Professional Builder’s Kieran Nee gets behind the wheel of Mercedes-Benz’s latest Sprinter.
Launched in Dusseldorf earlier this year, Spring saw us finally get a chance to give the newest iteration of the Mercedes-Benz classic a run for its money. We were tasked with negotiating the plains of the Netherlands, making our way between the endless canals, the dazzling rows of colourful tulips and the windmill-studded landscapes that seem more like something hanging in the National Gallery than the countryside of one of industrial Europe’s leading lights. Armed with nothing more than a destination point and a mental note to stay on the right side of the road, we set out to discover whether the van offers a ride as pleasant as the scenery outside.
The first thing you notice straight away upon entering is how comfortable the inside of the cab is. For a while now we’ve been noticing the ever-increasing luxury of pick-up interiors, as manufacturers seek to lure tradespeople away from the dual work van/personal car solution to happy medium that delivers both needs. Well now it seems vans are fighting back and surely the latest trims, with an emphasis on comfortable seats, swish plastics and design-led fixtures, will have you clamouring to hop in the van in the morning.
Once you’re settled in, however, you’ll find the most striking thing inside, and possibly the most important aspect of the whole vehicle, embedded into the dashboard in front of you. A slick, 10.25 in. touchscreen sitting between the driver and passenger hosts a raft of features designed to connect you with the outside world, and make your working day as seamless as possible. The MBUX multimedia system provides sat nav with intelligent traffic information, voice command which can retrieve information from the internet for you if you ask it nicely and access to DAB radio and media files. The system also provides access to Mercedes PRO Connect services. MBUX is an optional feature, and won’t appeal to everyone, but it’s definitely worth taking a look at, especially if you run more than one van in your company.
Pro Connect packages available include Vehicle Supervision, Vehicle Operations, Fleet Communication, Maintenance Management and Accident Management and a Digital Driver’s Log, each of which provide ways to ensure you get the most out of your vehicle. For instance, it is now possible to geofence a particular area for a set timeframe, making sure the driver of that vehicle stays within a set area. Also vital statistics from each van can be collated and compared side by side back in the office, which provides a handy way of keeping check on each vehicle’s health.
Perhaps the most impressive feature is the ability to send messages directly to each driver’s screen, along with coordinates and contact details. Imagine, one of your men could be on his way to a job in the morning, only for it to be cancelled and replaced by a new one in a different part of town at the last moment. With someone based in the office organising it all on their end, all the driver has to do is accept the new coordinates on the screen and follow the new directions.
And the van itself? With a choice of manual and automatic variants and a range of power outputs, there is a choice for everyone depending on your needs. The powerful van’s fuel consumption can offer as much as 41.5 mpg and a payload of 3,150kg. What’s more, the wheel arches can now withstand the same weight as the rest of the load compartment. The new front wheel drive option provides 50kg of extra payload and a 80mm lower loading sill, which might not sound a lot until you need to load a whacker plate into the van.
The vast range of variable components means that the new Sprinter is one of the most customisable and versatile vans on the market. Of course we only had the chance to drive a handful, but it was clear that Mercedes had achieved that fine balance between robust strength and smooth handling. We had no trouble manoeuvring the vans around, and whilst both idling and speeding down the motorway the cab remained quiet and still.
Of course, no modern vehicle is complete without a healthy dose of additional safety features, and the Sprinter is no exception. The image from the reversing camera appears in the rear-view mirror, putting paid to the age old issue of blind reversing in a van. The ‘Distronic’ distance control system, Active Brake Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist and the Attention Assist all combine to ensure each journey is as safe as can be.
Ultimately, the new Sprinter is everything you would expect Mercedes’ new flagship large van to be: smooth to drive; a true workhorse for carrying heavy loads; comfortable and stylish inside and out; and with the added bonus now of integrating your van seamlessly into your toolbox and your company.