the Mercedes-Benz of vans

The 2019 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van Is Built For Both Utility and Adventure


September 25, 2018 Cars By Photo by Andrew Maness
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This is the third-generation of the Sprinter, which originally rolled out in 1995 and came to the U.S.A. in 2001. The outgoing second-generation launched in 2006, so after 13 years it was indeed high time for an update. The 2019 Sprinter makes big leaps forward in terms of the available technology, overall interior quality and sheer variety of choice available to customers. There are no fewer than 1,700 different configurations according to Mercedes, and that’s not even taking color, seating, engine and HVAC options into account. Bottom line, the possibilities are seemingly endless when it comes to the Sprinter and that’s exactly what the folks at Mercedes-Benz Vans hope to convey to potential customers. It’s always been a highly adaptable platform ready to be whatever people need it to be, but now that platform is quite advanced right off the lot as well. By rolling out their new MBUX (pronounced M-B-U-X, not em-bucks) infotainment and navigation system in the Sprinter, Mercedes-Benz is showing a lot of confidence not only in their vans but also the communities that buy them.

The Good: There’s so much going on with the Sprinter it is hard to keep track of all the good things about it. That being said, the fact that is very easy to drive and maneuver thanks to featherlight electronically boosted steering is right at the top of the list as it makes it much less intimidating to those buyers who may be new to full-size vans. The new MBUX system and the stylish dash in which it is housed are also very impressive and monumentally important.

Who They’re For: Who the Sprinter is for largely comes down to which body style is chosen. However, regardless of whether a customer selects the cargo van, passenger van or cab/chassis form they’re likely to be the type of person who wants to get shit done, do it right the first time and they’re willing to pay a premium to make it happen.

Watch Out For: As is the case with any Mercedes-Benz vehicle, the price of a Sprinter is easily driven up by options, so it’s best to keep an eye on how many boxes get ticked on the configurator, especially if you’re planning to use the Sprinter as a jumping off point for a custom adventuremobile.

Alternatives: There are certainly less expensive van platforms out there — the Ford Transit and RAM Promaster are the direct competitors that come to mind. However, neither vehicle offers nearly the level of refinement and next-generation technology that the Sprinter does.

• Ford Transit Connect ($34,550, base)

• RAM Promaster ($32,895, base)

Verdict: The third-generation Sprinter brings a new level of connectivity and luxury to the adventuremobile market. Previously buyers had to turn to aftermarket outfitters to get the kind of tech that MBUX now offers out of the box. More comfortable, safer and full of amenities for passengers right out of the factory: that’s the 2019 Sprinter in a nutshell and of course it’s still ready to work hard regardless of the task. This is indeed the Mercedes-Benz of vans.

Review: It’s no small thing that Mercedes chose the third-generation Sprinter as the second product, after the A-Class sedan which is also arriving in the USA before the end of the year, to feature their new MBUX infotainment system. All of the MB Vans employees I chatted with in Charleston were visibly and genuinely excited about the new Sprinter. And why shouldn’t they be? The USA is their second largest market behind Germany and it’s growing rapidly. That’s one of the many reasons they invested over $500 million to expand the footprint of their assembly facility in North Charleston and turn it into a factory where Sprinter vans are built from the ground up. Yes, that means that now when you buy a third-gen Sprinter you’re buying a vehicle made here, not just assembled here. The new factory and the 1,300 people it will employ by the end of 2020 are certainly cause for excitement, but that was only one of many reasons for the MB Vans team was constantly smiling.

Once I climbed up into the driver’s seat of a 15-passenger Sprinter 3500, I quickly understood why. The improvements over the previous Sprinter as well as the advantage held over comparable competitors is immediately apparent. The seat is properly comfortable and trimmed with quality leather. The steering wheel is exactly the kind of chunky and enjoyable tiller you’d expect to find in any Mercedes product. In the center of the dash lies the showpiece of the new Sprinter, an available 10.25″ display flanked by stylized air vents. Its appearance is top notch, but what makes it great is that Mercedes is finally offering touchscreen capability. Response times are quick and menus are easy to navigate, though I found myself using the intuitive steering wheel controls with my thumbs in an effort to keep my eyes on the road.

Still, because of how easily the Sprinter drives now I didn’t struggle to keep it in the lane when I was operating one handed and zooming in on the map via the touchscreen. Perhaps this was part of the decision-making process at Mercedes, to wait to offer a giant touchscreen in such a large vehicle until they were able to offer a car-like driving experience that didn’t make multitasking a risky proposition. Adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist are also part of the equation, and work just as well one would expect from any Mercedes passenger car, so there is that additional level of safety that potential customers should take into account. Truly this Sprinter is as accessible as it gets for someone new to the segment and that’s absolutely by design.

Again, the excitement when talking to various MB Vans representatives was very apparent when discussing the growth of the segment and the way folks in the U.S.A., particularly outdoor enthusiasts, are flocking to the Sprinter. The specialized trade segment and fleet vehicle segment are indeed their bread and butter, but when I showed a number of reps photos of a friend’s fully decked out 4×4 Sprinter, their eyes lit up. “We love to see this,” said one gentleman. “This is so cool to see people make a Sprinter their home and make it their own.” Indeed you could opt for a Sprinter in cargo van form, throw a mattress in the back and be living with the same level as comfort as a number of folks in studio apartments in San Francisco or Manhattan. However that’s the most basic approach to van life there is — obviously the adventuremobile outfitting community takes it way, way further than that.

For camping enthusiasts, Mercedes has essentially made the Sprinter a mobile smart home. A 4G LTE WiFi hotspot is integral to the MBUX system and includes Mercedes’ own version of Siri or Google Assistant that responds to “Hey Mercedes.” After using that prompt to perk up the ears of the virtual assistant you can say things like “I’m hungry” and you’ll get a list of nearby restaurants on the screen or “I’m hot” and voila, the temperature is lowered. Of course, it’s not perfect and the system does get tripped up, but it is an adaptive system and will learn your speech pattern as times goes on, further refining how it responds to your commands. More than a couple of times I had to remind myself I was driving a 12-passenger Mercedes van, not one of their three-row SUVs. For something that you could feasibly live a comfortable life in, whether over a weekend, months or for a full 365 days a year, the ride quality is shockingly compliant.

For a vehicle of this size it’s just unreal how smooth it drives and with the optional 360-degree camera system to assist me, I didn’t break a sweat when maneuvering it in a particularly tight spot I pulled into to get a photo. What the crew at MB Vans has managed to do is make the most capable and customer friendly full-size van ever by adding in more elements from Mercedes’ passenger cars and removing the less enjoyable aspects of a commercial van. It sure does get the imagination going and I can’t wait to see what outfitters do with this new platform, especially once the 4×4 variant arrives in a couple months time.

What Others Are Saying:

• “A number of driver assistance systems keep things copacetic out on the open road, including the all-important (and standard) Crosswind Assist, which greatly improves stability, especially at higher speeds.” – Steven Ewing, Roadshow

• “While I’d hesitate to call a full-sized van “brisk”, you won’t be nervous when entering the highway.” – Dan Heyman, AutoTrader

2019 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 Key Specs

Engine: 3.0-liter diesel V6
Transmission: 7-speed Automatic (9-speed available with gas engine)
Horsepower: 190
Torque: 325 lb-ft
Weight: 6,096 lbs (as tested)

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Andrew Maness

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