Living in a Van, Down by the River. . .

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Living in a van down by the river isn’t such a bad idea – and not just because you can get away from the crazies, if that becomes necessary.

This Mercedes Sprinter van, for instance.

For openers, it’s the only new Mercedes you can still buy in the U.S. with a diesel engine. Which is a good idea, in the event the world comes unglued because diesels go farther and last longer. They also pull stronger – and that’s a boon for a van, especially one you might decide to live in.

Or vacation in.

Many people use the Sprinter van for exactly that. Because they are ideally suited for that. Mercedes offers the van in short and long wheelbase iterations (144 and 170 inches, respectively) as well as half ton (1500) and three-quarter-ton (2500) and with standard, medium or tall roof choices, a gas or diesel engine (in the 2500) and almost limitless customization options, including seats for three  . . . or fifteen.

Plus, the one thing that comes standard with every Sprinter which you can’t get in any other van:

It’s a Mercedes van.

Which means it’s a nicer van in its bones than other vans like the Dodge Ram ProMaster,  Ford Transit and Nissan NV.

Once you’re behind the wheel, it’s not hard to imagine you’re driving an E-Class sedan – because you almost are driving one. One that can take an E-Class for ride – in the back. That might be an exaggeration – the Sprinter’s max payload capacity isn’t high enough to handle a two-ton E-sedan rolled into the cargo area.

But it might just fit.

And you could absolutely pull one behind you – if you get a Sprinter with the optional 3.0 liter turbodiesel engine. It makes 325 ft.-lbs. of torque – comparable to the torque made by a typical 5 liter gas V8.

But made at 1,400 RPM instead of the typical 3,500 or so RPM a gas V8 would need to make it.

Back to behind the wheel – and the E-Class relationship. The Sprinter has a similar dash layout, including a push-button stalk gear selector, a similar LCD flat panel touchscreen with similar apps and the same art deco-looking air vents, too.

It looks and feels of a piece.

Until you turn on the stereo. Then it sounds not-Mercedes. Because the Sprinter is missing the speakers you’d get with the E-Class Mercedes. Or an A-Class, for that matter.

In the Sprinter, you get two – mounted close together, in the middle of the dashboard – which makes the sound emanating from the head unit sound almost Chevette.

But this can be fixed by adding more speakers, which is easier – and cheaper – than replacing the head unit. Mercedes no doubt expects people to do just that. Because that’s what people do with Sprinters. And it’s easy to do it because the van’s walls are bare (as it comes) and you could mount additional speakers easily, anywhere  – and many more than would fit in an E-Class.

Also a flatscreen TV. And a nice couch/bed to watch TV when you’re not driving. Maybe a sink and a fully-equipped kitchen with a ‘fridge, too. How about a bathroom with a shower? There’s plenty of room for all of that – plus more.

This van has the room you won’t find in something smaller, like a VW campwagon. It’s truly artful how much you can fit inside something that small. But it’s still . . . small. You will feel cramped living down by the river.

Better to live large.

Or, less.

The Sprinter can be left wide open – literally. Without seats, the short wheelbase Sprinter has almost 320 cubic feet of cargo capacity. To put that in some kind of perspective, a super-sized SUV like a Chevy Suburban only has 121.7 cubic feet of cargo capacity – less than half the Sprinter’s capacity – despite the ‘Burban being only slightly smaller-footprinted  (it’s 224.4 inches long overall vs. 233.5 inches for the short-wheelbase Sprinter).

And you can increase that to an astounding 370.8 cubic feet, if you opt for the long-wheelbase Sprinter. Plenty of room down by the river!

Whatever your imagination – or needs – almost anything is possible. Or rather, more possible than with smaller/lighter-duty vans, like the front-wheel-drive Dodge Ram ProMaster. Which doesn’t offer a diesel engine.

The Nissan NV van offers a V8, but not much cachet. It is dinner at McDonalds vs. Peter Lugers. A fine van for contractors but a step down if you’re looking for nice digs down by the river. Another rival – the Ford Transit – is rear drive, comes standard with a stronger V6 (gas) engine, is available with a diesel engine and offers AWD, which is unavailable in the Benz.

But the Ford isn’t quite Peter Luger’s, either.

Functional – but visually more of a piece with other Fords, like the Fusion sedan. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

It’s just not a steak dinner at Peter Luger’s.

Best part? Your steak dinner doesn’t cost much more than drive-through McDonald’s. The Sprinter 1500 starts at $34,495 ($40,620 for the 2500 with the diesel).

That’s only slightly more than the $30,140 to start Nissan NV and slightly less than the base price of the Ford Transit ($34,510).

Sometimes, you don’t get what you pay for. You get less.

Or, more.

. . .

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  1. The advantage of these “Class B” van RVs is you can semi-anonymously park them almost anywhere. The drawbacks are they’re more expensive, more cramped and have smaller holding tanks. My ultra-lite TT is relatively inexpensive, roomy and had bigger holding tanks but is more difficult to semi-anonymously “boon-dock” in more visible locations. Regardless, in any RV, unless you have full hookups, your dry camping “loiter time” in any location is limited even with a solar and/or a generator. And, there’s the propane limitation. My two 20 lb. propane tanks typically last about 2 weeks when I’m dry camping.

    • I’ll occasionally watch some vids from people who live in RVs and boondock full-time- and some have broken-down their living expenses. They were thrilled at how “cheap it is” [Compared to their former home in San Fagcisco or some such place]…but man, it sure costs more than what it costs me to live here in my singlewide on 28 acres…..

  2. I was this close (clue Don Adams) to getting a Sprint back in ’07, but opted for a Ford E250 instead. The price difference was substantial, and I wanted roof racks. But I sure did love those high roofs! Now my damn Ford leaks in the rear door every time it rains, and I’ve had to do a lotta work on it (ball joints, rocker arms, myriad little electrical and mechanical issues) . Whatever happened to ‘murikan craftsmanship I do not know.

  3. The sprinters are great as far as what they are intended for. I picked up a 05 T1N 3 years back has the inline 5 cylinder. It’s a base model cargo version. The road noise is a bit much at 70-80 mph but these things if maintained regularly reach 4-500k miles easily. I drive it like I stole it and average 20 mpg.

    I can’t imagine going back to a utility bed pickup or standard cargo van for my contracting business. It is awesome.

    Having said that. It is a Mercedes diesel. I’ve put about 85k on it (currently at 240K)and it has proven very reliable, but when something breaks, God help you find somebody willing to work on it. The Mercedes dealer nearest me charges $180.00 an hour. 80% of mechanics have no desire to or business bothering with them. If your mechanical, have a decent tool set and scan tool you can do most everything but major engine tear down on them and save yourself a lot of cash. As an example I recently replaced the turbo for about 950.00 plus half a day of my time. Local shops wanted $2,000.00+.

  4. I’m hoping that being these are intended largely as fleet vehicles, that they won’t be as shoddy as most of the junk Mercedes makes these days….but I dunno- from what I see on the streets, these things seem to age about as poorly as do Benze’s cars.

    From the looks of all the crap on the steering wheel alone, I’d surmise that these things are pretty high-tech too. How about the engines and trannies? I mean, ya don’t want a high-tech monstrosity as a living-down-by-the-river or out-in-the-boonies vehicle, where when something stops working, ya have to call a flatbed to schlepp it to a Mercedes dealer…. Ya want something that has little to go wrong…and which can be fixed on the spot when it does break.

    That being said, I’ve always liked the concept/size of these vans….just hope they have the guts to truly be useful for what their size and layout beckons! Dunno about the current ones, but the older diesel ones could get up into the mide 20’s MPG-wise…which is AWESOME! (Something most cramped minivans can’t even mange in the real world!).

    Where’s Vonu/Bill?! He’d appreciate this article!

    For us poor folk, I’d seriously consider an old Ford van with a 300 straight-six! Poor MPGs…but they’re indestructible…and oh so easy to fix when something does go wrong. Ditto the old Ford vans with the mechanically injected 6.9 or IDI 7.3 erl burner!

      • Hey, yeah MM, I’ve even seen UPS using ’em. Heck, my cousin has a few for his electrical contracting business. Fleet usually means they can’t be too bad….but then again, the fleet owners have either the facilities to fix ’em or the means to have ’em fixed. Out in the middle of the desert with one, and it doesn’t start…it’s gonna be an expensive ride to the city…..and if TSHTF, the Mercedes dealer likely won’t even be open…or have parts.

        They’ve really F$%&ed us with all of this high technology in everything! Nice when it works…but when it stops, you’re SOL if ya don’t have the $$$$, are away from the city, or if the stealership is Corona-ed.

        • Speaking of the technology, cars are FAR cry from my first one, a 1966 Chevy. If one had a good set of hand tools, a timing light, and a dwell/tach, one could do like 90%-95% of the maintenance on the thing!

          I just saw a good video about the Ford Model A. It was about why that was the best American car ever. One of the things the reviewer brought out was that it only had what was ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY to make it go; that’s it! It came with a tool kit, and you could do most repairs with it. You can still get pretty much all the parts for it too! You can see it here:

          • MM, reminds me of my first tractor -bought in ’02 -a 1949 Ferguson. A basic 4 cyl. engine, spark plugs, wires, distributor, coil, waterpump, radiator, simple carb….everything that made it run, and all could be removed, installed and or rebuilt with a screwdriver and a few wrenches- and it was no show tractor- 53 years old at the time, and could still easily work a 5′ bushog…and I’m sure it’s still doing so for the guy I sold it to….even though it’s now 70 years old!

            Three quarters of a century old…and still perfectly functional, and other than a few small wear parts, looks like it never had a major repair.

            There’s something beautiful about that! Even with no power steering or bells and whistles….I find that much more desirable than the fanciest tractor today. (My current 30 year-old Case-IH[Mitsubishit] tractor is of similar character! …and it’s got power steering! and uses about 1/5th the fuel)

  5. I’m friends with a retired couple who have a Sportsmobile based on a diesel 4WD Sprinter. Really amazing equipment. They spend a few weeks every season living in the van. It’s a good thing they get along well for sure, but lots of room. Last time we were all out camping those of us in tents sheltered from the snow in their van, plenty of room for 5 people to sit and talk, although they don’t have an indoor shower and the footstool doubles as a toilet.×4-sprinter/

  6. Looking forward to the review!!!

    I had a chance to drive a Sprinter van about 10 years ago, on a closed course, just as they were being introduced. The van was “top weighted” with water canisters, about 600lbs, raised 3 feet from the bed, plus two “jump seats” with full harnesses for riders. With their “advanced controls” turned off, you could take two wheels off the ground and almost tip the thing around a corner. However, once you engaged their stabilization systems, the same course could be taken at speed and the huge van would hug the ground like a race car. Absolutely amazing to experience the driving tech in these tall vans.

  7. Just spent not a bunch on a higher mileage 97 Chevy conversion van that is amazingly clean for the price. I sense the impending doom and thought that a sweet van may be worth a lot more to me than devalued fiat currency. It’s got a strong 350 and drivetrain, but would rather it be a diesel because you can make some of that in a pinch. It has an electric fold out bed in the back. Plush. At least one of my houses is paid for…

    Then van and camper market is going to go up over the next couple of years. A van down by the river beats a tent under an overpass any day.

    A Mercedes Sprinter is a top dog in this Van Life…Someone rolling a loaded Sprinter has some cheddar.

  8. Jarring to see what look like some very clunky exterior rear door hinges at 0:37 in the video. The ones screwed to the bumper right under the taillights are particularly hideous. Sadly, Ram Promaster goes for the same shade tree blacksmith look.

    My old 1968 Chevy G10 van had those too, but far more discrete in size and prominence, with concealed mounts and only the butted leaves protruding. And it didn’t aspire to be anything more than a motorized tin can, not a high-status European marque.

    Reckon them carbuncles on the Sprinter’s butt were outsourced from Blum GmbH?

    • Hi Jim,

      True, ‘dat – but, those hinges are durable. Ditto the mechanical (physical) door locks. They’ll still be working in 20 years. Dunno about the fob…!


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