Best bakkie is a van
ALWYN VILJOEN finds 1 700 ways in which a panelvan beats a pick-up
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.
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.