Whether it’s people or gear, if you need to haul a lot of it, your choices are limited to smaller vans that don’t haul enough, SUVs that may not offer adequate cargo volume, or buses and moving vans that are just plain overkill. There exists a happy medium, though, and it’s called the Dodge Sprinter.
Ignoring the fact that the Sprinter is anything but, the van is perhaps one of the best byproducts of the ill-fated DaimlerChrysler merger. The Mercedes-Benz-turned-Dodge offers far more cargo capacity than Chevrolet’s Express or Ford’s E-350, and that’s just what we needed for our annual trip to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for our Best Driver’s Car comparison.
When you have to haul seven sets of wheels and tires, two coolers, several boxes of test equipment including scales, weights, food and refreshments, a ladder, photo and video gear, personal gear, and even a scooter, you require a large vehicle. For us, it was actually a 2009 Dodge Sprinter 2500 Passenger Van with rear seats removed. This netted us windows all the way around, so we had to keep our load spread out across the entire passenger/cargo area to prevent it from shifting and breaking the glass.
Keeping the load low in the van also offered the benefit of keeping the center of gravity low, which allowed for more spirited driving even under load. The Sprinter is, of course, no sports car, so sticking with a convoy of them quickly became a lost cause when we turned off the freeway and onto the backroads of Central California.
While on those backroads, though, the Sprinter was no nap-inducer. The combination of a live rear axle, an independent front suspension, the Adaptive Electronic Stability Program, the Electronic Roll Mitigation Program, and the Load Adaptive Control system all worked together beautifully to provide a compliant ride and handling that could even be characterized as sporty, especially for a large van. Though loaded with over 1000 pounds in gear, the Sprinter was surprisingly fun to drive on twisty roads and inspired a great deal of confidence in the chassis and the grip. The steering felt nicely weighted, even if it didn’t translate all that much information from the front tires. Visibility all around is excellent.