There are large vehicles and then there are large vehicles. The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is unique among big commercial vans in that it has such a myriad of configuration options, like our Passenger model with seating for 10 adults. Let’s spell that out: ten.
The Sprinter cargo van has 21 total variations, ranging from pure cargo hauling to various passenger (up to 15!) and cargo configurations with work models landing somewhere in between. Our model was the Passenger 144 with the high roof and rear-mounted climate control box. The 144 refers to the van’s wheelbase in inches (3.7 m), which can be lengthened or shortened to match needs.
Offering one of the only full-sized, commercial vans with a robust all-wheel drive option, Mercedes has also hit a note with the Sprinter for aftermarket configurators. They turn them into campers, self-contained overland machines, and toy haulers. There are two engine options for the 2020 Sprinter, including a turbocharged four-cylinder and a throatier V6 diesel engine. Both output 188 horsepower (140 kW), but the diesel has more torque (325 lb-ft, 441 Nm) and thus more towing capability. Also significantly, the diesel model offers four-wheel drive with its seven-speed automatic transmission whereas the gasoline model has lighter-duty AWD as an option and a nine-speed automatic.
Towing with the diesel is rated at up to 5,000 lb (2,268 kg), depending on the van’s overall configuration. An equivalent gasoline model has about 1,500 lb (680 kg) less towing capacity. Payload capacities are similarly varied according to the van’s configuration, with the smaller models having payloads maxing out at 3,605 lb (1,635 kg) while the Sprinter maxes out cargo capability at 6,206 lb (2,815 kg) for the heavy-duty (XD) option.
Another space where the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter sets itself apart is in total interior space. At its largest, the van offers 523.6 cubic feet (14,826.7 liters) of cargo space, which is larger than the biggest Ford Transit option.
As a commercial vehicle, expectations for comfort and luxury are relatively low. Yet the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is one of the better-outfitted commercial vans on the market. Our test model was nowhere near the top of the line in outfitting, with a small, digitized infotainment screen the size of a 1990s Nokia brick. But options for screens up to 10.25 inches are available Most of these options come in packages, such as the $1,240 Premium upgrade with a 7-inch screen and the $2,530 Premium Plus with the biggest screen plus extras like navigation and a wireless charging pad. Oddly, there is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto option, no matter the upgrade level.
On its interior, even at the basic level as our test van was, there are a lot of little ergonomic touches in the Sprinter. The dashboard has several cubbies and indentations made to hold pens, notepads, clipboards, etc. in place while driving. An overhead bin for added equipment (safety vests, hats, and the like) is convenient as well. Drink holders are found near the floor for the driver and front passenger. The Passenger van’s bench seating in the back has flip-out drink holders for convenience. That seating, we noted, is self-contained so that removal through a lever pull is possible, to quickly convert a passenger configuration to a cargo mix.
For the driver, access to controls is straightforward and easy to understand. The gear shift, on the column on the right side, is typical Mercedes while washer-wipers and turn signals are located to the left. Instruments are easy to read and understand, but some oversights in ergonomics are present. As with the Ram ProMaster, the Sprinter suffers from bad placement of the side mirrors and window glass track. The track blocks a large portion of the side mirror, requiring the driver to lean forward or back to accommodate. At least the seating isn’t high and forward, like a bus, which was also a complaint in the ProMaster.
New for 2020 are several driver-assist and safety features. Mercedes added active-braking assist for forward collision warning, blind-spot assist, and active lane-keeping assist. These are all optional features for the Sprinter, but aren’t bank breakers.
Like any very tall van, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is a bit unwieldy to drive at first. It feels top heavy, of course, but the sensation quickly fades and, with a judicious hand, the driver soon learns that those dynamics are not as off-putting as they could be. Most of the time, the Sprinter drives like a truck, but it’s a very capable and easy to understand truck that maneuvers very well in tighter situations. A standard backup camera and tight turning radius help in that regard.
Getting up and going is smart in the Sprinter. It’s not fast with the 2.0-liter turbo, but it’s definitely not underpowered either. We’d prefer the diesel, but the gasoline option isn’t as weak as might be expected given the bulk of the van. The AWD system adds a lot of confidence in all-weather and other situations as well.
So while the 2020 Sprinter may not be the obvious go-to for a family hauling vehicle, it’s got a lot of excellence as a commercial people hauler or cargo option. For conversions, of course, it’s a top-shelf choice as well. With the improvements made, the 2020 Sprinter is our favorite choice in commercial vans this year.
The Sprinter starts at US$34,495.
Product Page: 2020 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter