Mercedes Sprinter: the van that delivers a lot of car technology
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Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 316 MWB
Speaking from a car-driving point of view, my biggest takeaway from a few days with the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter (apart from childlike delight at driving a van and playing fast and loose with Loading Zones) was how much high-end technology is packed into it.
You expect light vans to have the latest in diesel tech, but the Sprinter also has a lot of driver-assistance and infotainment equipment that you might normally associate with a high-end car.
Call it experience on Mercedes-Benz’s part if you like: Sprinter is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, spread over three generations.
Usually with a car review we’d delve into the finer points of specification in some detail, but with a van like Sprinter that’s futile because it comes in virtually any shape or size you want.
For example, you can have the big Merc in panel van (including a “Solutions” base for more customisation) or cab-chassis (single or double), FWD or RWD, four or six-cylinder with four different power/torque outputs and two different fuel tank sizes.
Oh, and medium, long and extra-long wheelbases. And standard, high and “super high” roof configurations.
There aren’t unlimited combinations of course, but start mixing and matching what’s available and the results are still mind-boggling. That’s been part of Sprinter lore for a quarter of a century: even back in 1995 it came in a multitude of configurations to serve as everything from a tipper truck to an ambulance.
For the record, the Sprinter you see here is a 316 MWB, with the 120kW/360Nm 2.1-litre turbo diesel (the gruntiest of the four-pot engines) driving the rear wheels. GVM 3.49 tonnes. Something of a sports van, if you like.
Okay, not quite. But maybe a bit of a luxury van. The load-carrying safety tech basics are covered with Attention Assist, Load Adaptive Control and Roll-Over Mitigation. But you can also option the Sprinter with stuff that wouldn’t be out of place on a premium passenger car: Active Distance Assist Distronic cruise control, Active Lane Keeping Assist and even “LED High Performance Headlamps”.
The latest model also features the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment system. That’s very posh for a van.
The techy stuff is Sprinter territory too: even back in 1995 it came with anti-lock braking and in 2006 it introduced adaptive stability control and Mercedes-Benz’s Parktronic. It’s also now available in fully electric guise (BEV – Battery Electric Van?) in Europe.
From the point of view of a passenger-car driver, the Sprinter 316 is still a pleasing thing to pilot. The powertrain is perky, although the RWD models “only” get the 7G-Tronic gearbox – the FWD versions have another two ratios. There’s real substance to the steering and it tracks nicely through corners. Is this stuff important in a van? Well yes, because an engaged and comfortable light-commercial driver is a happier and safer one, surely.
The Sprinter has been an influential van in the last quarter-century. Perhaps even more influential than many of us realise. Fun fact: the first two generations of the rival Volkswagen Crafter were in fact simply rebadged Sprinters. VW didn’t design its own Crafter until the current generation, launched in 2017.
MERCEDES-SPRINTER 316 MWB
ENGINE: 2.1-litre turbo-diesel four
GEARBOX: 7-speed automatic, RWD
PROS: Great to drive, lots of driver-assistance tech, MBUX infotainment
CONS: Some safety aids still optional, no 9-speed for RWD, cabin design still pretty old-school