The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter was launched well over 25 years ago, and it came out swinging, claiming International Van of the Year at its debut. Since Mercedes has steadily walked the van upmarket to the point where businesses will go out of their way to have the kudos of a three-pointed star on its nose. Better than just appearing posh, Sprinters have always presented themselves as highly polished in all respects.
A mild update to the very latest Sprinter 315 CDI brings with it some new powertrain options that cater to the environment in a more sympathetic way, and to those businesses thats needs aren’t yet met by an electric van. Mercedes-Benz will happily sell you an eSprinter, but it knows that diesel is still a valuable commodity to hauliers covering a sizeable distance.
Can a van be beautiful? Maybe beautiful in its functionality, but it’s fair to say the Sprinter scrubs up well. Of course, the focal point of the design is that chromed diamond-star halo it wears so well. Presented on a bold and upright grille, it’s a stamp of authority for customers to take note of. There’s a good reason why Waitrose uses a substantial fleet of Sprinters.
Vans have made a good effort over the past few years to appear a bit more car-like, with rounded edges and more intricate features. This Sprinter’s stubby nose features a set of angled headlights to give the front facia a bit more character. A series of suggestive lines run its length to help break up its broadsided nature, likewise with hardy plastic cladding. A set of huge doors garnish the rear, all while presenting another prominent Merc badge.
The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is a professional-looking thing that premium businesses will value.
The cabin of any van is mission-critical as this is where the driver has to spend all day. In the same way that you wouldn’t make an employee sit on a wooden chair for eight hours, comfort is a high priority in a van. Gone are the days of the driver being something of an afterthought, modern commercial vehicles are actually nice places to spend time.
This Sprinter features three abreast seating with the driver’s post providing plenty of lower back support. There’s a deployable armrest for added comfort, and the huge levels of adjustment in the seat, as well as the wheel, means everyone should be able to find an ideal position. The cabin is spacious in general, however, two large storage cubbies do restrict legroom of the middle passenger.
Speaking of storage, there’s plenty of it in the Sprinter. Deep door bins, dashboard cubbies, shelves and overhead storage are perfect for the flotsam of a working day. Be it pen and paper or a tablet computer, the versatile space has somewhere to put it all. As mentioned, a pair of cubbies in the middle of the console do protrude, but they are perfect for loose change, mobile phones or the myriad of charging cables modern life requires.
Durability is a big factor when buying any working vehicle, and while the Sprinter is maybe a bit more stylised than some rivals, it’s no less hard. Everything feels secure and surfaces have a tough resilience to mucky work boots clattering them.
The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter comes in a blizzard of different configurations, and it’s this versatility that has made it so popular. In addition to the more specialised body styles available, the panel van comes in four lengths and three heights. Our L2H2 test van represents the middle of the pack with its 6-metre length and high top.
Open those large double hinged doors at the rear to reveal a good 11m³ of cargo space. There’s a solid bulkhead as standard and plenty of tie-down points to prevent items from freely running around. All Sprinters also benefit from a large sliding door that’s almost as practical in size as the pair at the rear.
Technology and equipment
This specific Sprinter is in top-spec Premium trim, one of three grades you can pick from. It features gizmos such as cruise control, keyless ignition, DAB radio, Wifi hotspot and a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system. While the screen is a little on the small side by today’s standards, it does play nice with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. You can upgrade to the 10.25-inch MBUX system that’s straight out of a Mercedes-Benz car, and while this van didn’t have it, from past experience it’s well worth ticking that box.
A great piece of technology on this van is Crosswind Assist. If you’ve driven any vehicle of size on a gusty day, you’ll know all about that horrible drifting feeling. In the worst cases drivers can be caught out by the wind with less than desirable results, and that’s where this system comes in. The Sprinter will detect the sudden burst of wind and subsequent movement, it then gently applies the brakes on one side to counter the direction of the wind. Clever stuff.
On the road
This Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is powered by one of the new diesel engines added to the range, a turbocharged 2.0-litre with 148bhp and 340Nm of torque. The torque figure is particularly important as it’s the thing that provides the mechanical shove when accelerating. One of the reasons diesel engines and big vans are the best of bedfellows is that these engines deliver their muscle low in the rev range, meaning that accelerating to join faster roads or out of junctions when fully loaded is considerably easier. This new engine is very smooth, is responsive and in this case is coupled with an equally competent nine-speed automatic gearbox. The auto will happily go about its business of swapping cogs, only being caught napping a little with abrupt inputs.
The most striking thing about driving the Sprinter is how refined the whole experience is. Its engine is muted on the move, wind noise isn’t outrageous considering a van typically has the aerodynamic properties of a shed, and the ride is supple. The latter is great for anything fragile that might be in the back, but this less abrasive ride is also cosseting for occupants. Even unladen the van deals with the dramatic change in weight well and reframes from being too bouncy.
For those new to driving big vans, it won’t take long to adjust to the Sprinter. While the steering is accurate and well-weighted, it doesn’t require too much effort, meaning you won’t be continuously wrestling the vehicle through your working day. There’s a strong sense of grip, and body control is pretty good for a vehicle so tall. Its ease of use also translates into the van actually feeling smaller on the road than it actually is. Far from intimidating, items such as the 270-degree section of the door mirrors help you keep an eye on your surroundings.
It’s very easy to cover large distances in the Sprinter. Join the motorway with whatever cargo you possess, set the cruise control and get that Spotify playlist going. The vast majority of vans these days are much easier to live with than their forefathers, but this Mercedes offers a level of civility beyond most rivals. In fact, the only van that surpasses this is the eSprinter, and that’s primarily because it’s the same van, just electric.
There’s still very much a place for diesel vans on our roads, battery technology has yet to provide for those hauling over long distances. Sure, the eSprinter is a much better fit for hopping from doorstep to doorstep these days, but this rather clean 2.0-litre engine makes a strong case for itself outside of the urban sprawl.
A Ford Transit is a keener steer with a more involving drive, but while enthusiasts will worship such engagement from something like a van, we’d take the Sprinter’s more comforting experience when it comes to everyday use.
You can kit-out your Sprinter exactly to your needs, and you’d be surprised how competitive its pricing is over a lifetime when you factor in parts. Every Merc van also gets lifetime Mobilo Van, a free recovery service for vans serviced with Mercedes.
There’s a strong argument that the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is the best van on sale today, all things considered.
Facts and figures
Model tested: Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Premium L2H2
Drivetrain: 2.0-litre diesel
Power / Torque: 148bhp / 340Nm
Top speed: N/A
Cargo space: 11m³