What Car? says...
If any brand has come the closest to making the perfect van, it has to be Mercedes-Benz. The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter has won countless awards, has legions of loyal customers and has improved like a fine wine through more than 20 years of gradual refinements.
The latest third-generation model is no exception, but in the current digital age the Sprinter, a humble van, is trying to keep up with the trends by adding connectivity and voice control to its repertoire of talents.
Like its closest competition, the Ford Transit and Volkswagen Crafter, the Sprinter has a wealth of body types to choose from and has also now added a front-wheel drive configuration to the existing rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive options. There are four body lengths, three roof heights and – in addition to panel van models – there are crew cabs, chassis cabs, chassis crew cabs, dropside bodies and minibus Tourer versions.
Power comes from a four-cylinder 2.1-litre diesel unit with 111bhp, 143bhp and 163bhp or from a 3.0-litre diesel V6 engine producing 187bhp.
A six-speed manual gearbox is standard across all vans, but a nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic option is available on front-wheel-drive vans and a seven-speed 7G-Tronic Plus automatic gearbox is an option for rear-wheel-drive and V6-engined Sprinters.
Rather than having different trim levels, Mercedes allows the Sprinter to be customised with various option packs. Available extras include the Driver Pack, Comfort Pack, Premium Pack, Active Safety Pack, Lane Tracking Pack and Comfort Pack Plus. These include equipment like parking sensors and electric heated door mirrors, right through to less obvious options like covered storage compartments or an adjustable steering wheel.
Read on to find out how the Sprinter compares with its key rivals, and don't forget to check out our New Car Buying section for a great deal on your next car.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
With a range of engines ranging from 111bhp to 187bhp, the Sprinter has more power than both the Ford Transit and Volkswagen Crafter. We’re not talking huge amounts, but on base level vehicles it’s the equivalent of 10% more power.
The 2.1-litre engine is the same unit that has been used in the Sprinter van since its upgrade to Euro-6 engines in 2014. But that doesn’t mean Mercedes hasn't made some improvements. There’s a slight bump in power for the two lower power outputs, and if you’re interested in buying a Sprinter as a camper van there’s a 177bhp option not available to van customers. The 3.0-litre V6 diesel, meanwhile, remains unchanged with 187bhp.
But which engine should you be looking to get in your Sprinter van? Well, with 111bhp, the Sprinter has the most powerful entry-level engine, bettering the 109bhp engines found in the Renault Master, Peugeot Boxer, Citroën Relay, Fiat Ducato, Nissan NV400 and Vauxhall Movano. It wouldn’t, however, be our choice and nor would the 143bhp unit. No, instead we would recommend the 163bhp 2.1-litre unit, unless you really need the raw power and torque of the much gutsier V6. Official fuel consumption figures show that the 163bhp unit matches the 143bhp engine with 35.8mpg on a 3.5-tonne panel van, which is better than the 34.9mpg claimed by the 111bhp unit. But our choice isn’t based on fuel economy alone, because the more powerful engine is far smoother and easier to drive.
In such a large vehicle like the Sprinter the additional power from the higher output engine is entirely justified and makes for a far more relaxing experience. It’s also available in front, rear and four-wheel drive formats, so regardless of your needs you can choose that engine.
The rest of the package is everything you’d expect from a Mercedes-Benz van. The steering is heavy, but exceptionally well balanced. The Sprinter sails around corners with astonishing levels of grip and composure, while it also eats up the motorway miles in fantastic comfort. With each incremental change to the Sprinter van it becomes a more complete package, and while the Volkswagen Crafter has arguably a more comfortable ride, the Sprinter is still a top-notch van.
The six-speed manual gearbox is well paired to all the engine options, and as such there’s little need to opt for the nine-speed automatic. If you do need a automatic gearbox, however, the 9G-Tronic is a smooth unit that responds quickly to kickdown requests and seamlessly shifts up and down through the gears.
Our biggest gripe is with one of the safety features that has been introduced to make the van even better. Along with Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keeping Assist is a safety feature designed to make motorway miles, in particular, much easier and safer. Yet, in the Sprinter lane keeping is corrected through the use of the brakes rather than the steering. The net result is severe breaking on the opposite side of the vehicle to the direction you’re straying in which prevents you leaving the lane.
The downside is sometimes a significant reduction in speed which can startle other drivers, but in the Sprinter’s defence, Mercedes says the drastic braking is in fact to startle the driver to make sure they adjust their driving wayward driving.