Keeping a High Profile: Three Days in the Sportsmobile Sprinter Lopes 55
To see the Sportsmobile Sprinter Lopes 55, one might think it would be a handful to drive. Its large size lends the vehicle a behemoth persona, but sitting behind the wheel is actually quite a pleasant experience.
Sportsmobile let us borrow a Lopes 55 so we could haul two motorcycles to a track day at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. We wanted to see how trackworthy this specially built Sprinter really is, as it was designed to the specifications of four-time Mountain Bike World Champion Brian Lopes. Lopes is a fan of bikes with and without motors, so this Sprinter is setup to accommodate toys as well as their owners.
The 2008 Sprinter 2500 Cargo Van is powered by a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6. With the same horsepower (154) as the previous generation's 2.7-liter and an increase in torque to 280 pound-feet, this Mercedes diesel palace purred quietly--so quietly, in fact, that I blipped the throttle a few times after startup to ensure the engine was running. Getting the Sprinter moving is neither a neck-breaker nor a record maker. It's a large van, so who expects to drag race with a turbodiesel? Humming along happily at 70-80 mph, the Sprinter kept pace with the anxious Vegas-bound traffic.
At a height of 107.5 inches and a length of 273.2, the van has a large profile, though climbing into the driver's seat wasn't as daunting as you'd think. The leather captain's chairs up front are comfortable, high perches and afford an excellent view of the road. Power plugs and storage compartments seem to occupy every available spot, so cell-phones and iPods were kept charged and safely stored.
Despite its exterior dimensions, driving the Lopes 55 was a breeze. My first concern about driving this Sprinter was body roll, but the 170-inch wheelbase provides plenty of stability, allowing cornering speeds and traffic maneuvers that belied its size. This made for easy navigation through Los Angeles traffic. With precise steering and strong brakes, I often found myself forgetting I was driving such a large van.
At 52.5 feet, the curb-to-curb turning circle is surprisingly tidy, paying homage to the Sprinter's early days and purpose as a delivery van for the narrow streets of Europe. On the broader boulevards of traffic-choked Los Angeles, maneuvering the Sprinter proved less stressful than originally anticipated. Backing out of parking spaces was also a breeze, thanks to the rearview camera, parking sensors, and large, far-reaching sideview mirrors. Who needs a rear window?
The Lopes 55 was built for carrying motorcycles and designed for those who ride. The low bed height makes loading the motorcycles almost a one-person job, as opposed to the headache of loading into an average-height truck bed. The cargo area, or Bat Cave, as we dubbed it, was sprayed with a slick liner that allows quick and easy cleanup; due to this easy-wipedown trait, however, the floor provides less traction than from the factory, and we found ourselves occasionally slipping in our sneakers.
Sportsmobile offers more tie-down points, cabinets for tools and spare parts, cubbies for helmets, and hangers for gear in the cargo area, but our tester didn't come equipped with these items--we could've used them.
Everything motorcycle-related stayed in the Bat Cave, as well as our industrial-size cooler with all the track-day grub. All luggage, laptops, and photo gear were stashed in the main cabin. And, oh, what a cabin it is! The Lopes 55 is laid out to sleep three or seat five. A bench seat running the length of the cabin converts to a full-size bed, though you do risk crunching fingers when opening it. This came in very handy during our weekend-long track day, as it allowed for instant pit lane access in the morning and created a dream commute. At the rear, a single bed spans the width of the van, providing ideal sleeping room for anyone under five feet tall. We used it to store our luggage.
As it turns out, The Lopes 55 is the ideal track-day support vehicle. We parked it in the pit lane, assembled the pullout awning, and set up EZ-ups to shade our large crew. We rolled out the barbecue (provided by other pit-crew members) and the coals were hot for grilling in no time. Folding chairs and even a hammock were quickly set up and occupied. Suddenly the Lopes 55 was the center of pit-lane activity. Equipped with a sink, small fridge, and microwave, this Sprinter supported the pit crew with chilled snacks and beverages.
The van offered other popular pit-stop amenities such as the air compressor with various fittings for airing up tires, and the shower hose in the Bat Cave, allowing for midday cooldowns and end-of-day cleanups. Ours was truly the coolest pit-lane setup at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Admittedly, the Sprinter is no supermodel. You don't buy this vehicle to enhance your image, but you'd never know it by the attention it garners. In the pit lane and at truck stops alike, we got numerous inquiries, including two very serious offers to purchase it.
Instead of cashing in, we gave full tours of the cab and Bat Cave, sending folks walking away with thoughts of converting to a more mobile lifestyle. The track rats were especially intrigued by the vehicle's versatility, and I'm confident we helped lead them to a purchase of a Sportsmobile Sprinter Lopes 55, or at least planted that seed of interest.
Heck, after such a thoroughly enjoyable weekend made possible by all the Lopes 55's amenities, I might consider it myself.