2016 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 3500 Cargo Van
Previously we only had Ford’s classic E-Series, GM’s Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana twins, and the Dodge Ram Van series, but when that final model was so far beyond its stale date that few fleet operators were willing to ante up any longer it forced then DaimlerChrysler to literally think outside the box, and both Dodge and Freightliner versions of the Sprinter were formed from Mercedes’ well proven first-generation model. This much more spacious and extremely fuel efficient alternative did so well that Ford had to step up with an alternative to its E-Series, first complementing its short-wheelbase E-150 with the European-designed and built Transit Connect, and then adding size on top of its E trims with the considerably bigger and more directly competitive full-size Transit that now leads the segment in sales, just like the E did before. This was followed up by Nissan’s full-size NV 1500, 2500 and 3500 models and then the Transit Connect-battling NV200, also badged City Express by Chevy, after which the newly formed Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ rebranded its Euro-sourced Fiat Doblò and Ducato commercial vans with Ram ProMaster City (compact) and ProMaster (full-size) models respectively. Since then Mercedes has brought its smaller Metris to market to allow yet more choice in the burgeoning light commercial sector. Again, kudos to Mercedes’ Sprinter for motivating the others to offer these excellent options, but this in mind, is it the best choice in the large van segment?
Mercedes doesn’t update its full-size van very often, but nevertheless the Sprinter remains fairly fresh looking since receiving a mid-cycle makeover in 2013 for the 2014 model year, some seven years after the current second-generation debuted in 2006. The facelift added a deeper more attractive grille, modified headlamps, a reworked bumper and lower fascia, plus updated body panels, revised taillights and new trim front to back, while even more importantly an entirely new two-stage turbocharged 2.1-liter BlueTec four-cylinder diesel was added as the entry-level option below the 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V6 that was carried over from the previous generation, the smaller engine providing much improved fuel economy.
The new four makes 161 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque while the V6 continued with 188 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque, while the smaller engine received two more gears to help it get off the line quicker and enhance highway fuel economy, that being a seven-speed automatic with two overdrive gears compared to the V6 model’s more conventional five-speed unit.
On top of all these improvements Mercedes followed up the following year with a new class-exclusive push-button, driver-selectable 4×4 drivetrain for V6-powered models, featuring a 35:65 torque-split between the front and rear axles and serious off-road credentials enhanced by a 2.9-inch increase in ride-height up front and 3.9 inches in the rear, while Crosswind Assist became standard with 2500 models and other small updates were added across the line. After all the changes leading up to it, this 2016 model year is pretty much steady as she goes.
Therefore, the Sprinter’s powertrains are carryover from the two previous years, while it also remains available in both 2500 and heavy-duty 3500 weight classes. Standard features in the $36,495 Cargo Van (not the stripped down $32,495 Sprinter Worker) include keyless entry, a smooth operating passenger-side sliding door, integrated side mirror turn signals, tilt and telescopic steering, multi-adjustable front seats with flip-down armrests, nice looking Tunja Black fabric upholstery, an electric heater booster, fast reacting and powerful air conditioning, an exterior temperature display, a handy storage shelf above the windshield, decent sounding five-speaker audio, crosswind assist, hill start assist, tire pressure monitoring, a hydraulic jack, a trailer prep package, and more.
I’m not going to focus on the 4×4 vans or for that matter the Passenger or Cab Chassis body styles with this review, but rather the Cargo Van 3500 High Roof 144WB (144-inch wheelbase) I drove. At $41,445 plus freight and fees it starts out $4,960 than the lighter duty $36,495 2500 model with the Standard Roof. There’s a 170-inch wheelbase version available with either the High Roof or Super High Roof that ranges from $42,760 to $45,385 (the priciest EXT has an extended rear cargo area as well), so any worries that Mercedes doesn’t have your needs covered should be put to rest.
Despite being a work truck Mercedes finishes off the interior quite nicely. It makes sense, because many components appear to be plucked from the lower end of its car line. Notable details include high quality power window controls, the optional multifunction switchgear on its metallic trimmed steering wheel, the nice chrome detailing around the instrument cluster dials, a stitched leatherette shifter boot, nice quality color infotainment and HVAC interfaces, the latter utilizing very similar rotating temperature dials to its car line, and the list goes on.
Oddly this model has a rearview mirror that stares into nothingness, so the driver who eventually gets this van may want to hang a scenic painting on the wall divider for some comic relief when traffic challenges get out of hand. Fortunately the side mirrors are plenty large and feature convex secondary mirrors for greater visibility down each side, while the view out the front and side windows is superb thanks to the Sprinter’s expansive glass and tall ride height.
That full partition is optional by the way, while additional options included the aforementioned multifunction steering wheel, a classic looking orange pixel-matrix display between the gauge cluster dials, a trip computer, cruise control, a 12-volt power outlet in the driver’s seat base, a hinged lid for the center console storage compartment, two additional master keys, a rearview camera, floor mats, while behind that divider were sidewall lashing rails on the waist rail, upper cargo lashing rails, a load securing rail system, tensioning straps, lashing rail straps, and more.
My tester came in ultimately base Arctic White paint, but astonishingly you can choose from 24 different colors if white’s not your thing, many at no charge and others from $620 to $990 extra, while you can also get durable black leatherette upholstery for just $70.
If you think that’s it for options you’d better grab a coffee and take a good long scroll through Mercedes’ commercial website because you’ll be there awhile, the choices including a chrome grille, auto on/off headlamps, adaptive cornering HID headlamps, auto high beams, fog lamps, fixed side windows, rear windows, windows all around, deep tint for those windows, a window for the cab partition, a driver’s side sliding door, heat-insulating glass with a windshield band, heatable powered side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, parking sensors (I’d opt for these), blindspot assist, lane keeping assist, collision prevention assist, a high-output front HVAC system, navigation, comfort seats, fabric-wrapped A-pillars, an overhead console with two reading lamps, a fixed glass sunroof, powered steps for the side sliders, three extra seats in the back, rear heating, heatable seats, suspension seats, swivel seats, additional insulation for both front and rear compartments, washable cargo walls, additional cargo lighting, cargo steps, grab handles, roof rails, roof rack cross members, a motion detecting security system, numerous upgraded suspension components, and much more from both standalone options and a packaged up menu.
Yes, some of those features are downright luxurious, while Mercedes seemed to pull the Sprinter’s suspension from its lineup of premium cars as well. It’s surprisingly compliant for a heavy-duty commercial van, this not only important for anyone aboard but also helpful to keep cargo in place when traveling over rough pavement. It didn’t hurt that the base seats were so comfortable either, especially for the lower back, and while DIY manual controls were needed to find my ideal position they were easy to use and provided plenty of options.
Even more surprising than the Sprinter’s comfort quotient was the reaction to throttle input and overall power delivery of its little four-cylinder turbo-diesel. It’s a smooth, quiet engine even at takeoff, while it really gets a move on when asked to perform. Again, it remains quite quiet even when pushed, the little engine feeling more like a big V6 than a 2.0-liter four, but of course I drove it empty and would no doubt feel more taxed if filled up to its considerable as-tested 4,367-lb maximum payload (the Sprinter’s payload range spans 3,446 to 5,507 lbs). Likewise if asked to tow a 7,500-lb trailer, but while it might not take off as quickly it can do it, which says a lot, while its max GVWR is a sizable 11,030 lbs.
Whether you’re looking for a single addition to your one vehicle fleet or managing a large convoy, the Sprinter is a smart choice. It delivers good premium-level looks (let’s not forget this rolling billboard might be your first opportunity to make a good impression with future customers, and some of its competitors are ungainly at best), easy to drive, powerful, fuel efficient, very capable for hauling and towing, plus well stocked with standard and optional features. Mercedes has all angles covered.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press