Best bakkie is a van

AL­WYN VILJOEN finds 1 700 ways in which a pan­el­van beats a pick-up

The Witness - Wheels - - TRANSPORT -

THE world’s best van just got smarter.

Mercedes-Benz launched the third­gen­er­a­tion Sprinter as the first pan­el­van that is fully con­nected to tele­met­rics as well as the in­ter­net.

This means van man can no longer drive like a hooli­gan, be­cause the fleet man­ager can get all the data in real time — and the Sprinter now talks back.

In fact, there are some 50 “Easter eggs” built into the pro­grams that run the new Sprinter. Ask­ing it for the mean­ing or life will not (yet) get you the an­swer 42, but the ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence en­sconced be­hind the dash­board can come up with a droll com­ment or two, as well as plan the best route to grab a quick bite on the way to a de­liv­ery.

We drove the van in Hol­land on in­vi­ta­tion of Mercedes-Benz, which is where I learned smarter vans also re­quire smart driv­ers to re­set the GPS should the roads be blocked. Hence, when the new Sprinter ar­rives in South Africa in 2019, be sure to in­clude driver train­ing as part of the deal. Or choose the most ba­sic ver­sion that comes just with all the er­gonomics but none of the elec­tron­ics.

There cer­tainly are enough mod­els to choose from, with over 1 700 ways to com­bine the different driv­e­trains, cab de­signs, body length, pay­load, car­go­height and elec­tronic equip­ment.

The cargo vol­ume goes up to 17 cu­bic me­tres with pay­loads of up to 5,5 tonnes, but for any­one trans­port­ing tall loads, the best con­fig­u­ra­tion is shown above, fit­ted with an alu­minium drop­side load bed, two very com­fort­able seats and a GPS.

This con­fig­u­ra­tion is how to­day’s bakkies started out, but some­where along the line the word “life­style” crept into the de­sign­ers’ brief and the end re­sult are bakkies so bulky that load­ing them re­quires a lad­der or a fork-lift.

Com­pare the ease of load­ing boxes onto a load bed that is hip high, as is the case with above chas­sis cab, or knee high in the case of the panel van.

If you don’t need to trans­port tall loads, but rather need to pro­tect the cargo against rain or thieves, pan­el­vans come with the canopy al­ready fit­ted, and you can ac­tu­ally walk around in there. Try that in a bakkie fit­ted with a canopy.

The run­ning costs have also been pared down by gen­er­a­tions of stingy fleet man­agers, en­sur­ing pan­el­vans are cheaper to op­er­ate than bakkies. Fi­nally, there is the seat­ing po­si­tion. You don’t have to go all the way to Am­s­ter­dam to feel high and mighty. Just get into the driv­ing seat of a Sprinter.

Then you will un­der­stand Van Man drives like he does be­cause the van can.

PHOTOS: AL­WYN VILJOEN

The old and the new, Mercedes has been mak­ing trans­porters a long time, like this 306D from the 1970s (left), which is still used by a yacht builder in Am­s­ter­dam, who said his cabin is quite bare com­pared to the dig­i­tal lux­u­ries in the lat­est 2018 model Sprinter (right).

The bat­tery pack of the next gen­er­a­tion, fully-electric Sprint­ers are ready for pro­duc­tion and while still to ex­pen­sive for South Africa, will soon be manda­tory in Eu­ro­pean cities that have an­nounced bans on diesel ve­hi­cles.

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