Manufacturers tend to leave their vans on sale unchanged for a fair few years, which means that when a new one is launched, it needs to be pretty well futureproofed to avoid feeling outdated as the years go by.
The 2018 Mercedes Sprinter looks to move the bar far beyond where it was previously in the large van class, with a wide array of connected technology at its heart to ensure it suits the needs of buyers today and in the years to come.
The Sprinter offers a level of connectivity and in-cabin tech that hasn’t been seen on a van before, with a fantastic amount of standard kit. At the heart of this is a new colour touchscreen across the dash that comes in 7.0-inch format as standard, with a 10.2-inch version as an upgrade.
This is notable as it’s the system through which all of the Sprinter’s many fleet management and maintenance packages are accessed by the driver – there are eight in total and they allow a level of connectivity that allows managers to locate a van and interact with it.
There is a degree of voice control, too, which is activated by calling out ‘Hey Mercedes’. It’s limited in what it can do, but it is adept at taking dictated text messages, telling you the weather and other such simple tasks. It is quite easy to activate, though, so you might well find yourself avoiding mentioning the name ‘Mercedes’ on the move, as it will likely chime in at times when you don’t want it to.
The rest of the cabin reflects the standards set by the high-tech screen amid the dash. The materials used still demonstrate a degree of hardiness, but they are softer and nicer to the touch than those traditionally used in a van. The touch-control buttons on the steering wheel are nice, too, and should save the screen from picking up too many filthy fingerprints.
There is a choice of two seat set-ups, and while both are good, the range-topping option is fantastic, with a moveable seat squab, electric adjustment and a supreme level of comfort without resorting to the slightly odd floating sensation of independently sprung systems in rivals such as the VW Crafter.
There is only so much that can be done in terms of practicality in the back, with space and usefulness the main focus. The addition of a front-wheel-drive version means that the loading height is reduced by 80mm and the payload gets a handy 50kg boost across the various versions – it’s a decent 1304kg on the low-roofed medium wheelbase model tested here.
The details in the loading bay help boost practicality – a choice of flooring is available, with bare metal, lightweight plastic and a heavy-duty option all offered. Covered load-bearing wheelarches, interior LED lighting and a standard-fit bulkhead all help boost the real-world usability in small ways.
ON THE ROAD
The Sprinter’s ride is, frankly, excellent, and it is very comfortable on either side of the cabin, even when fitted with the lower-spec seats. There is no obvious difference in how the front-drive and rear-drive versions conduct themselves – both are solid and smooth, with the new nine-speed automatic gearbox a particular highlight. Visibility is excellent, too, with large side windows and door mirrors.
For all the things the Mercedes Sprinter does well, though, there is one minor niggle – the steering. The electronic set-up is very light for a large van, and while this is not a bad thing for low-speed manoeuvres around town, and although it is speed-sensitive so it gets firmer at higher speeds, it still feels a little disconnected as the speed rises. It’s never enough to feel disconcerting, but it just lacks the solidity you get from some other large rivals.
The engines are no big surprise in the Sprinter, but they were solid and popular in the old version and so are much the same in this model. The core of the range consists of a trio of four-cylinder diesels, while a V6 diesel offers smooth performance and is one of the most powerful engines on offer in the sector.
The mid-range 140 horsepower version is a great all-round option, as it was in the previous version. It has more than enough pull to cope with a large cargo and is versatile enough to deal with motorway overtakes and urban trips.
The front-wheel-drive model is the one that offers the best step forward once again, because it is quieter than the rear-drive equivalent as there are fewer moving parts running underneath.