New Mercedes-Benz Sprinter range packed with 240 variations
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Here’s a measure of how much importance Daimler is placing on its new MBUX infotainment system; within days of each other it unveiled MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) in both the all-new iterations of the Millennial-friendly A-Class hatchback, and that perennial load-lugger, the Sprinter light commercial vehicle range.
The new system will eventually be rolled out across other models, too. But in the new Sprinter — the unveiling of which Driven was in Dusseldorf for last week — MBUX really does represent a step-change.
Combined with a raft of comfort and safety technology now brought into the van from Daimler’s passenger car lines, the humble Sprinter has become not only a peerlessly comfortable office-on-wheels, but one with plenty of tech onboard, too.
Paired with Mercedes PRO, the manufacturer’s digital fleet management system, even the most basic Sprinter can essentially carry a driver’s logbook, repair management programme and head office communication portal onboard. Mercedes-Benz has designed every aspect of the telematics system to provide reports for annual accounting purposes, too.
This is all accessed through the big MBUX 10.25-inch HD touchscreen. The system also features “naturalistic” voice control. A bit like Google Home or Alexa, the driver simply says “Hey Mercedes” in order to spark the ones-and-zeroes into life. The voice control software has been designed to react to conversational language; the need for a weather check or nearby sustenance can be met with a simple “What’s the weather doing?” or “I’m feeling hungry”.
For Mercedes-Benz’s commercial customers, the company sees its move from simply a van-maker to a service provider as a vital one. The idea that MBUX and Mercedes PRO can ensure connectivity for drivers means that, all of a sudden, something as bluntly drawn as a delivery van has become one of the nodes of the internet of Things. The Sprinter is in effect what its manufacturer likes to call, “smart hardware”.
Elsewhere, the new Sprinter will receive (dependent on model grade) worthy stuff such as Blind Spot Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alert systems, Active Lane Keep Assist, Attention Assist, Distronic cruise control and a choice of entry-level or 360-degree surround view reversing camera.
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Okay, that’s all impressively lofty stuff. But clever telemetric tech aside, the Sprinter still looks and works like a Sprinter, and that’s important.
Since its launch in 1995, 3.4m panel vans have been sold in 130 different countries. And even in the final year of the previous iteration, the Sprinter broke its own record, selling 400,000 globally (up 12 per cent on 2016). So, regardless of the whiz-bang stuff, getting the basics right still count for a lot.
Despite some revisions to the exterior, especially forward of the a-pillar, it’s the back two-thirds of body that most people will be interested in. And this part remains impressively practical with maximum loading capacity of 17cu m and maximum tonnage of 5.5 tons (depending on which version you opt for).
There are four body lengths, three load heights and three wheelbases to choose from. There’s plenty of new stuff underneath, too. Automatic transmission Sprinters now receive Mercedes-Benz’s nine-speed ‘box (a six-speed manual remains available too). The exact engine mix for New Zealand hasn’t been specified yet, but don’t expect too much variation from the power units available in the current eight model line-up. A 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo diesel (140kW/440Nm) will again pair with a smaller four-cylinder turbo diesel available in a variety of outputs, from 84kW up to 130kW, although the latter will mainly be available for the ever-expanding motorhome market.
For the first time, the Sprinter is available as a front-wheel driver, which gives the user the added benefit of an 80mm lower loading floor at the rear, as well as an extra 50kg load weight. Rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions remain available. The front-wheel drive models will become the cheapest in the range, but cost is relative when there are so many variations on the theme (base pricing for New Zealand will be released later in the year).
Oh, and naturally the Sprinter is going electric. Eventually. The carmaker showed off an eSprinter at the international launch event, although the possibility of Kiwi businesses seeing these dropping off items at the loading dock before mid-2019 is unlikely. The order books are already open for the smaller eVito van, however.
So, with the Sprinter now available in more configurations than before, Mercedes-Benz reckons the options for individuality are almost endless. No less than 1734 different Sprinter variants are available just using basic parameters such as body type, powertrain, cab configuration, body length, tonnage and cargo space height. (We haven’t even mentioned the cab-chassis truck options yet.)
For the customer, all of this signals unprecedented choice. But it’s worth noting that, for the manufacturer, it also signals unprecedented complexity. And when you consider that all manner of Sprinter vans (240 combinations of body style, wheelbase, payload and engine in all) come down the same assembly line at Mercedes-Benz’s Düsseldorf factory, the logistics are mind-blowing.
Bordered on all sides by urban density, the 680,000sq m factory produces 700 Sprinters a day. That means a new van rolls off the end of the production line every 100 seconds. The line is two-storeyed because there are no options to expand outwards. Around 6600 staff piece together every conceivable van combination (cab-chassis truck variants are built elsewhere) using up to 14,000 different parts.
Oh, and yes, despite everything, about 80 per cent of the vans on the line are white. Technological advancement and brand new thinking only goes so far ...