT’S AN EASY VAN TO DRIVE IN SPITE OF ITS LARGE DI­MEN­SIONS. THE DRIV­ING PO­SI­TION IS EX­CEL­LENT AS IS THE VIS­I­BIL­ITY IT HAS THE ABIL­ITY TO BE TRANS­FORMED INTO ANY­THING FROM A LUX­URY MINIBUS TO AN AM­BU­LANCE

At nearly 7m long the Sprinter was not too out of place in the truck stop park­ing.

The doors have been de­signed to pro­vide op­ti­mal ac­cess.

The in­te­rior is com­fort­able and very well equipped, even be­fore you add op­tions.

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