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Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - Sprinter - commercial range

Our Opinion

We like
Comfortable seats and driving position, automatic transmission, gearshift location, interior noise levels, ease of use, cruise control, optional automatic sliding side door
Room for improvement
Lack of parking sensors or cameras, crosswinds, auto transmission tendency not to change down, far-side location of audio volume control

13 Mar 2008

THE Mercedes-Benz Sprinter set new standards of car-like driving dynamics in the light commercial vehicle market and the latest upgrade takes the formula a step further with even more features and model variants.

First of all, to make sense of the bewildering array of model names, here’s a quick rundown on what they mean.

Mercedes uses a rough combination of GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass, which the weight of the vehicle plus the maximum load) and engine power expressed in the old horsepower rating rather than kiloWatts (one horsepower equals about 0.75kW). CDI stands for Common-rail Diesel Injected engine, then SWB means short-wheelbase, MWB is mid-wheelbase and LWB is long-wheelbase.

So a 311 CDI SWB has a GVM of 3.5-tonne, a 110-horsepower (80kW) diesel engine and a short-wheelbase body while a 415 CDI LWB has a 4.5-tonne GVM, a 150hp (110kW) diesel engine and a long-wheelbase body.

Stepping straight into a long wheelbase ‘Super Single’ van, despite having little experience of driving of big vans, we were amazed at how easy it was to drive on a range of busy suburban roads, freeway and country roads.

It was so car-like that it was easy to forget just how big it was – in fact, it was only when it came to parking this massive beast that we realised just how long and high it is, and how much you really need parking sensors or cameras. Inside, it is simply cavernous.

What also reminds you of the vehicle’s size is driving in strong cross-winds, which really moved the Sprinter around and forces you to work hard to keep within your lane. Sometimes you simply can’t overcome physics.

The five-speed auto was a delight to use, with the shifter located nice and high alongside the steering wheel for quick changes, whether using the handy side-shifting manual mode or just going from Park to Drive.

While the manual mode is easy to use (we really enjoyed the sideways shift pattern instead of the usual forward-back arrangement), the quality of the fully automatic shifting were mostly so good that you would rarely need to bother selecting your own gears. The only exception, which we noticed in the Sprinter Transfer minibus but would apply to other models as well, was a tendency to labour in second gear rather than grab first, causing an uncomfortable noise and shudder.

Otherwise, the auto shifts were not only intuitive, but smooth and efficient as well, whether making your way around town or galloping along hilly country roads.

Interior noise is naturally higher than in a car, but the divider in the van (as well as wooden-panelled walls) kept most of the booming out of the cabin and made the job of the standard air-conditioning much easier. Benz obviously did a good job with the aerodynamics because wind noise was not a factor.

The seats are very supportive and comfortable, even on a long drive, and getting just the right driving position is helped by the fact that the steering wheel is adjustable for both height and reach while the mirrors are automatic (as well as heated so condensation in winter will be less of a problem).

Instrumentation is excellent Benz-standard and the Speedtronic cruise control with speed limiter – both of which are much-appreciated in this age of heavy speed detection – works really well at keeping you to your pre-set maximum speed.

The optional automatic sliding doors are a wonderful feature for delivery people. Just arrive at your pick-up point, push a button on the dash and not only does the vehicle lock when you walk away, but when you return it unlocks and opens the sliding side door – no more fumbling for the key while juggling a load.

Of course you pay a premium for this level of performance, handling, ride, comfort and features, but the Sprinter really is the, well, Mercedes-Benz of light commercial vans.

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