The Mercedes Sprinter range takes another step towards completion with the 4×4 version’s arrival. It goes on sale this February, and the model brings a hefty dose of improved off-road ability at the slight expense of some practicality.
One notable element, fitted to the 4×4 tested, was a raised suspension set-up that increases the ride height by a full 100mm and the overall height by 165mm. This gives the Sprinter two things. First, it helps boost ground clearance and therefore the van’s ability to traverse really tricky terrain. And secondly, it helps give the van a more capable and elevated look.
With so much extra height in the suspension, it is perhaps no surprise that the ride feels different from that of a standard Sprinter. Inevitably there is a little extra bounce and movement over bumps, but the big caveat is that our test took place entirely on snowy mountain roads, and certainly never got up to anything like motorway speeds. This movement is controlled, though, and it never feels like control is compromised.
The Sprinter AWD doesn’t just come with four-driven wheels, though, because there are a host of technologies to help boost off-road ability. The electro-hydraulic 4×4 system means that the van can be driven in two-wheel-drive mode, with a switch on the dash allowing you to toggle between the two at up to 6mph. A low-range gearbox mode and a downhill-descent control system mean that drivers that are not familiar with tricky terrain should be able to head off with confidence. All these systems are easily turned on and off using a few simple buttons on the dash
There are three engines available on the 4×4 version, ranging from this 2.0-litre 143hp 314CDI up to a 190hp 3.0-litre V6 diesel. A 163hp 2.0-litre diesel completes the range. Another option of note is the slick seven-speed auto gearbox – the first time a 4×4 has come with an auto.
The 314CDI struggled a little more on straight faster roads, having to work harder to keep up with traffic, but this just meant keeping the revs a little higher – it never actually failed to keep pace. The V6 version is a powerful beast, though. It is smooth and quiet, and will easily cope with towing, high-speed cruising and acceleration. Few operators will be able to justify the extra expense, though, as this boost in pace adds more than £5000 to the pre-VAT price.
The extra weight of the 4×4 system impacts payload, with the overall carrying capacity around 235kg less than the FWD equivalent – that’s a bigger dip than the VW Crafter 4WD takes versus its 2WD version. However, this still means the 314 is able to take around 1220kg, and the loading space is unchanged.