The 2019 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van is a complete redesign of the German automaker’s cargo workhorse and marks a significant improvement in driving characteristics and functionality from the previous model.
Trucks.com took its first drive of the new van — an early production European model rather than the U.S. version — in the Netherlands this month. The route included about 100 miles of driving and another 50 miles of travel as a passenger. Only the diesel version was available for testing.
Mercedes-Benz will also offer its first gasoline engine Sprinter van for the U.S. when the redesigned model goes on sale in the fall. The U.S. version of the third-generation Sprinter van will be built at a Mercedes factory about to open in North Charleston, S.C.
The bottom line: This is a big step up from the existing version in ease of driving, suspension and technology.
Mercedes-Benz selected the Amsterdam-Rotterdam corridor for the drive. It is a mix of urban and highway driving that routes atop dikes protecting the Netherlands’ flood-prone lowlands, past 18th century windmills and through modern port facilities. It’s a historic center for trade and logistics that played a large role in global colonization dating back to the 17th century. New York, for example, was originally Dutch-controlled New Amsterdam. Brooklyn comes from Breuckelen, or marshland, in Dutch.
This new generation of Sprinter van offers creature comforts drivers now expect, even in commercial vehicles. There are cupholders, USB charging ports, improved air conditioning and Wi-Fi connectivity. The U.S. version is expected to have a 110-volt outlet to power a laptop or other equipment. While the van is designed as a commercial vehicle, it is no longer a Spartan transport tool.
One of the biggest improvements is the ergonomics of the Sprinter’s cockpit. The seating is more comfortable than the previous version. The bolstering does a better job of supporting the back and reducing driver fatigue. Control functions can be activated using voice control, buttons on the steering wheel or through the touchscreen display.
“It’s an all-rounder for every industry,” said Norbert Kunz, product manager for Mercedes-Benz Vans.
Globally, the new Sprinter offers six different bodies, four lengths and three cargo compartment heights. Global engine options include four- and six-cylinder diesel, a gasoline option and a planned electric motor drive.
The Sprinter comes standard with the Mercedes-Benz suite of automated driver safety systems. It has forward collision alert with automatic emergency braking. There’s an alert for when the vehicle wanders from lanes. At speeds above 37 mph the Sprinter can automatically make steering adjustments to stay centered in a lane.
One of the first improvements both drivers and passengers will notice is a far more refined suspension. The problem with cargo vans is that they drive like cargo vans, and that’s generally not pleasant. It typically translates to a ponderous road feel, lots of body roll and constant bumps as the big vehicle rattles down the roadway.
In the new Sprinter, drivers feel firm steering feedback from the road, but it’s not obtrusive. The van better absorbs bumps. Spending 50 miles in the rear of a Sprinter configured as a shuttle van doesn’t leave a passenger feeling like they just endured a bone density test. Adaptive cruise control eases driver fatigue by automatically keeping pace with traffic.
Mercedes has not released final specifications or pricing for U.S. Sprinters. But there is some detail.
The U.S. market will have a choice of rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive vans. The front-wheel drive version won’t be sold here.
The gasoline engine will be a 2-liter, four-cylinder mated to a new 9-speed transmission. It is expected to be rated at about 188 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The transmission is among the smoothest on the market. Shifts were almost imperceptible.
The Sprinter van also will have a 2.1-liter, four-cylinder diesel with the 9-speed transmission. It produces 161 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. And then there is a larger 3-liter, six-cylinder engine mated to a new 7-speed transmission. It offers 188 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. The 4×4 version will only be available with the V6 diesel powertrain.
Both diesel engines proved smooth and responsive. The six-cylinder provides enough power for about any use. The smaller engine works well too and will save fuel. Holland is flat, so neither was stressed during the drive. They both hummed at 80 mph, which is the top speed on several Dutch highways. It’s hard to know how the smaller engine would fare in steep mountain driving.
The U.S. will get cargo and passenger van versions. They will come with a standard height and a high roof that allows people to stand inside. There are two wheelbases — 144 inches and 170 inches — but three body lengths: standard, long and extended.
What’s striking about the new Sprinter compared to other cargo vans is its agility. There were numerous places on the drive where wrong turns and an unfamiliarity with bicycle-heavy Dutch traffic patterns required detours through crowded streets and U-turns. The Sprinter felt at home. Yes, this is a giant vehicle, but a tight turning radius and decent visibility make it work.
Mercedes expects the Sprinter to get its heavy use providing package and goods delivery. It will also serve as transport for craftspeople and equipment maintenance techs in urban areas where traffic is only going to worsen, Kunz said. That’s why designers focused on shrinking the turning radius, he said.
Inside, the new multimedia systems available in the Sprinter make the van competitive with the best passenger cars. The top system is built around an impressive 10.25-inch high-definition display. The system has an element of intelligence, learning the behavior of particular drivers and offering suggestions for destinations, contacts or radio stations.
Like a smartphone, it attempts to rely on natural language, waiting for requests such as “Where can I find gas?” preceded by a “Hey Mercedes” command.
Fleet managers and others can send messages to the system that include addresses of destinations. The driver, or a passenger, can touch the message icon on the display and it will download and launch a route in the navigation system.
While this eventually could be a convenient function, it still needs refinement. It worked on some tests during the drive but not on others.
Mercedes sold about 26,000 Sprinters in the U.S. last year and sees the van as primarily a commercial vehicle. But the automaker’s marketing team knows there’s a burgeoning market in the U.S. for lifestyle vans — vehicles that consumers purchase for camping, surfing, skiing and other outdoor activities.
U.S. production will allow the company to better configure vehicles to meet consumer demand, including increasing production of four-wheel drive Sprinters.
Editor’s note: To facilitate this report, Trucks.com attended an event where Mercedes-Benz hosted travel and lodging.