Mercedes-Benz Sprinter makes fast work of big loads

The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is a practical and versatile work van that can be outfitted in countless ways, providing two wheelbases, three body lengths, three cargo heights, three gross vehicle weight ratings and an array of options too numerous to list.

By Neil Moore,
Metroland Media/ -

My first few minutes on the road felt like taxiing down a runway.

Admittedly, I was a bit uneasy piloting something this large, probably due to my inexperience with full-size cargo vans.

Could I change lanes and not take out an entire lane of traffic? Could I make a tight turn without crushing a few pedestrians along the way?

The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter looks and feels like the behemoth it is. It dwarfs any of today’s minivans and even outclasses the big Econolines that serve many of the trades.

Fortunately, my tester was one of the smaller models – a 2012 Sprinter 2500 with 144-inch (3665 mm) wheelbase and 128-inch cargo floor. But with the high roof package, extending the vehicle to a towering 107 inches (2820 mm), it still seemed immense.

By comparison, the Dodge Grand Caravan gives up 30 inches in length and 43 inches in height. And in terms of cargo volume, the Caravan’s generous 4,100-litre capacity is no match for my tester’s 10,500.

This Sprinter has solid side panels and rear doors, but can be outfitted with a full set of windows.

Still, that pales in comparison to some of the larger Sprinter variants, maxing out with a 170-inch wheelbase, extended body with 185-inch cargo floor, and “super high” roof providing 84 inches of inside height. That nets out to 17,000 litres of space – nearly enough to actually swallow a minivan. And carry its weight with a maximum payload, depending on model, of up to 5,375 lbs.

If you’re getting the idea this vehicle can be ordered in countless configurations, you’d be right. There are two wheelbases, three body lengths, three cargo heights, three gross vehicle weight ratings, a crew-van package that offers a rear bench behind the front seats, and too much equipment to list.

For example, you can choose axle ratio, stabilizer bar thickness, and front and rear springs.

Need a vibration damper, speed limiter (to 120 km/h) or pulleys for an additional alternator or compressor? How about a partition wall? That can be ordered with or without a fixed window, or if you need more contact with the rear, a sliding window or door.

It may be one of the smaller Sprinter models, but this 2500 with 144-inch wheelbase and 128-inch cargo floor, along with the high-roof package, still provides 10,500 litres of cargo space. Although not shown here, the doors swing back 270 degrees.

And as for the cargo floor itself, you can get wood or washable plastic, and numerous load-securing options that include standard floor rings and available lashing rails in the floor, walls and roof.

I scanned the company literature and found dozens of standard and available items on the work side of things, but even though this is a cargo van, you can still outfit it reasonably well for comfort.

Every Sprinter van gets air conditioning up front, keyless entry, outside temperature display, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system, heated power side mirrors and more.

My tester also included the high roof package ($2,500) which bumps roof height in the cargo area from 65 to 76.4 inches, allowing you to work upright in back. It also had a partition wall with fixed window ($310), and the Parktronic system ($940) to help guide this beast in and out of loading docks and parking spaces without incident.

The $900 Audio 20 system (AM/FM six-disc CD, MP3, Bluetooth) seemed a bit steep, but hey, this is a Mercedes, and if you’re going to drop this kind of coin on any vehicle ($42,900 base MSRP), it needs a decent audio system. Other upgrades included the ‘Comfort’ co-driver’s seat ($220), washable full-height interior trim ($460) and a rear step ($180). All in, this press vehicle priced out at $49,950.

The powerplant for all Sprinters is the Mercedes-Benz BlueTEC 3.0-litre turbo diesel. This V6 engine employs the company’s clean diesel technology that converts nitrogen oxide into nitrogen and water, and is not only smooth running, but quiet.

The Sprinter’s side door opens wide enough to accommodate a standard palette – or a chest freezer.

Still, it has just a hint of diesel clatter – enough to make you at least feel like a trucker.

This engine delivers a modest 188 hp, but more importantly 325 lb/ft of peak torque that comes in at an early 1,400-2,400 rpm.

The specs may have you wondering if this engine is up to the task, but I had no such concerns. I wouldn’t say my Sprinter leaped off the line, but with a light load of appliances and furniture, it accelerated briskly enough not to be an annoyance to other drivers.

Still, a 24-foot long monster Sprinter with 2,920 kg (6,437 lb) curb weight, fully loaded, may challenge the 3.0-litre diesel. My tester, on the other hand, tipped the scales at only 2,335 kg, which is about the same as some mid-size SUVs.

But like all cargo vans, it is not to be driven aggressively, nor is the Sprinter ideal for zipping around town running errands – although I managed to do this for a week.

Parking must be done with an exit strategy, as backing up is a pain – even with the parking sensors – and the turning circle, despite being good for a vehicle this size, is vast. And forget about underground garages.

The Sprinter may not measure up to most SUVs in terms of luxury appointments, but can still be equipped with comfortable, heated seating.

My vehicle had only two front seats, which were comfortable enough, but if you’re planning on carrying passengers, order the Crew Van package. It’ll bite into the cargo room, but the bench seat can be removed if you need the space.

On a positive note, one can stand up in the passenger cabin, and seated, you’re high enough to see over even the tallest SUVs.

It almost feels like driving a big rig, but with a wimpier horn.

Decent build quality is evident throughout, but there’s a fair bit of road noise due to the lack of insulation. More can be ordered both up front and in back, however.

Still, unlike the rental vans I’ve used in the past, the Sprinter is relatively free of squeaks, rattles and bangs as you navigate city traffic. And once you get used to its bulk, it’s relatively easy to drive.

During the week, I had the opportunity to clear a few items from my father’s basement, which included a full-size chest freezer. Sliding it into the cargo hold was easy with rear doors that open 270 degrees and a side door that opens wide enough for a standard palette. All lock into place.

My six-foot-four brother was able to climb on board without rapping his head, and once inside, the chest freezer seemed lost in the cavernous hold. Nearly-vertical sidewalls and level wheel arches (with 51 inches in between) add to its utility.

The interior of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter exhibits tight seams and high quality materials. For a cargo van, it is surprisingly free of squeaks and rattles.

After a few days with the Sprinter, I found it less of a handful and more manoeuvrable than expected for a vehicle its size. I wouldn’t choose it as my daily driver, but can see why so many people have looked to the three-pointed star for their business vehicles.

And have done so more than a million times worldwide.

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 2012 at a glance
BODY STYLE: cargo van.
DRIVE METHOD: front engine, rear-wheel drive.
ENGINE: 3.0-litre V6 diesel (188 hp, 325 lb/ft of torque).
CARGO VOLUME: up to 17,000 litres (600 cu ft) depending upon variant.
TOW RATING: up to 3,409 kg (7,500 lb).
PRICE: $42,900 TO $51,100. As tested $49,950. See web site for pricing on all models

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