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Mercedes-Benz touts Sprinter Safety and we go along for the ride

Jeff Glucker March 7, 2013 All Things Hoon 13 Comments

2013 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter two wheels lead

There are only so many vehicles that seem like they might be fun to get on two wheels. Anything from the Bond series, if someone else is paying. A LeMons racer, if I’m paying. Near the top of the list of vehicles I don’t want to see doing their “Imma Motorcycle!” impression would be a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van. Despite this notion, it was precisely this vehicle I was staring at in the middle of an Anaheim parking lot while I tried to figure out the best place to get photos, and not to die by way of a Michael Bay-loving action van.

I needn’t worry though, because this was a safety demonstration… apparently.

2013 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter brake test

Mercedes-Benz is currently undergoing their third year of a traveling demonstration event that highlights some of the aspects that make the Sprinter a standout vehicle in its class. This includes great fuel economy from the 3.0-liter turodiesel engine and top-notch safety features as standard kit. Waiting for me in the Angel Stadium parking lot were a gathering of 2013 Sprinter vans, each with a different focus module to attend.

First up was fuel economy… now, I’m not going to go into great detail here because I understand this topic is very boring. Still, on my first lap of the pre-designed circuit, which included both city and highway driving, I eked out a not-so-stellar 11 miles per gallon. The second time around, I was required to adhere to a bit of coaching from an instructor. This meant a lighter throttle foot, easier braking application, and a constant eyes-up mentality to scan for traffic situations far down the road (e.g. a red light that would be green soon, so I could coast up to it and then on through).

The result this time? I bumped all the way up to 18 miles per gallon. Keep in mind, the Sprinter I drove had just 100 miles on it, which means the engine and chassis weren’t even close to being broken in. In fact, the Sprinter is rated at nearly 25 miles per gallon on the highway. Pretty impressive from the 188-horsepower, 325 pound-feet of torque-producing six-cylinder mill.

2013 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter box van

The next module was involved a slalom run and then an emergency braking stop zone. Mercedes supplied two Sprinter vans for this demonstration. One was your average 12-passenger 2500 standard roof Sprinter, while the other was a commercial box van. Additionally, there was a Ford Econoline to compare against the Benz vehicles.

Heading through the slalom, it’s easy to see why folks prefer the Sprinter over other vehicles in the segment. The steering is light and easy yet still as communicative as possible. On top of that, the emergency braking zone revealed just how quickly (and safely) you can bring a Sprinter’s speed to zero. Slam the brakes to the floor, initiate ABS, and there’s no jawing from the wheel just a quick stop. Hopping into the Econoline, I … well, it wasn’t so great. The steering feel felt rubbery and required far more wheel input to get the vehicle to move. During the stopping portion, I traveled further into the braking zone and the front wheels wandered back and forth a bit.

test the best truck

Finally, it was on to the last module, and this was the one I was most excited to experience. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do so from behind the main seat. The Sprinter for this demonstration was modified with outriggers for reasons that became apparent once the cargo doors were opened. Three very heavy water jugs were held in place near the roof to simulate a very poorly loaded Sprinter. The driver then took off down the road towards a set of cones where, upon reaching the cones he would perform an emergency lane change. This would be done at 20, 30, and then 40 miles per hour. The first two runs were done with ESP turned off. This system comes standard on every Mercedes-Benz product built, and turning it off on the Sprinter requires hacking into the OBD II port. The last run would be with the system back on.

So what happened? Well, that lead photo shows what happens at 30 miles per hour. The vehicle would be right on its side if not for the outriggers. Once ESP was back on and the 40 mile per hour run occurred, it was clear to see just how much work the computer is doing. The wheels never left the ground, and the Sprinter kept on trucking while presumably giving the middle finger to whatever obstacle the cones represented.

It was an impressive display to see in person.

I have some experience with the Sprinter van of my own though, thanks to turning one into home base during our first LeMons race. Driving it from Los Angeles out to Buttonwillow was an easy affair, and I quickly picked my way through downtown traffic before opening the rig up on the highway north of the city. It cruises effortlessly down the road, doesn’t drink as much fuel as you’d expect, and turns out to be a great place to sleep once the track goes dark.

It’s clear that Mercedes-Benz takes safety seriously, and that runs from the upcoming CLA all the way through the rather large Sprinter 3500 high roof dually. It will be interesting to see where the Sprinter goes as new (Nissan NV, Ford Transit) or due-to-be-revised (Chevrolet Express) competitors do their best to compete for market share. Still, despite being more expensive than the others, it’s clear that if you’re looking to haul people and/or things comfortably and safely, the best choice wears the three-pointed star up front.

Images copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Jeff Glucker

  • RobbyDeGraff


  • boxdin

    I'm a van nut since day one, very nice to see the Sprinter excel. Can't wait for the two new Fiat vans due here soon.

  • MVEilenstein

    Glad you got to participate in this. I had heard about this event and was curious to see what it was all about.

    It's strange, but it appears we're about to have a van war, with the Sprinter, the new Transit, and the Fiat/Dodge.

  • miki
  • I have serious doubts about whether the Sprinter is really that good. I'm sure the stability control program is good, but so is the one in GM's vans. GM in particular put in a lot of effort at improving van driver and passenger safety about ten years ago by requiring vans to come with ESC, including shoulder belts for all rear passengers, and offering rear airbags.

    The packaging of the Sprinter is nice, and the factory high roof is a great feature, but it's absolutely not a heavy-duty vehicle. The transmission and axle are nowhere near as rugged as those found in the GM and Ford vans. The tow rating is weak at ~5000 lb. And in comparison to the domestic vans, the Sprinter is pretty underpowered.

    If you're regularly hauling cargo or passengers at near GVWR, the Express/Savana is probably a safer–and almost certainly a more reliable–choice. Comfort and driver engagement may indeed be lacking.

    I'm looking forward to seeing how the new Transit stacks up. There's a very real chance that it will combine the improved dynamics of Eurovans with the ruggedness of American trucks. Ford still hasn't disclosed all of the drivetrain components or the GCWR, so van buyers are still in "wait and see" mode.

    • The 3500 dually HD sprinter tows 7,500 pounds I believe

      Also, the Transit comes standard with sway control, which means you can use a simple ball-hitch.

      Yes, the 3.0-liter seems underpowered at just 188 hp but it's incredibly efficient at hauling stuff. I drove one loaded with tons of tools over the Grapevine in California… no problem.

      I too am looking for to the Transit.

      Also, it seems like most in this space view the Nissan NV as a bit of a joke, no? That's a shame because I really enjoyed the time I spent with it… hell , the 5.6 is overkill for it!

      • MVEilenstein

        It's becoming a more popular choice for many contractors and small businesses around here. They're pretty versatile, come in different lengths and heights, and have a low load floor. What's not to like?

        What we need is a Hooniverse: Head to Head, pitting all the new vans against each other.

        • When the Iveco Dodge Ram Daily shows up, that would be awesome … for the four of us here who like vans.

          While I would love to participate in read a head-to-head-to-head-to-head-to-head-to-head matchup of the Express, NV, Sprinter, Transit, ProMaster, and Daily, it would probably be a ton of work and it would find a rather small audience here.

          Over at pickuptrucks.com they'll probably do it–and probably even do a reasonably good job of it. Then the commenters will descend into brand-loyal namecalling and tarnish the whole effort.

          • MVEilenstein

            It would be a ton of work, no doubt. Still would love to see it/do it. The fanboys at PUTC are insufferable. Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

      • The problem is that the dually Sprinter is not the package that a lot of van buyers need. Many people will want SRW versions, which can fit 4 ft wide loads between the wheel wells, and also many buyers will want the shorter wheelbase versions to fit into smaller urban environments.

        I think a more quantitative measure of a vehicle's ability to haul stuff is in order. A quick back-of-the envelope calculation shows that you only need 16 hp to maintain speed in a fully loaded Sprinter on a frictionless Grapevine (6% grade), so I'm not surprised at all that 188 hp was enough in the real world. But accelerating an 8600 lb van from a stop is going require a lot more power–it might take a few (or even several) minutes with only 188 hp.

        The problem I have with the NV is that it's so damn long, and one of the main points of having a van is the amount of space you get for having not that large of a footprint. The NV has roughly the same cargo space of a MWB Express/Savana, while having the overall length of the LWB version. Of course, I say that as a person who owns an SWB "shorty" Dodge van in part because its length makes it more manageable in the SF Bay area.

        Also, it looks like there are some product announcements going on today in the van world, so maybe some of our questions about Transits will be answered by day's end.

      • I almost have a hard time believing the Sprinter competes against the old-school domestics.

        The domestics are substantially cheaper, crappier, but definitely the better tool for many jobs. Think 3lb hammer Vs dental tools. Were I planning to own, use and service a van for 100k miles, I wouldn't touch the Sprinter for fear of bankruptcy.

  • Maymar

    The Expresses I used to drive for work pretty regularly averaged 13-15mpg in mixed driving (often with a lot of idling) without any real effort (although the guy getting 15 was a more sedate driver). 18's pretty decent, although I'd like to see how one broken in would do on a similar circuit.

    Of course, I really hope Benz has taken care of the Sprinter's rust issues – the Transit especially will be gunning directly for it (with the benefit of a greater dealer network, cheaper parts, and longer relationships with buyers).

  • Joebaldheadedgranny

    Great story on Sprinter's update to the suddely burgeoning commercial van market. This year we see new entrants Transit and Promaster charge through the gap opened by Sprinter nearly 10 years ago. US fleets that use their vans intensively (35K+ annual miles) have learned to measure the overall outlay- depreciation, fuel, maintenance, insurance, and reg fees- when judging success or failure. Sprinter has always made the cut in this cohort, and the new safety features and 4-cylinder diesel ought to improve things. Still, Ford and Dodge will bring a nice supply/service chain to the party. This is great news for American businesses.