The latest generation of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter panel van will be launched here in Ireland in June. It made it’s world premiere not far from the plant where it will be assembled in Dusseldorf, on Tuesday.
Since it was first introduced in 1995, it has proven very popular for its flexibility, robustness and economy. The model has since sold in excess of 3.4 million units worldwide and amazingly despite the new model arriving this year, it set a sales record of over 400,000 units last year.
In addition to the success it achieved globally, here in Ireland all previous Sprinter models have won the Irish ‘Van of the Year’ award in the years of their introduction. It has consistantly gone on to become the distribution vehicles of choice amongst many high-profile names in food, drinks, courier, parcels, and in engineering, manufacturing and servicing sectors.
In setting out to design and equip the new Sprinter, the challenge facing Mercedes-Benz designers was to create a unit that would surpass its very popular predecessors. In practical terms, this meant recognising the separate requirements of those major customer groupings for which it has become a frontline choice. It called for improvements and modifications that would make beneficial use of latest technology – some drawn from its passenger car side. The intention being to increase the Sprinter’s appeal to customers hard pressed to achieve optimum fleet utilisation, greater economy and reduced operating cost.
From what I witness at workshops on the fringes of the launch this week, these goals have been achieved. In simplest terms, enlargement of the load volume and lowering of the rear floor height give an immediate fillip to those seeing more load-per-movement and greater ease-of-access for drivers. This latter feature is evident also in improved cab comfort and driver access thanks to the offer of front-wheel-drive within the engine mix.
We all know that for most van drivers, the van is their office, canteen and working environment so it needs to be equipped with all of the features buyers look for in a panel van. This latest Sprinter comes with a progressive new design and passenger car levels of comfort and safety. Hallmarks include a generous load volume and carrying capacity, the addition of front wheel drive, and a new infotainment and connectivity system the benefits of which will be seen in better fleet management, lower operating costs and maximum cost effectiveness.
Arguably, its most innovative features are a new networked, online connectivity system that gives operators comprehensive control over the fleet. These easy-to-operate additions, the Mercedes PRO Connect and new MBUX multimedia system both ease the process of fleet management, whether of a large, multi vehicle business or a small company fleet. Functions monitored include vehicle operation and supervision, fleet communication, maintenance management and a digital driver’s logbook.
Mercedes PRO Connect provides eight connectivity packages that make for greater efficiency, lower operating costs, improved vehicle availability and optimised communication within the fleet to relieve the workload of managers, fleet management, controllers, dispatchers and drivers. It works by linking the fleet manager to vehicles and driver, allowing assignments to be managed online, and vehicle information such as location, fuel level or maintenance intervals to be retrieved in real time.
Being introduced also across its passenger car range, is the MBUX multimedia system. MBUX is short for ‘Mercedes-Benz User Experience’. It works by giving the driver finger-touch connectivity, data access and real time information, while enabling fleet managers the control required to help deliver cost and time savings.
Describing it as ‘an all rounder for any business’ sector, Mercedes-Benz has a clear view of the widely diverse market that the new Sprinter is designed to serve. In addition to owner-operators high on its list is the CEP (Couriers, Express deliveries and Parcel services operators) sector, alongside the online retailing sectors.
Thanks to the availability of front-wheel drive and an 80mm-lower load compartment floor within the mix, owners can look forward to benefitting from the additional load space and cargo capacity available, all within the same body height, along with less toil for the driver who can now access the rear more easily. For some applications, this can mean an important reduction in workload for drivers.
Of increasing importance also is the booming food delivery sector, driven in part by the ‘you shop, we drop’ convenience favoured by online shoppers. Appealing to operators in this market will be the introduction of an e-Sprinter version coming on the market next year.
Other targets will include service technicians who use their vehicle as a mobile parts store and workshop; construction operatives for whom a crew carrier that can handle punishing ground conditions is a requirement; trades people seeking a well-designed and equipped van with good image-building qualities; shuttle service, minibus and passenger transport providers; specialist users such as ambulance and rescue services, executive coach companies, camper van aficionados, and others needing to build a vehicle on a chassis/cab or long wheelbase to meet individual requirements.
Seeing it as an ‘intelligent and perfectly designed successor’ to previous Sprinter models, Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles sales manager in Ireland, Fergus Conheady told us at the launch: ‘its innovative use of technology, high-level specifications, and numerous load carrying, driver comfort and fleet management features work to ensure the Sprinter remains a league-leader in the large van market”.
The new Sprinter is available in six different body variants in five wheelbase options from 3250mm up to 4325mm (rear-wheel drive) or 3924mm (front-wheel drive). There are three diesel variants developing between 84 and 130 kW power output. Three body heights range from 1,719 mm to 2243 mm.
It comes in five weight classes with load compartment volume increased up to 17cu. metres with 5.5 tonnes capacity, three drive configurations – front, rear and 4-wheel drive – LED strip lighting in the load compartment, and a towing capacity up to 3.5 tonnes. Sliding offside access doors and split-opening rear doors give easy access to the load area – rear doors being fitted with self-arresting hinges can be safely opened and closed with just one hand.
Available loading width of around 1.22 meters between wheel arches means pallets can be loaded sideways. Interestingly, by mixing and matching the new Sprinter’s various features according to needs and preferences, Mercedes-Benz says that from eight different body variants, customers can chose more than 1,700 different units to match whatever corporate or individual requirements they may have.
Engines comprise a 3-litre, 6-cylinder unit delivering 140 kW (190 hp) and 440 N-m of torque at 1600 to 2600 rpm and 4-cylinder units in three output classes for rear and front-wheel drive. Like the 3.0 litre version, the smaller four-cylinder diesel engine has common-rail direct injection. From a displacement of 2.1 litres and with rear-wheel drive, this engine generates a choice of three outputs: 84 kW (114 hp), 105 kW (143 hp) or 120 kW (163 hp). With front-wheel drive the outputs range is from 84 kW (114 hp) to 105 kW (143 hp) and 130 kW (177 hp).
Gear ranges are graduated to give an optimum balance between low consumption and agile handling. Other virtues include a low noise level and outstanding ride comfort. Two newly developed transmissions for front-wheel drive units include a 9-speed automatic torque converter transmission – a first in the large van segment. A new 6-speed manual transmission also impresses with maximum gearshift comfort and no irritating vibrations of the shift lever.
Ergonomically shaped seats, keyless start and improved air conditioning increase driver comfort. In models relevant to the CEP sector, front-wheel drive gives the new Sprinter a significant weight advantage with increased payload up to 50 kilos more than its predecessor. Combined with fully usable load compartment heights, clever detailing and loadable wheel arches and a variable stowage concept that ensures everything has its place, the new Sprinter is more versatile and driver friendly.
Safety was a forefront consideration when designing the new Sprinter. Its toolbox of standard and optional features includes adaptive cruise control, brake assist, lane keeping assist, attention assist, crosswind assist and traffic sign assist. An optional parking package includes a 360-degree self-cleaning reversing camera whose image is displayed in the rear-view mirror and a rain sensor with wet wiper system in which the washer fluid is passed through the wiper arms and sprayed directly ahead of the blades.
Pricing and detailed specification will follow closer to the Irish launch here in June. However, based on what I could determine at the launch, I would expect very little in the way of price increases over the outgoing models. That great news for the van range that will be the new benchmark for big vans.