If there’s one place where the Sprinter let us down, it’s the engine. In most day-to-day situations, the 3.0-liter V-6 turbodiesel is sufficiently powerful to get the job done, but attack even the smallest incline and you feel the power disappear.
Even with the van loaded to a third of its maximum payload, extended hillclimbs, such as those on the way out of Los Angeles, had the Sprinter working hard to maintain freeway speeds with the pedal on the floor. Loaded to the hilt, the Sprinter’s 154 horses and 280 pound-feet of torque would’ve had us crawling with the big-rigs over every incline.
The Sprinter’s drivetrain is redeemed by its automatic transmission. The five-speed box never complained about shifting under heavy loads and offered the ability to shift gears manually, which came in handy on those hills and back roads. It also helps the Sprinter achieve impressive fuel economy. Though heavy-duty vehicles aren’t rated by the EPA, Dodge rates the Sprinter at 19.9 mpg average empty and 18.6 mpg average with a 1500-pound payload. While our payload was lighter, our lead feet more than compensated and we finished our trip averaging 16.9 mpg.
It’s worth noting that our Sprinter was no featherweight stripper model. Our 170-inch-wheelbase Sprinter started at $48,200 and, by the time all the goodies were added on, we were rolling in a $63,365 van. That’s within spitting distance of the starting price of a Lexus LS 460.
What did all that scratch buy? On top of the standard features, we picked up heated luxury bucket suspension seats up front ($370 each), front, side and side-curtain airbags, an alarm system, extra interior lamps, heated power mirrors, a heated windshield, rear window wipers and washers, bi-Xenon headlights, foglights, automatic headlights and wipers, an alarm, a first-aid kit, a more-powerful alternator, the auxiliary rear heater mounted on the roof, air-conditioning for the rear passengers, a premium instrument cluster, an upgraded stereo with six-CD changer and telephone connection, an upgraded steering wheel with stereo controls, and more. The extra insulation that comes with the auxiliary heater also tamped down road and engine noise and helped make the Sprinter a surprisingly comfortable place to spend several hours at a time.
While we were plenty happy with the seats, gauges, and steering wheel, we did have a few gripes with the cockpit area. Our Northern California drive ran five hours each way, not even a full eight-hour shift that a delivery driver might see. In that time, we were a bit miffed that Dodge couldn’t find anywhere to place a cupholder that didn’t require a long stretch, which can be disconcerting when piloting a vehicle this size at freeway speeds.
Further, while the six-disc changer was nice, this is 2009. The stereo had a built-in telephone connection, but an auxiliary jack, USB jack, or even satellite radio were apparently too much to ask. It’s a common trend that delivery vehicles are saddled with basic stereos, and that’s a shame for the people who spend their entire work day behind the wheel.