Smartphones are what Mercedes-Benz wants you to think of when you look at its new Sprinter van. Not just because of the big touchscreen display in the dashboard, but because the new Sprinter represents a technological leap over the simpler hardware that came before, from analog to digital, isolated to connected.
We’re reminded more of a tablet (in a reinforced, professional-grade ballistic case). When Apple released the first iPad in 2010, some of us wondered what the point was; it looked like an oversize iPod Touch. But time has shown that the tablet is more about what you do with it than what it is. And so it is with the new Sprinter.
The third-generation Sprinter is the latest in a line that first debuted in 1995, reached the U.S. market in 2001, and launched in its current iteration in 2006. Mercedes has made some 3.4 million of them to date—most wearing the three-pointed silver star, but they’ve also been sold as Freightliners, Dodges, and even Volkswagens.
The Dodges and VWs are no longer part of the equation, but variety still is. With multiple body styles, body lengths, cab designs, payload ratings, load-compartment heights, and drivetrain layouts, Mercedes says its new van will offer no fewer than 1700 different configurations. That’s not even including engine, color, seating, and HVAC choices.
On a global basis, the new Sprinter will be offered with two turbo-diesel engine options: a 2.1-liter inline-four and a 3.0-liter six, with outputs ranging from 114 to 190 horsepower. There will be a gasoline option offered for the U.S. market as well, although details of that offering haven’t been released. Mercedes also unveiled the battery-powered eSprinter, which adapts its powertrain from the smaller eVito launched in Europe this past November.
Depending on the engine, buyers will choose from a six-speed manual, seven-speed automatic, or nine-speed automatic transmission. And three drivetrain configurations are on offer: rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, or (for the first time) front-wheel drive. Neither the manual nor the front-wheel-drive version will be offered in the States. But in markets where it will, the front-driver will be both lighter and cheaper than the rear-wheel-drive models and is claimed to offer better traction and handling (particularly under lighter loads) as well as a lower load floor and a higher maximum payload.
The new Sprinter also will come in panel van, passenger van, bus, pickup, chassis cab, and tractor head versions. That modularity will help Mercedes better cater to a seemingly endless array of purposes and applications; the Sprinter can tow up to 7700 pounds, haul more than 6600 pounds, or transport as many as 19 passengers (plus driver). Coachbuilders (which convert about half of all new Sprinters sold) promise to extend its versatility even further into RVs, food trucks, and other commercial applications.
While making the Sprinter more capable and adaptable, Mercedes didn’t forget about the driver. The new model promises to be more comfortable, more ergonomic, quieter, and safer than the one it replaces.
Through a series of packages available from the factory, Pro Connect helps drivers and fleet managers not only track the location of their vehicles, but monitor their fuel levels and maintenance status as well as keep tabs on who’s using which van and for what purpose. The system helps schedule service and maintenance; record, file, analyze, and restrict vehicle usage; facilitate communication between drivers in the field and managers at the office; and allow multiple users to lock and unlock the doors remotely. It’s all integrated into one system embedded in the vehicle, designed to help drivers, tradespeople, service technicians, and fleet managers get more out of their vehicles and their time on the job. And once the eSprinter hits the market, Pro Connect will help manage charging as well.
Sprinters, Take Your Marks
Mercedes-Benz van dealers in Europe are now accepting orders for deliveries that will start in June. The zero-emissions eSprinter is set to follow sometime next year. It’s priced starting at the equivalent of about $24,400 before tax for the entry-level, front-drive model, and pricing on the new model in Germany actually undercuts the current model by some $1200. With improved fuel economy, longer service intervals, and time-saving technologies, the new Sprinter promises to be cheaper to run, too. And although the fresh design may not be a prime consideration for professionals, the new model’s looks certainly won’t hinder Daimler’s effort to attract new customers and encourage existing owners to trade up.
More information on availability and specifications in the United States will be released before the new Sprinter arrives at U.S. Mercedes and Freightliner dealers sometime before the end of this year.
Work is currently underway in Charleston, South Carolina, on a new assembly line to build the new Sprinter for U.S. consumption. In the meantime, the first to reach these shores will, like the current model, continue to be assembled in Düsseldorf, Germany, before being partially disassembled into knock-down kits for reassembly at the expanding South Carolina facility.