What do only Ferrari and the new Sprinter have in common?

New Mercedes Sprinter driven by Colin Windell, editor & publisher Autonews
05/04/2006 09:27
Mercedes is set to launch a brand-new version of its popular Sprinter medium van - and it's so advanced that many of its features come straight from the company's luxury sedans. We drive it in Europe.
2007 Mercedes Sprinter
The new Sprinter is set to be launched in South Africa early next year, but not all derivatives will be available from launch.
Gert Grobler, product manager for Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles at DaimlerChrysler SA, says the selection will cover all fleet needs and is based on current customer demand and feedback.
The Mercedes-Benz Vans business unit has invested some R13.5-billion in the development of this new model, with 1 000 different versions on offer when the various wheelbase versions, lengths, heights, weight ratings, body types, engines and transmissions are added up.
The new Sprinter features dynamic styling melding typical design themes of the Mercedes-Benz brand - for example the treatment of the headlamps and radiator grille - with the hardheaded rational qualities required in a van.
Side view
The sidewall line rises and widens from front to rear, resulting in a dynamic side view that echoes the smaller Vito.
It eventually merges with the three-dimensionally shaped rear lights, which are neatly integrated in the overall contours of the vehicle.
The sidewall line, together with the typical slanted lower window edge and the slanted base of the B-pillar, give a dynamic sense of forward movement and sculpted wheel arches accentuate the sense of forward-thrusting energy.
Aerodynamic optimisation of the exterior design using computer simulations and wind tunnel tests has resulted in reduced drag and reduced susceptibility to dirt accumulation. The drag coefficient (Cd) of the closed-body versions of the new Sprinter is just 0,32.
It is available in three wheelbase versions (3 250/3 665/4 325 mm), four lengths (in the case of closed-body versions) from 5 243 mm to 7 343 mm and with a choice of standard roof, high roof or the new super-high roof. And with GVM ratings from 3 - 5 tons, caters for all the main weight segments in its class.
All applications
The product range covers virtually all applications - the panel vans alone offer load space from 7 m3 to 17 m. It also achieves a best-in-class loading width, for the large sliding door, of 1 300 mm and a best-in-class loading width between the wheel arches in single-tyred versions of up to 1 350 mm.
New standards in this class are also set by the Sprinter's standard specification - among many other features, every model now comes with electrically operated windows, radio remote control central locking, driver's air bag, six-speed transmission, wide-angle mirrors and Adaptive ESP.
Materials and build quality are likewise impressive and the new seats are anatomically contoured and provide good support.
The driver's seat also has infinitely variable height adjustment. Optionally, for example, for the parcel delivery sector, flip-up co-driver seats are available along with a slide-lock door to the cargo section.
The steering wheel can now optionally be supplied in a height and tilt-adjustable version. Extended longitudinal seat adjustment and more headspace provide more room in all directions. The crew cab version has four doors.
Taking centre stage in the cockpit is the centre console, which includes three DIN slots, a cup holder and a switch strip.
The instrument cluster includes speedometer and rev counter dials. If the multifunction steering wheel is specified, a wide range of additional information can be shown in the large displays of the HighLine instrument cluster.
Driver convenience is provided by an all-new stowage concept that includes door compartments for large drinks bottles, a spacious stowage area on the instrument panel and stowage compartments above the windscreen for driver and co-driver.
On vehicles with air-conditioning, the glove compartment can be air-conditioned.
The standard-specification halogen H7 headlamps offer enhanced performance and excellent light output and bi-xenon headlamps are available as an option. They also incorporate an Add-Light system with cornering light function - both of which are new to the van market in this class.
Also optionally available is a rain/light sensor.
The sensor continuously adjusts the wiper interval depending on how wet the windscreen is and the sensing system that automatically switches the headlamps on and off monitors both the overall ambient light level and the ambient light in front of the vehicle when deciding what lighting is required.
The new exterior mirrors, with integrated wide-angle auxiliary mirrors left and right, provide excellent rearward visibility on versions with Parktronic specified, the rear distance indicator lights are incorporated in the mirror.
The four radios available ex works for the Sprinter all include a CD or DVD player and three of them come with a telephone keypad. The high-end Sound 50 APS and COMAND systems also feature integrated navigation systems - arrow-type navigation in the case of the Sound 50 and map-based navigation in the case of COMAND.
Engine choices are the four-cylinder 2 148 cm OM 646 CDI turbo-diesel engine in four output ratings, ranging from 65 kW to 110 kW. The versions with two-stage turbo-charging are another first in the van segment. The two turbo-chargers are mounted in series and develop high power and torque in all rev ranges.
The new top-of-the-line diesel engine is the OM 642, a 3-litre V6 unit developing a maximum output of 135 kW, maximum torque of 400 Nm and features an aluminium crankcase, a balancer shaft and two overhead camshafts per cylinder bank.
All the diesel engines have Euro 4 or EU 4/III low emissions rating, are equipped as standard with a particulate filter and can go 40 000 km - equivalent to once round the world - on one oil change. With the help of the Assyst maintenance computer, even longer oil-change intervals are possible.
The M 272 V6 petrol engine has a displacement of 3,5 litres delivering a maximum output of 190 kW, and power is transferred to the rear wheels via a five-speed automatic transmission.
This transmission is also optionally available for the diesel engines, which are fitted as standard with a six-speed manual unit. Up to three final-drive ratios are available for each model, allowing the Sprinter to be closely matched to its application.
The rear-wheel-drive chassis is designed to cope with high engine power and large payload variations. New transverse leaf springs made of fibreglass-reinforced plastic are used at the front and new parabolic springs are used at the rear.
Electronic safety
All models including chassis versions are equipped as standard with a new-generation Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) known as Adaptive ESP.
In addition to the usual parameters, this system is now also able to determine the mass and the centre of gravity. This and other new functions allow Adaptive ESP to intervene with even greater sensitivity and precision in critical situations. Optionally, the Start-off Assist system AAS can be integrated in Adaptive ESP.
This hill-start system prevents the vehicle from rolling downhill when the driver switches from the brake pedal to the accelerator during a hill start. To facilitate the manoeuvre, Start-off Assist maintains the brake pressure for up to two seconds after the service brake has been released.
All Sprinter models are equipped as standard with 16 inch wheels, which allows larger diameter brake discs to be fitted.
The disc brakes are ventilated at the front and solid at the rear on models up to 3.88 ton permissible GVM, while the 4.6 ton and 5 ton models get ventilated disc brakes both front and rear.
Safety specification includes three-point seat belts on all seats, height-adjustable head restraints and belt force limiters. The driver's seat and the outer co-driver's seat are also fitted with belt tensioners. A front air bag for the driver is standard. A co-driver's front air bag, thorax bags and window bags are optionally available.
The bench seats in the crew bus are equipped with quick-release latches that allow them to be removed from the vehicle quickly and without tools. The integrated seat belts remain on the seat when it is removed.
Mercedes-Benz builds the Sprinter at its factories in Dsseldorf (panel vans and crew buses) and Ludwigsfelde near Berlin (pickups, chassis versions).
The latter factory, in the old East Germany, has been significantly upgraded for the Sprinter and will produce the Crafter for Volkswagen and the Dodge Sprinter for the US market.
As one of the first journalists to visit the ?new? plant, it was difficult not to be impressed by the cleanliness and productivity stats. With new jobs created to cater for Sprinter production, the plant is gearing for a full three-shift cycle before the end of the year.
On the road
Imagine, if you will, an E Class Mercedes-Benz passenger car, only five times larger - this gives some indication of what driving the new Sprinter is like.
With the more upright steering wheel, positioned very much the same as in a passenger car, the opulent dashboard that mimics the passenger range, and the multi-way seating, even the biggest of the Sprinters becomes easy to deal with; even on the ?wrong? side of the road.
While not overly testing, our road route near to Vienna in Austria provided a good mix of freeway, main, country and small village roads with speeds on open sections limited more by tough Austrian enforcement than anything else - except for the V6 diesel which was to governed to 90 km/h to prevent costly over-enthusiasm.
Perhaps more illuminating was the opportunity to test the Sprinters at a driver training facility where the new level of electronics could be safely pushed to their limits.
The most impressive of these came with the combination of anti-lock brakes and anti-skid control working in tandem with the centre of gravity sensor to keep the vehicle in an upright posture in hard cornering.
This prevents both roll-over as well as terminal understeer or oversteer - the latter rather difficult to induce, even though the vehicles are rear driven.
Slalom tests also produced no untoward reactions and heavy braking (from 90 km/h) kept stopping distances to within passenger car limits, even with a load of nearly a ton on board.
Prices of the new vehicles, even including all the new electronic devices, are not expected to rise dramatically over those of the current models.
Oh, and one more thought.
What have Ferrari and the 2006 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van in common?
They are the only two vehicles that get a 360-degree rotation in the phosphate tank in the paint shop - a process that ensures every surface is comprehensively coated and allows for a 12-year warranty for corrosion perforation on the Sprinter.
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