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.