The dodge sprinter, first arriving on our shores as a 2003 model, is anything but a traditional Mopar mover. Designed and built by Mercedes-Benz -- remember the DaimlerChrysler partnership? -- the Sprinter replaced the hoary Dodge Van as the company's dedicated people- and stuff-hauler.
Beyond the general layout -- engine in the front, rear-wheel driven, generally boxy shape -- the Sprinter shares nothing more than the crossbar grille with the previous Dodges. In the European delivery-van idiom, the Sprinter is a familiar face: tall, narrow, long, and just powerful enough to keep ahead of the M-B diesel taxis and scooters driven by Kraftwerk-adoring teens.
When Dodge brought the Sprinter over here, it included most of the variations -- high and low roof plus three combinations of wheelbase and overall length, seating from eight to 10 in the passenger versions. Where the old Dodge Cargo Van came in one wheelbase (127.4 inches) and two lengths (208.5 inches and 234.5, by way of a cheesy "end cap" between the body shell and the bumper), the Sprinter could be purchased with a 118-inch wheelbase (197 inches long overall), a 140-inch wheelbase (225 inches long), or a 158-inch wheelbase model (at a whopping 263 inches long). Cargo and passenger layouts were available.
Regardless of what's behind and above the driver, for these years of the Sprinter, the engine ahead of his right kneecap would always be Mercedes-Benz's 2.7-liter inline-five turbodiesel driving a five-speed automatic transmission. Its 243 pound-feet of torque sounds good, but it puts out only a paltry 154 horsepower. Options? Sorry, no pushrod V-8, no all-wheel drive. If you've graduated from bellbottoms, glasspacks, and Don McLean, you realize a van doesn't have to be fast -- and the Sprinter isn't. But it does have the thrust to stay with traffic and rewards even a heavy foot with mileage in the mid-20s; a Cargo Van never did better than 14 mpg with the V-8, shuttle-bus driver or not.