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Driven: Benz keeps manual Sprinter alive – for now

Two per cent sales share sees manual gearbox avoid axe in new Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

24 Oct 2018

MERCEDES-BENZ Vans Australia/Pacific says it will continue to offer a standard manual transmission with its Sprinter large van, despite buyers of the previous-generation model overwhelmingly opting for an automatic that is considered to be future-proof.
Speaking to journalists this week at the third-generation Sprinter media launch in Adelaide, Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia/Pacific head of product management and marketing Sabine Wagner said that while the manual transmission only accounts for about two per cent of large van’s sales, it is important to still have the option available to buyers.
“I think the auto is definitely the way to go in the future, but same as with all the other topics, we just wanted to leave that flexibility for the customer,” she said.
“We think it’s really important that if a customer chooses to save a bit of cost, or if they just prefer the manual, that we still offer it for them.”
Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia/Pacific public relations and corporate communications manager Blake Vincent added that maintaining the availability of the manual in Australia was possible due to the demand from larger markets.
“With Sprinter, it’s part of the structure that they’ve got globally, that we can keep certain options or variants just available for our market, even if the volume is quite low, (so long as) there’s high (global) volume the other markets are utilising,” he said.
“We’re always looking for efficiencies, to try to cap the range when we can, but it just makes sense to keep (manual) on.”
As reported, 1734 Sprinter variants are available across various body styles (four), drivetrains (three), engines (five), transmissions (three), wheelbase lengths (four), as well as maximum load capacities (up to 17 cubic metres), payloads (up to 2920kg) and GVMs (Gross Vehicle Mass; up to five tonnes), which Mr Vincent said is a key selling point.
“We have more flexibility than we’ve ever had, in terms of choice of options,” he said. “It’s a competitive advantage that we’re able to position ourselves that way.”
The panel van ($46,008 to $76,069 before on-road costs), and single- ($41,238 to $65,718) and dual-cab-chassis ($56,552 to $69,332) versions launch this month, while minibus and tractor-head variants are yet to be priced but will enter showrooms in the second quarter of next year.
Front-wheel drive is available in the Sprinter for the first time, offering a 50kg increase in payload and an 80mm-lower loading sill over the previous rear-wheel-drive model.
Rear- and all-wheel drive is also available in the new Sprinter, with the latter arriving in the middle of next year.
A 2.1-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine is available in three tunes – 84kW/300Nm, 105kW/330Nm and 120kW/360Nm – for FWD variants, while RWD versions are only offered with the first two, and the aftermarket motorhome segment has exclusive access to a 130kW/400Nm tune.
Alternatively, a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel six-cylinder engine pumping out 140kW of power at 3800rpm and 440Nm of torque from 1400 to 2400rpm is available for RWD and AWD variants.
FWD variants are paired with a six-speed manual as standard, but a nine-speed torque-converter automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters – a segment first – can be optioned for $2875.
Four-cylinder RWD and AWD versions also have a six-speed manual as standard, albeit an Eco Gear 360 unit, while their optional 7G-Tronic seven-speed torque-converter automatic – standard with the six-cylinder – costs the same as the FWD variants’ seven-speed unit.
Depending on the variant, claimed fuel consumption on the combined cycle test ranges from 6.8 to 9.7 litres per 100 kilometres, while carbon dioxide emissions have been tested between 178 and 253 grams per kilometre.
The Sprinter is the second model to offer Mercedes-Benz’s new MBUX infotainment system, which is projected via a 7.0-inch touchscreen as standard, while a 10.25-inch unit is optional. 
MBUX’s signature feature is its always-on voice control, which can be summoned using the phrase ‘Hey, Mercedes’ and supports natural dialogue. Touchpad steering-wheel controls can also be used.
While Android Auto is currently supported by MBUX, Apple CarPlay will become available via a dealer software update for Sprinters built before December.
Every Sprinter variant comes with a suite of advanced driver-assist safety systems, including autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, crosswind and hill-start assist; driver attention detection, cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a reversing camera, although cab-chassis variants miss out on the last two features.
Four airbags are also standard, while adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, lane-keep assist, surround-view cameras and traffic sign recognition are on the options list.
Other standard equipment includes black Caluma fabric upholstery, air-conditioning, a colour multi-function display, front cupholders, keyless entry, dusk-sensing headlights, daytime running lights, power-folding and heated side mirrors, and mudflaps. 
Options extend to loadable wheelarches, barn doors, bulkheads, LED lights, power-operated front seats with memory functionality, an electric park brake, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, wireless smartphone charging and high-performance roof air-conditioning system.
Every Sprinter comes with a three-year/200,000km warranty that includes three years of 24/7 roadside assist, while service intervals have been extended to every two years or 20,000km, whichever comes first. Capped-price servicing plans are available.
Sales of the Sprinter this year have increased in the lead up to the new model’s release, with 2528 examples sold to the end of September – a 15.4 per cent increase over the 2191 deliveries made during the same period 2017. Only the Isuzu N-Series (3498 units) has more sales in its segment.

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