Mercedes-Benz looks to mark the current state of the art in full-sized vans with its third generation Sprinter range. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter has long been the byword for excellence and performance in the full-sized van sector. The MK3 model range builds on efficiency and safety in significant ways, adds some style inside and out but remains focused on sheer practicality. There's a now-revitalised full-electric eSprinter version too.
In many ways, the Mercedes Sprinter has come to define the large van sector. It's by far the best-selling LCV across Europe, tracing its lineage back to 1995, with a second generation design appearing in 2006 and this third generation model being launched in the Spring of 2018. This time round, the availability of front-wheel-drive has extended the available options. Plus Mercedes introduced a range of fresh connectivity choices that business buyers will like, as well as improvements to safety and running cost efficiency.
In 2020, an all-electric version, the eSprinter, arrived with a front-driven powertrain energised by a 55kWh battery. In late 2023, the eSprinter was completely re-engineered, switching to rear wheel drive and being made available with gutsier motor and a range of three longer-ranging batteries.
Front-wheel, rear-wheel or all-wheel drive - the diesel version of this MK3 Sprinter covers all three drive variants, and can therefore be optimally configured for the relevant transport requirement and operating profile. The front-wheel drive format especially shows its inherent advantages when the vehicle is lightly loaded or in slippery conditions. In the rear-wheel drive variants, thanks to separation of the drive and steering, the classic advantages lie in optimum ride comfort, a smaller turning circle and more agile handling. Rear-wheel drive also allows more control when towing a trailer and at the limits of the maximum permissible gross vehicle weight.
The optional all-wheel drive system improves traction, particularly in difficult weather conditions or poor road conditions, thus enhancing driving safety and driving dynamics. Gear reduction is additionally available for demanding operations. As for engines, well not too much has changed here. Most will continue to choose the brand's four cylinder 2.0-litre diesel powerplant, offered in either Euro 6d or Euro VI forms with either 150hp, 170hp or 190hp and available with either 6-speed manual transmisssion or a 9G-TRONIC 9-speed auto gearbox.
In its latest re-engineered form, the alternative all-electric eSprinter model comes only in rear-driven guise. At the back, there's a completely new rear axle containing an electric motor putting out either 136hp or 204hp, depending on your preference. The vehicle's high voltage components and control systems now lie in the front portion of this van. While the battery packs sit in the middle under the floor and are now made of lithium-ion-phosphate and contain no nickel or cobalt. In place of the original model's old-tech 55kWh pack, there's now a choice of three available batteries: an entry-level 56kWh unit, a mid-level 81kWh option and the top 113kWh battery that can take this Mercedes as far as 248 miles. Both motors put out a gutsy 400Nm of torque, one reason why the eSprinter can pull a 2,000kg trailer.
Design and Build
Depending on the variant chosen, this third generation Sprinter features four different front-end designs. Plus there's the option of LED lighting with 'eagle wing' design daytime-running lights. The driver's workplace is uncluttered, practical and designed to meet the relevant transport requirements. There are ergonomically shaped seats and a variable stowage concept ensures that everything has its place. The interior also features a modular dashboard design that allows for maximum flexibility - everything from extra storage, to cutting-edge infotainment and wireless charging is available. For pleasant temperatures inside the cab, owners can choose between a semi-automatic air conditioning system or automatic climate control, according to their comfort requirements.
The MBUX multimedia infotainment system has a large, high-resolution centre touchscreen, incorporating fast hard-disc navigation with 3D map display and smartphone integration. The MBUX infotainment system incorporates 'Hey Mercedes' virtual assistant voice control. And for the eSprinter, it incorporates Navigation with 'Electric Intelligence', which helps drivers plan journeys ahead efficiently and effectively. For example, it shows the current range in real time depending on the current traffic situation and the topography of the route. It also calculates the best possible charging strategy to get to the destination as quickly as possible, or to have the desired state of charge at the destination.
Market and Model
Prices for diesel Sprinters start at just under £32,000. The core of the combustion model range remains as before; three wheelbases, four vehicle lengths, three roof heights and the choice of panel van and crew van options; before you start looking at chassis models, chassis crew cab variants, Tourer minibusses, plus a special Tractor Head chassis specifically designed for motorhomes. Diesel variants offer the choice of 150, 170 or 190hp versions of the same 2.0-litre engine - and there's the option of 9G-TRONIC auto transmission if you want it. There are front-driven, rear-driven and all wheel-driven models. And the diesel versions come with a choice of three trim levels - 'Pure', 'Progressive' and 'Premium'.
For the rear-driven-only all-electric eSprinter model, you'll probably need a budget of around £60,000 ex VAT upwards, before subtraction of the government £5,000 OLEV grant. The new re-engineered model offers a choice of L2 or L3 body lengths, 134bhp or 201bhp motors and three battery options - 56kWh, 81kWh and 113kWh.
All Sprinter models include an advanced connectivity package, the 'Communication Module', which has an in-built LTE SIM-card offering rapid data transmission between vans, drivers and vehicle managers. And as you'd expect, safety is very well accounted for. This eSprinter gets standard autonomous braking, the brand's 'Active Brake Assist with pedestrian protection' package. Plus, like the Vito, this LCV is also fitted with 'ATTENTION ASSIST' drowsiness detection, to prevent fatigue and encourage drivers to drive responsibly with breaks when they get tired. The Mercedes-Benz Emergency Call system can summon rescue services in the event of an accident, whilst Rear Cross Traffic and Exit Alert monitors the rear of the vehicle, and can autonomously brake in the event of an impending collision. In the event of an accident, Sprinter automatically applies its brakes to prevent secondary collisions.
Practicalities and Costs
As usual the main available body variants are the panel van, a crew van, a chassis with single or crew cab and the Sprinter Tourer bus. Three different wheelbases and tonnages between 3.0 and 5.5 tonnes create further individualisation options. The maximum towing capacity is 3.5 tonnes.
The Sprinter founded its reputation on solid practicality and the latest model is no exception. A low loading sill makes loading and unloading more convenient. The rear doors can be swung through 270-degrees and latched against the sides. The load compartment also scores with clever detailed solutions. Loadable wheel arches and fully usable load compartment heights increase versatility, especially in combination with front-wheel drive. Plus the payload of the front-driven version increases by 50 kilograms compared to rear-wheel drive. Across the range, the maximum load capacity is up a maximum of 17m3 on the largest diesel version (or up to 14m3 on the eSprinter).
As for running costs, there's proven BlueTEC engine technology to reduce emissions using Selective Catalytic Reduction technology with the AdBlue exhaust after-treatment process to reduce the proportion of nitrogen oxides after combustion by over 80 percent.
The re-engineered eSprinter can charge at up to 115KW. This means that replenishing the entry-level 56kWh battery from 10 to 80% can be done in as little as 28 minutes from a powerful DC rapid public charging point; allow 42 minutes for the largest-capacity 113kWh battery. This improved eSprinter can also charge at up to 11kW from an AC wall box or public charger.
Despite its European success, this Sprinter still isn't one of the first vans that many British business think of when their looking for a really large LCV. Yet on this evidence, perhaps its should be. It's as big and practical as any of its rivals, with a refined powertrain. The availability of front wheel drive has enabled Mercedes to access a wider band of buyers too. And the re-engineered eSprinter sets a new standard if you're looking for an EV in this segment.
Whatever the Sprinter variant you have in mind, yes of course you'll find cheaper rivals. Some of them feel a little more avant garde too and have cleverer cabs. But when it comes to the things that actually matter when it comes to running a vehicle of this kind, the Sprinter ticks most of the important boxes with the kind of thoroughness that you'd expect from something bearing the famous Three Pointed Star on its grille. All of which means that whatever your business, this could be your righthand van. Some things just don't change.