( Adaptive ESP on Sprinter tests well ..... but what about beach
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter - July 2006
Launched earlier this year to a global audience at the British
Commercial Vehicle Show, Mercedes-Benz's redesigned Sprinter is now
available in the UK; and the accent is on driver safety.
Still rear-wheel drive, all Sprinters come complete with a
new-generation Electronic Stability Programme known as Adaptive ESP
sourced from component giant Bosch.
Electronic Stability Programme
The aim of ESP is to make sure your van doesn't roll over if you have
to swerve sharply on a slippery road. In Adaptive guise it takes into
account the weight of whatever you happen to be carrying, where it's
positioned, its height and what all that's doing to the vehicle's
centre of gravity.
As a result it's just as effective no matter whether you've got a
1,000kg load equally distributed all around the cargo area or a tall
item weighing 300kg plonked squarely above the back axle.
So does it work? Too right it does - in fact it's amazingly
effective, as a visit to the Prodrive test track just outside
Kenilworth in Warwickshire soon proved.
Slaloming a Sprinter between cones at the sort of speeds that would
probably put a standard van without ESP on its roof revealed no
difference in behaviour no matter what the size or weight of the cargo
was. The ESP cut in at the right time, every time; and we emerged from
the exercise unscathed.
ABS, Acceleration Skid Control, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and
Brake Assist are all integrated into the ESP system.
Having driven Sprinter round and round one of the wettest and
slipperiest skid pans we've ever encountered, then got it to pull away
on a stretch of sopping wet cobblestones without the wheels spinning,
we can testify that the Acceleration Skid Control system works; and
The brakes are effective too - new Sprinter's all-round disc brakes
are larger than the ones fitted to its predecessor - with ABS and all
the other features helping us to pull up quickly while remaining in
control on a surface awash with water.
Those aren't the only safety goodies on offer on Sprinter. For an extra
£100 you can specify a useful gizmo called Start-off Assist -
usually referred to as Hill Hold - if the vehicle you've ordered has
got a manual gearbox. Designed to make it much easier to move away on
steep hills, it maintains the brake pressure for up to two seconds
after the pedal has been released to stop you rolling backwards.
It's useful on Sprinter, but pretty much essential on Vito -
Sprinter's baby brother - given that the latter has a foot-operated
Re-engineered and restyled both internally and externally at a cost of
£1.25bn, the latest Sprinter comes with a redesigned version of the
2.1-litre four-cylinder common rail diesel used in the previous model.
It's up for grabs at 88 bhp, 109 bhp, 129 bhp or 150 bhp, and the two
beefiest variants come with two-stage turbocharging. It's the first
time such a system has been fitted to a light commercial.
Two turbochargers of different sizes are positioned one behind the
other. At low engine speeds only the smaller and faster reacting of the
two is in action while its stablemate idles.
At medium engine speeds both cut in, with the big one providing
initial, and the small one, final, compression. At high speeds only the
big turbocharger is working. Its smaller companion is bypassed.
It's a set-up that leads to especially rapid response when the driver
floors the loud pedal at low engine speeds.
The most powerful Sprinter comes with a mighty 184 bhp 3.0-litre V6
common rail diesel. Top power kicks in at 3,800rpm, while maximum
torque of 295 lb/ft makes its presence very much felt right the way
across a 1,600rpm-to-2,500rpm plateau.
Features include an aluminium crankcase, a balancer shaft and two
overhead camshafts per cylinder bank. The V6 is due to appear in the UK
later this year.
Three-litre or 2.1-litre, all the engines comply with the new Euro 4
exhaust emission regulations and are equipped with particulate traps.
A six-speed manual gearbox comes as standard on all Sprinters. The
alternative - at extra cost - is a fully automatic five-speed 'box
borrowed from the passenger car range. The Sprintshift automated manual
gearbox offered as an option in the old model has been unceremoniously
New Sprinter is in production with three different wheelbases -
3,250mm, 3,665mm, and 4,325mm - and the van is being offered with
four different overall lengths ranging from 5,243mm to 7,343mm. Van
buyers are also faced with a choice of three different overall heights,
including the all-new Super-High roof with an internal load height of
The net result is that load area capacity now extends from 7.0m3 to an
echoing 17.0m3. The most the previous model could muster was 13.4m3.
As many as 14 load tie-down rings are fitted to van versions, and they
all come with a timber cover for the cargo bed plus a steel bulkhead.
It all adds up to a choice of around 1,000 basic derivatives if you add
in chassis cabs, chassis double cabs - with four doors as standard
and lap-and-diagonal belts on all seats - and Traveliner minibuses.
It's worth noting that, like its predecessor, new Sprinter can be
ordered from the factory as a refrigerated van - chilled and fully
frozen versions are available - and as a dropside pick-up.
Gross weights now extend from 3.0 tonne to 5.0 tonne in a line-up that
also includes 3.5-, 3.88-, and 4.6-tonners. All Sprinters ride on 16ins
wheels and the 4.6-tonner can be ordered with single rear wheels rather
than twins; another first.
Wearing what are sometimes referred to as 'super single' 285/65 R16C
tyres, single wheels take up less room than twins so there is less
wheel box intrusion. They don't weigh as much and offer lower rolling
resistance. That should mean reduced diesel consumption.
Sticking with weight saving for a moment, Sprinter has been fitted with
front transverse leaf springs made of fibreglass-reinforced plastic.
They're a lot lighter than the more usual steel springs. New parabolic
springs have been deployed at the back.
Many Sprinter models now have front axles with a higher load capacity
than those found on the old model. Ratings range from 1,650kg to
Sprinter salesmen are unlikely to hear too many complaints about a lack
of in-cab storage space. There are big bins in each of the front doors
with mouldings that will hold large drink bottles or flasks, a whole
host of compartments in the dashboard - including accommodation for
A4 documents - and overhead shelves for both the driver and
You can create a desk that can be used to complete paperwork by pulling
down part of the backrest of the three-man cab's centre seat. It
includes a pen holder plus a pair of cup holders. Underneath the dual
passenger seat you'll find a storage area.
Electric windows, an electronic ignition key linked to an electric
steering lock, remote central locking - all the doors lock
automatically anyway once you reach 9mph - a radio/CD player, a
driver's airbag and two in-cab power points all come as standard.
Sprinter is better able to accommodate drivers of different sizes than
ever before. While the driver doesn't necessarily get a height and tilt
adjustable steering wheel - that's an option - what he does enjoy
is a seat with infinitely variable height alteration, more headroom and
increased longitudinal adjustment.
The cab door apertures are 120mm higher but the maximum opening angle
of the doors themselves has been reduced from 73° to 64°. That makes
the handles easier to reach from the seats when the doors are wide open
and lessens the risk of the doors bashing a wall or another vehicle and
Go for the multifunction steering wheel and you're rewarded with the
HighLine instrument cluster too. It allows you to access all sorts of
onboard information simply by pressing the buttons on the left of the
wheel. The ones to the right adjust the radio's volume and can
additionally be used to operate a mobile phone.
Wide-angle exterior mirrors come as standard and their casings
fashionably incorporate indicator repeater lights. Fortunately the
entire mirror unit only costs £51 plus VAT and labour to replace if it
gets broken, and individual parts can be changed separately.
If you really want to impress other van owners, then go for an
electrically powered sliding side door. Push a button and it opens or
closes in no more than five seconds, says Mercedes, claiming it as a
first on a van.
If that's not enough to make your rivals jealous, then specify it with
another first; Keyless Entry and Slide.
Designed to help users who regularly have to juggle with parcels and
may not have a free hand, it opens the door as soon as the driver comes
within 5m of the vehicle. Depending on which direction he's approaching
from it may unlock his cab door instead.
When he walks away the sliding door shuts, or the cab door locks, once
he's moved outside a 1m or thereabouts radius. It can also be set up to
operate a sliding door in the bulkhead.
If you think all that's a bit over the top, then you can simply ask for
an electric closing aid. It pulls the door the last part of the way
into the shut position without the need to slam it; something to be
avoided when you're making early morning deliveries.
Sprinter van can also be ordered with a package called Parktronic. It
makes wriggling into tight parking spaces considerably easier by
scanning the areas behind and ahead of the vehicle. With a range of
180cm at the back and 100cm at the front it operates at speeds of up to
Audible and visual warnings are provided as you edge dangerously close
to an obstacle, with displays for the area behind your vehicle built
into the rear view mirrors.
Bi-xenon headlights represent yet another handy option and a light
commercial first. Thanks to their Add-Light system they illuminate
bends more effectively at night than standard headlamps.
Spend a bit extra and you can have a rain/light sensor too. As well as
continuously altering the speed of the wipers depending on how wet the
screen is, it switches the headlights on and off according to how dark
All Sprinter tyres - apart from those mounted in-board in a
twin-wheel set-up - can be fitted with a pressure monitoring system.
Readings are displayed on the dashboard.
An option we'd certainly recommend given the extortionate price of
diesel in this country thanks to ludicrously high tax levels is Motor
Start Stop (MSS). First seen on the outgoing model, it can cut fuel
bills by up to 30 per cent says Mercedes.
When his vehicle is stationary in traffic the driver simply engages
neutral, releases the clutch and the engine automatically stops after
three seconds of idling. To restart the engine and move away all the
driver has to do is dip the clutch pedal and engage gear again.
As well as reducing fuel costs and engine wear MSS cuts air pollution
too. It costs £195, but it's only available on Sprinters with manual
So far as servicing is concerned the engines are capable of clocking up
24,000 miles before their oil needs changing. You may find you can
increase intervals even longer courtesy of the onboard Assyst
It keeps an eye on the condition of the lubricant and lets you know
when it needs swapping. That could be every 30,000 miles if you work in
a clean environment. Sprinter's mechanical warranty is three years, and
there's no mileage limit.
As for insurance groups, some versions of the new model are down to
group 8 compared with an average of group 14 for its predecessor, says
Despite all the investment, newly appointed UK van sales and marketing
director, Steve Bridge, does not expect a big rise in Sprinter sales.
"In 2005 we sold 16,001. We'll do a bit less this year and we expect
to do around 16,000 in 2007," he says. "We reckon the market will
decline slightly next year, however, so our market share will
Dealers will be doing all they can to promote sales of Vito and
Sprinter, he says, and a growing number of those sales will be made
"There are 54 throughout the network at present and we should have
over 100 by the end of next year," he says. "We need to increase
sales to the self-employed and small businesses, and the presence of a
showroom lets them know exactly where they can buy a van from us."
Production constraints shouldn't hamper sales of the German-built
Sprinter as the newcomer - unlike the outgoing model - is being
assembled at the Ludwigsfelde plant near Berlin as well as in
Dusseldorf. Volkswagen's Crafter will absorb some of this extra
production capacity, however, as it's being built alongside Sprinter by
the Three Pointed Star on VW's behalf.
On the Road
We took a long-wheelbase 109 bhp 311CDI van out for a spin in the
Warwickshire countryside and we were impressed.
It rides and handles well, there's plenty of performance on tap -
although admittedly we were unladen - and there's precious little
engine or wind noise. For your money you get plenty of feedback from
the steering, a precise gearchange and the standard of fit and finish
in the cab - not to mention the quality of the plastic used - is
well up to Mercedes-Benz's usual standard.
The 88 bhp 309CDI medium-wheelbase van we also sampled was almost as
impressive, but engine noise was a little intrusive and at times it
found it difficult to cope with uneven road surfaces.
The star of the show, however, was undoubtedly the 184 bhp 318CDI. It
left just about everything else on the road standing and did so with
the absolute minimum of fuss. Gearchanges were seamless thanks to the
five-speed auto box it was married to in our test van.