LIGHT COMMERCIAL TEST – Sprint into tomorrow

In Uncategorized10 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineMay 23, 2019

Mercedes-Benz‘s latest Sprinter introduces infotainment and safety tech only found in its newest cars – until now. We try one, with just one of a seemingly infinite array of after-market options to ease your work week.

Photo: Sprinter design minimises sheer size – that rear sliding door is 1260mm wide.

This latest Mercedes Sprinter landed in New Zealand in October, but it took until now to get our hands on one, and it‘s a dealer demonstrator – as you‘ll see from the decals. The different body lengths and heights, drive configurations and cab designs mean that in theory there are 1700 different Sprinter variations, with the panel van, minibus and cab chassis versions already here, and tractor head variants arriving this year. We opted for a front-drive, medium-wheelbase panel van with an all-new front-drive system, though there are also rearor all-wheel drive versions. Front drive allows a payload that‘s 50kg higher and a loading sill 80mm lower; a bonus especially for those needing frequent access, or being shorter of leg, like our tester.

Our test vehicle had the newly developed 9-speed auto with paddle shift – there‘s also an equally new 6-speed manual available. Up front, there‘s the 2.1-litre 4-cylinder 105kW (141hp) diesel – though we could also have opted for an 84kW (113hp) 2.1, a 120kW (162hp) one, and a 140kW (188hp), 3.0-litre 6-cylinder.
Mercedes refers to this look as a ‘reinterpreted design‘, but few will be carefully comparing exterior features between this Sprinter and its predecessor. What they‘ll be more impressed by is the cabin, and the driver-focused technology.

Today‘s Sprinter is packed with stuff you expect from the brand‘s cars. That includes small swipe pads on the steering wheel to navigate up, down or sideways through menus, and a touch-screen – yes, there are still buttons for frequently used tasks, but you‘ll soon forget them, so simple is the touchpad and steering wheel system. The latter scrolls through information on the central instruments screen, the former on the 7-inch infotainment screen.

Then there‘s all the safety guff. Our chosen variant retails at $60,134, or $69,154 including GST – the $53,742 Sprinter that starts the line-up is a before-GST cab-chassis. For that you get push-button start, the multifunction steering wheel that adjusts for rake and height, semi-automatic air con and cruise control. You get a storage area for documents above each sun visor, and a lift-up lid on the dash-top to hide your cell phone and deliver the 12V charger, and the plugs for USB and to access Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, either of which lets you use all the phone functions via the infotainment screen – which will mirror your cell phone‘s screen.

We didn‘t use that facility, but stuck to Bluetooth handsfree, fast to connect and easy to use, with a clear microphone. You can see a voice-control button on the steering wheel, that doesn‘t work here unless you‘re using Apple CarPlay/Android Auto – or you‘ve optioned up to the 10-inch screen with the Satnav that comes with it and accesses the Traffic Sign Assist. The upgrade will do a lot more than that – you‘ll voice control such a huge array of stuff, switching it on via the phrase “Hey Mercedes”. You can even complain of cold and have it turn the temperature up for you…

Photo: Sprinter brings car infotainment systems to vans, complete with large touchscreens.

Photo: Steering wheel buttons include a tiny swipe pad left and right to control different options with a single thumb swipe.

But back to general spec, and now factor in levels of safety and security tech enough for an HR manager‘s nirvana, certainly if safety in the workplace is as important to them as it will be to the driver using this van. The list includes Attention Assist, Hill Start Assist, Acceleration Skid Control, Brake Assist of course with ABS and ESP, Crosswind Assist, Enhanced Understeer Control, Load Adaptive Control, Rollover Mitigation, Roll Movement Intervention, ESP Trailer Stabilisation, and of course an excellent reversing camera with useful guidelines which curve as you turn the wheel so you know exactly where you‘re heading. Sadly there‘s no space here to describe them all in detail, but suffice to say this Sprinter will help an average driver avoid skidding, rolling, yawing, blowing across the road in a gale, or fishtailing with a trailer hooked up.

Option packs come with stuff like Active Distance Control which will automatically maintain distance from the vehicle in front to reduce stress on drivers in motorway or stop-go traffic ($1314 incl GST), the excellent Blind Spot Assist which warns if something‘s in a vehicle‘s blind spot – especially useful in panel vans ($704 incl GST), Active Lane Keep Assist which uses pulsed vibration of the steering wheel to tell you if you‘re drifting, and will even use one-sided brake interventions to help return to lane ($683 incl GST), and a 360-degree parking camera ($1668 incl GST).

Photos: Simplico racks and drawers by Sortimo – many configurations of workstation and racks are available.

Our test vehicle also showcased a Simpleco storage set-up by Sortimo, with lightweight racks to hold a wide variety of shelves, containers and drawers, with pull-out tool and component cases and all sorts, each using a simple slot-in system which prevents anything sliding out. Robust, and easily removed – upgrade your van, carry the kit across. Good stuff. As for piloting it, this Sprinter is as close to driving a passenger car as anything this tall and long can be. There‘s a little travel in the accelerator pedal before it picks up which you‘ll be used to within the first few kilometres. Otherwise, anything you need to access in terms of accessories is easily in reach, there are plenty of storage spaces, travel is about as quiet as any large van – and the sound system ably overcomes it when listening to the radio, or managing phone calls. Sprinter has cup holders in sizes for cans of energy drink, takeaway coffee cups and standard water bottles.

The only problem we encountered on a mixed test drive of motorway and open road, industrial estate and urban gridlock plus hilly, bendy rural roads, with a bit of gravel thrown in, was the usual blind spots on acute junctions that driving any panel van involves. Otherwise, the enormous mirrors and the reversing camera do their best to keep you grounded. We weren‘t able to sample Sprinter loaded as our usual 500kg pallet wouldn‘t fit alongside the equipment racks, but based on past performance, there should be few complaints. Except, that is, from anyone missing the good old days, when windows steamed up, there was nowhere to put your drink, and you had to be an expert on brake and throttle to manage inclement weather and slippery roads.