HPAC Magazine

Big Van Gets Boost In Worksite Prowess

Major new features revealed at a press event showcasing the capability of the 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.

December 1, 2014   By bill roebuck

Mercedes-Benz is upping its game in the full-size cargo van market with its 2015 Sprinter, which offers two significant improvements: Crosswind Assist and a four-wheel-drive option. In addition, there is a new standard four-cylinder diesel engine that is smaller and more fuel efficient than before, and an increase in the van’s maintenance interval from 20 000 km to 30 000 km.

Crosswind Assist is now standard on all 2500 model variants to help keep the big vehicle on course in strong crosswinds. To prove its point at a recent demonstration to the media, Mercedes-Benz went to its US Sprinter reassembly plant in Charleston, SC, where it had three V8-powered swamp boats, each with giant fans, set up side by side on their trailers in a parking lot beside the plant.

The plan was to drive past the running fans, which together generated a 145 km/h crosswind, first in a Sprinter without Crosswind Assist, and then with the model featuring it. The system activates at speeds of 80 km/h and over, so for the tests, we were travelling at about 100 km/h. In the first run, no matter how hard the driver tried to hold a straight line, the Sprinter was pushed sideways by the wind several inches – maybe more than a foot.

Then we tried again using the Crosswind Assist. This is an impressive and significant technology for a vehicle with such a large side surface. It is activated by the vehicle’s Adaptive ESP electronic stability program, which uses Brake Assist on the windward wheels to help stay the course when a certain speed of crosswind is detected. The system is not available on cab chassis, super-high roof or 3500 models.

Other available safety features on the van include Blind Spot Assist, Collision Prevention Assist, Trailer Stability Assist and tire pressure monitors.

The Sprinter Cargo’s base model engine is now a 2.1-litre inline four-cylinder diesel producing 161 hp and 266 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission. For more cargo-carrying and towing capability, a 188-hp, 325-lb.-ft., 3.0-litre V6 diesel using a five-speed automatic is available as an option.

For contractors who want to be sure they are never stuck in mucky jobsites, there is a new four-wheel-drive option, scheduled to arrive in Canadian dealerships in March 2015. The 4×4 is only offered with the V6 diesel powertrain.

Normally, the 4×4 Sprinter runs in rear-wheel drive mode. Just push a button on the dash at less than 10 km/h to manually turn on the four-wheel drive when needed. Power is sent to all four wheels, split 35:65 between front and real axles. A low-range transfer case is available as an option, as is Downhill Speed Regulation.

Mercedes-Benz constructed a small but very rugged off-road course on its property beside the Charleston plant so we could test the off-road capabilities. When driving, you are tossed around significantly because of the deep ruts, cutouts and dropoffs. Observing from the outside, you get to view the underside of the Sprinter as it sometimes tilts up with one wheel high in the air, like a dog in desperate need of a fire hydrant. The system, based on the 4Matic transmissions used in the company’s luxury cars, automatically sends power to the wheels that have the best traction.

The 4×4 Sprinter, which has an extra four inches of ground clearance over the 4×2 model, can be ordered with the 144-in. or 170-in. wheelbase in both low- and high-roof configurations.

Mercedes also showed off the capability of its Adaptive ESP system using a Sprinter loaded with about 680 kg of water in three big containers mounted in racks in the cargo compartment. We got to go along for a fun ride at about 50-60 km/h, strapped tightly into bucket seats with  harnesses, as a professional driver made emergency manoeuvres, first with the ESP off, then with it on. Steel outriggers mounted on both sides of the vehicle prevented a rollover with the system off. It was a crazy experience. With ESP activated, there was no need for the outriggers as the system significantly stabilized the van.

The Sprinter Cargo is offered in 2500 and 3500 models, with three roof heights (Standard at 65.0 in., High at 76.4 in. and Super High at 84.3 in.), two wheelbase lengths (144 in. and 170 in.), three cargo bed lengths (Standard at 128.5 in., Long at 169.3 in. and Extra Long 185.0 in.) and three GVWRs (8550 lb., 9900 lb. and 11 030 lb.). It also can be ordered as a crew van with a three-seater bench in the front row.

A maximum payload for the 2500 cargo van of 3513 lb. is achieved in the Standard roof model with the four-cylinder engine. For the 3500 vans, it is 5508 lb. for the same version. Maximum towing rating for the 2500 is 5000 lb. and for the 3500 it is 7500 lb. The width at the floor in all models is 70 in. Cargo volume ranges from 319 cu. ft. all the way up to 586 cu. ft. The Super High model is 24 in. taller from road to roof than the Standard version, which is 96 in. tall, something to keep in mind on some jobsites.

Canadian pricing for the Sprinter 2500 144-in. cargo van starts at $41,300 and goes up to $49,900 for the 2500 4×4. The V6 adds $2,500.

In Canada, 60 per cent of Sprinters are sold to the construction trades, with 60 per cent of those going to owner/operators and 40 per cent going to fleets. “In all, 80 to 90 per cent of these cargo vans are being upfitted with racks, shelving and other storage options,” according to Miki Velemirovich, national manager, Mercedes-Benz Vans Canada, Toronto. He says there are 16 Canadian-based Sprinter upfitters, plus an additional dozen that are U.S.-based but which have installation locations
in Canada.

The Sprinter has received many accolades since being introduced to Canada in 2001, most recently the Vincentric Best Fleet Value in Canada award for 2014, as well as the Canadian Black Book Best Retained Value award for 2014. With its newest attributes, it seems likely this cargo van will continue that trend.   <>

Bill Roebuck is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), which produces the annual Canadian Car of the Year and Utility Vehicle of the Year awards.

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