Living in a van down by the river may not be such a bad thing. Especially if your van is a Mercedes Sprinter van.
It’s in the same class (and useful for the same purposes) as the Nissan NV van (and the new Ram ProMaster van). But what sets it apart from those utilitarian appliances is that it’s also nice.
It’s the difference between a plain white ‘fridge – and a stainless steel SubZero.
Not everyone needs the extra niceness, of course.
But for those who want it… .
The Sprinter is one of a new crop of super-sized vans – the other two being the Nissan NV and the Dodge Ram ProMaster – being marketed for both civilian and commercial use.
More so than its rivals, the Sprinter has become very popular as a platform for swanky RV conversions – in part because it’s a Mercedes but also because its layout is more suited to that purpose (more below).
It’s available in two lengths (144 and 170 inch wheelbases) and tall – or taller – roof heights. It can be almost anything you’d like or need it to be. It’ll seat 12 people, jitney bus-style.
Or just two.
Maybe somewhere in between.
It’s up to you to decide – and configure.
Base price for the 144-inch standard wheelbase Cargo Van equipped with 2.1 liter turbo-diesel four cylinder engine and seven-speed automatic is $35,995.
A top-of-the-range 2500 “High Roof” Sprinter riding on the 170 inch wheelbase with a more powerful turbo-diesel 3 liter V6 under the hood lists for $46,180.
The lower-rent Nissan NV starts at $26,000 and tops out at $31,470 for a “High Roof” 2500 with V-8 (gas) engine.
A ProMaster van likewise starts out fairly cheap – $28,630 for the base work trim – and tops out at $36,150 for an “extended length” model.
Exterior and interior styling has been tweaked slightly and there are new electronic features, including Load Adaptive stability control (standard on all trims) and Crosswind Assist (also standard) which automatically stabilizes the vehicle if it’s struck by a (you guessed it) crosswind that might otherwise push it out of its lane.
There is also an upgraded 5.8 inch flat screen display and a Becker MAP PILOT navigation system is available as an option. Unlike most factory GPS units, this one can be moved from one Sprinter van to another, a cost-saving feature for fleet users.
Short front overhang and sheets of glass all around you make it easier to drive than you’d think.
Standard four-cylinder diesel engine gives decent economy and stout pulling/hauling power.
RWD layout is inherently rugged and better for serious work (Sprinter can pull 7,500 lbs. vs. 5,100 lbs. for the FWD ProMaster).
A great starting point for a custom RV or high-line mini-bus.
Being a Mercedes,it’s also expensive relative to its Dodge and Nissan rivals.
Without the optional folding out running boards, it’s a big step up to get inside.
Typically German (and so, typically ridiculous) cupholders. Fragile, too small – and too shallow.
UNDER THE HOOD
The Sprinter’s the only vehicle in this class that comes standard with a diesel engine – with another diesel optional. This is a huge sell- and not chiefly because of the diesel’s mileage advantage (though that’s nice, too). The fact is this is a big, heavy vehicle – and you need torque to get it going. A big V8 would do the trick, but a big V8 would also drink oceans of fuel. A diesel gives you the torque without guzzling oceans of gas. It’s also more suited to this kind of work – like a Clydesdale pulling the Budweiser beer wagon.
Nissan doesn’t offer a diesel at all in the NV van (it’s available with either a gas 4 liter V6 or a gas 5.6 liter V8) and while the ProMaster offers a diesel, it’s extra-cost. The standard engine in the Dodge is a 3.6 liter gas V6, which is basically a passenger car engine. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Well, yes there is.
Because these things are not cars. FiatChrysler’s 3.6 V6 is a fine engine. But harnessing it to something like the ProMaster is kind of like hitching American Pharoah to the Budweiser beer wagon
The Sprinter’s standard diesel is also a four-cylinder engine – just 2.1 liters. This seems awfully small for such a big kahuna of a vehicle. But with twin turbos huffing, it makes 265 ft.-lbs. of torque at 1,400 RPM. This is a bit more torque than the ProMaster’s standard 3.6 liter gas V-6 (260 ft.-lbs.) and a bit less than the Nissan NV’s 4.0 liter gas V-6 (281 ft.-lbs.) however, the torque peaks much sooner – which is what you want in a big, heavy vehicle meant to haul and pull stuff. The NV’s gas V6 doesn’t make its peak torque until 4,000 RPM and the Dodge’s V6 has to rev up even higher, to 4,175 RPM.
Benz pairs the new turbo-diesel four with a seven-speed automatic – an upgrade over the Nissan’s five-speed and the Dodge’s six-speed transmission.
The next-up Sprinter engine is an also-turbo’d 3 liter diesel V6. It ups the hp ante to 188 (from the 2.1’s 161) and the torque to 325 ft-lbs. – more torque than all the competition’s available engines except the Nissan’s NV’s optional 5.6 liter (gas) V8, same basic unit used in the Titan and other smaller Nissans.
Mileage figures are not published officially – by the EPA – for vehicles in this gargantuan class, but my Sprinter test vehicle delivered about 25 MPG on average in mixed use (city/highway) driving. .
This is Liberace fabulous for a vehicle with the aerodynamics of a double-wide combined with the curb weight of a full-size SUV plus a compact car.
The Sprinter’s average mileage is actually better than my compact-sized (2002) Nissan Frontier pick-up manages. And the Frontier would almost fit inside the Sprinter.
The Nissan NV van’s numbers aren’t published, either – but to get an idea, consider that the Titan pick-up on which the NV is based rates a suck-a-licious 13 city, 18 highway with the same 5.6 liter V-8 that’s optional in the NV. So, probably, the same engine in the much heavier – and far less aerodynamic NV – will vortex it down the drain in the high teens on the highway, maybe.
The NV’s 4.0 liter standard 4.0 gas V-6 is not likely to do much better, either. In the much smaller – and much lighter – current-generation Frontier pick-up, the same basic 4.0 V-6 rates 16 city, 22 highway.
The Dodge does better – when equipped with its optional 3 liter turbo-diesel four. Its mileage is probably as good – maybe even better – than the Sprinter 2.1’s. But, there is a catch. Though the ProMaster looks like a truck, it’s built more like a car – on a front-wheel-drive chassis. It can’t haul or tow nearly as much as the truck platform-based RWD Benz, which touts a very strong 7,500 lb. max tow rating, far more than the Dodge’s maximum of 5,100 lbs.
The Nissan NV is king of the hill on towing, though.
When ordered with its optional V-8, this beast can pull nearly 10,000 lbs..
The Sprinter is a vehicle you can drive almost anywhere – unlike say a Winnebago. The regular wheelbase model is only slighter longer overall than a full-size minivan, so (believe it or not) the thing will fit in a standard-size parking spot. Tight, yeah. But doable.
And because you sit almost over the front axle centerline – and because the front clip is very short relative to the length of the vehicle – it is much easier to steer and maneuver the Sprinter than something like a full-sized SUV such as a Chevy Suburban.
The Nissan NV, in counterpoint, has a truck-like snout that extends much farther forward, which makes it feel even bigger than it is from behind the wheel.
The Sprinter’s big, but it can feasibly be driven – and parked – most places you could drive a Suburban and (to me) felt about as manageable as a Tahoe.
The size of the thing manifests mostly as length – and height. It is a climb to get in – and down – even for a six-footer (me). Strangely, there are no grab handles for the driver or front seat passenger. The not-young/not-coordinated/those with bad knees will have issues. Interestingly, Mercedes provides acceptable access for the rear passengers via an automatically folding out running board step that comes out whenever the side slider is opened up. However, this is an optional feature.
The height also affects the ride.
Especially when it is windy.
What you’re dealing with here is something with the side profile of a super-sized UPS truck. Which is probably why Mercedes added that Crosswind Assist feature as standard equipment. It’s needed. That – and both hands firmly gripping the wheel. A sudden gust of wind can push the slab-sided Sprinter halfway across the double yellow – or halfway onto the shoulder. It’s a function of the shape and Benz has done what can be done to mitigate the problem – including a speed limiter set to about 85 MPH, max.
But it has no trouble getting to 85 – and if you keep your foot down, will hold it there for hours, if you like- the diesel humming along at about 3,800 RPM.
Like any specialty vehicle, the Sprinter’s extra capabilities come with certain limitations in other areas. A 12-passenger Corvette it’s not.
But a Corvette can’t carry 12 people, either.
All the controls are grouped within easy reach of the driver, including the gear selector, which is mounted stalk-style just to the right of the steering column. The huge frontal (and side) glass area provides superb visibility – and a panorama view of the world outside. The view to the rear is somewhat limited by the sheer length of the vehicle as well as the design of the rear doors, which are dual Dutch door-style. The metal “T” bracing of the door glass obstructs the view slightly, but Benz addresses this with an excellent closed-circuit back-up camera and a pair of huge outside (door mount) RV-style rearview mirrors.
What sucks, then?
The cupholders. The two located in a flimsy fold-out tray below the audio and climate controls on the center stack are shallow. Round a curve – or hit a pothole – and your Starbucks grande may topple. Mine did. Fortunately, there are also cupholders built into the top of the dash for both the driver and front seat passenger.
While Benz has thoughtfully designed in a top-of-dash storage compartment for a clipboard and a “tray” embedded into the dash above the main gauge cluster, there is a surprising lack of contained storage space in the Sprinter. There’s no (standard) center console, for one.
If you put a bag of groceries on the floor in between the driver and front passenger seat (or even in the footwell ahead of the front passenger seat) your stuff is guaranteed to spill and roll – leaving you to hunt for each item whenever you get were you’re headed. There’s more space inside the Sprinter than in my first apartment.
It’s just a matter of compartmentalizing some of it.
AT THE CURB
The Sprinter – in standard wheelbase form – is actually the least-long of the three vehicles in this class. At 233.3 inches overall, it is 2.7 inches shorter than the Dodge ProMaster (236 inches ) and seven inches shorter than the Lusitania-like Nissan NV (240.6 inches).
But the measurement that really stands out is the Sprinter’s height – especially relative to its width.
The Sprinter is the skinniest through the hips – 78.4 inches wide vs. 82.7 for the Dodge ProMaster and 79.9 for the Nissan NV. This makes it less hairy to park and maneuver downtown.
But its standing height – “Tall Roof” versions – is 76.4 inches. Tall enough for a 6 ft. 3 inch galoot (me) to stand upright inside. Neither the NV nor the Dodge have as much walking around room as the Benz. And the because the Sprinter’s not as thick, it doesn’t seem quite as oversized, despite its 12-passenger capacity.
But the biggest difference is the obvious one. The Sprinter is a Mercedes-Benz and as such, is a step above, both literally and figuratively. It is the only one of the three that – as it sits – is other than purely utilitarian. Or rather, which you might want to turn into something other than a delivery truck, jitney bus or contractor vehicle. I’ve yet to see an NV or ProMaster turned into a mini-me Madden mobile. But I routinely see Sprinters – fully fitted out – serving as homes away from home, trundling along the Blue Ridge Parkway. They have cabins that would not ruffle Trump’s toupee.
It’s not even necessary to remake the factory dash, which is already comparable to what you’d find in other Mercedes passenger vehicles. The interiors of the NV and ProMaster have more in common with FedEx trucks.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
There’s the intangible of status – but you’re also getting the very tangible higher-line experience. A nicer, not blue collar, interior – even the base trim. More sophisticated equipment, too. Like the suite of electronics, including the Crosswind mitigator and Load Adaptive stability control. A standard five-speaker audio system – not a radio with maybe two speakers (Nissan NV). And in addition to being classier – and better-equipped as it sits – the Sprinter can be ordered with optional amenities such as you’d expect to find available in, well, a Mercedes:
Eight speakers, bi-xenon HID headlights, heated windshield, auxiliary rear heater for passengers, rear AC, sunroof, various alloy wheel/tire packages.
None of these features are even available as options in the NV and the ProMaster comes up empty on all counts except for the heated seats.
The question you’ll have to ask yourself is whether it’s worth the price bump.
The base Sprinter is priced nearly $10k higher to start than the base Nissan NV and $7,270 more than the base trim ProMaster. If you’re looking for a purely work-minded large van, the NV’s low entry price point is hard to overlook, especially given that – like the Sprinter – it is built on a heavy-duty RWD chassis and can safely pull (and carry) a lot of weight. The major functional variable is the diesel vs. gas engine thing. There is the mileage disparity and the potential/likely longevity disparity. The Sprinter is made by Mercedes and Mercedes diesels (Freightliner) are renowned for their biblical patriarch longevity.
This one ought to be solid for 300k-plus.
Will the gas-engined Nissan survive as long?
The Dodge also offers diesel power. But the source is Fiat. Which is iffier. You know what “FIAT” stand for, right? But what’s inarguable is the lighter-duty (front-wheel-drive) layout of the ProMaster. It can’t carry – or pull – nearly as much. And the FWD layout is inherently less sturdy than the RWD layout of the Sprinter.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you’re gonna live in a van down by the river, this is a pretty damn nice van to do it in!
If you value independent media, please support independent media. We depend on you to keep the wheels turning!
Our donate button is here.
If you prefer to avoid PayPal, our mailing address is:
721 Hummingbird Lane SE
Copper Hill, VA 24079
PS: The new EPautos stickers are here! They’re free to those who sign up for a $5 monthly recurring donation to support EPautos, or for a one-time donation of $10 or more. (Please be sure to tell us you want a sticker – and also, provide an address for us to mail the thing to!)
No one mentioned any of the government mandated emission control devices placed on these Diesel engines, and the related DPF fluid issues. DPF fluid freezes at 14.
And the diesel particulate filter, which is expensive to have cleaned and or replaced.
Research these issues before you jump on to the now nasty diesel enginescape.
I am probably the only consistent defender of diesels among today’s car journalists! Welcome to the fold 🙂
The “livin’ in a van” scenario we discussed is now materializing before our eyes!
Check this out:
If you like the Sprinter, but for some reason don’t want the Benz star, the same vehicles are available (at the same MSRP) from Freightliner
The sizes of the Sprinter-based motor homes seem to vary quite a bit. Some that don’t seem overly large and look nice are the ones by Airstream. But they start around $150k. If you can afford that, you don’t need to live in a van down by the river.
When serving as a chassis for a small motorhome, the Sprinter is rumored to get 17+ mpg if driven moderately. For those who wish to do a lot of travel, this could make an excellent alternative to flying commercial. Might take you a couple of days to get there, but you could totally avoid the “airport experience.”
Even the “big” V-6 diesel is a bit underpowered for motorhome duty. But it’s not too feeble. And there’s no free lunch.
Mike, I have wondered what the rating on that diesel is but can’t catch a driver stopped when I am. I have seen a huge increase in just the last few months of Sprinters in all sorts of forms, a few RV’s as well. From what I can tell they come speed limited to 70mph although I’m sure you can have it nixed. Fed Ex was the first use I saw of them years ago. Now a plethora of services are using them.
I consider myself to be somewhat of an expert on what’s on the road. Sound like clover don’t I? I’m also a world-class driver….I am clover. Seriously though, it seems like they’ve really caught hold in delivery markets and probably because of the fuel mileage and reliability of that Merc engine. I see more of the RV’s all the time too. That was my first thought when I first saw Fed Ex using them.
Hey, you know what an expert is doncha? X is an unknown and spurt is a drip under pressure!
Mine did 80-something!