If you've been paying attention to the full-size van market, you know a battle is brewing. Ram's ProMaster is coming soon, as is the Ford Transit. Yet the Sprinter, the van that made the look and attitude of the segment more Eurocentric when it first went on sale, seemed to plug along for the last few years without many changes. But Mercedes was well aware of the upcoming competition, and has made changes for 2014.

The most notable change for the new van is the addition of a second engine. This is the first time the Sprinter will be available with a choice of turbodiesels. The new one is Mercedes' 2.1-liter four, an engine we recently tested in the company's GLK250 BlueTec 4Matic. The engine uses a diesel particulate filter, SCR catalyst, and AdBlue diesel exhaust fluid that's injected into the exhaust system to ensure clean emissions. Part of the reason Mercedes chose to put the smaller turbodiesel in the van is to offer a more fuel-efficient option for fleet buyers. Mercedes made other improvements to increase fuel efficiency in the Sprinter. To reduce friction, Mercedes engineers modified the rear axle and used a new engine oil for the same purpose. The hydraulic power steering pump is only used when needed, instead of running all the time. The base MSRP is expected to be lower with the four, and the fuel economy will be better than with the V-6, so cost of ownership will be lower than in 2013.

In the small sport/utility, the engine output is 200 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque; in the van, the engine has been tuned to put out 161 hp and 265 lb-ft at 1400 rpm.

The little vehicle gets the more powerful version of the engine? While it does seem odd that the four has been detuned that much, Mercedes did it for a couple of reasons. First, to ensure the durability and reliability of the van, the engineers opted to reduce power output. We figure another reason is that offering a four-cylinder with more torque than the optional V-6—with 188 hp and 325 lb-ft—would've been a little awkward to explain at the dealership. After all, pricing of the four-cylinder diesel is said to be lower than with the V-6—why would someone spend more on a less-powerful engine?

As in the GLK, the new Sprinter engine is backed by a seven-speed automatic transmission, but unlike the GLK, the van uses an actual shifter on the center stack, not a stalk on the steering column. The V-6 continues to be backed by a five-speed automatic, even though we hear the V-6 is also backed by the seven-speed in Europe.

Rumor has it the reason the V-6 didn't get upgraded with the new trans is the company didn't want to deal with getting it approved by the EPA, especially considering Mercedes would be spending money to get use of the transmission approved behind an unchanged engine. Maybe that change will come with a mid-cycle refresh.

Despite our initial skepticism when looking at the small displacement and relatively low horsepower of the four-cylinder engine, we found that, for most people, the 2.1-liter will suffice. On our drive, Mercedes had all the vans already set up with payload in the back. The model we drove was a Crew Van, with pallets of sinks tied down in back. Considering the majority of Sprinters are upfitted for fleet use (according to Mercedes, about 75 percent of them) and often for delivery service, the four will be plenty of engine for delivery companies. This engine is quick enough around town, and we only really felt its limitations on grades and during hard acceleration. We doubt anyone who gets a Sprinter-based RV will have the option of one with the four; we also expect that those who will often drive the passenger van filled with people will opt for the V-6. There was more engine noise in this application than in the GLK, and we're sure more sound-deadening material was used in the GLK than in a cargo van. The ride is comfortable, there were no noticeable squeaks or rattles, and the steering is accurate. Braking feels firm and confident.

While the van's new styling isn't as dramatic a change as going from the Ford E-Series to the upcoming Transit, there are definite differences in appearance, more noticeable in the cabin than on the body. The front end has been redesigned, but keeps trademark features such as the oversize three-pointed star in the grille and the step in the front bumper that allows you to reach the windshield and the engine bay. The redesigned grille is now more vertical, and was redesigned to allow more airflow. The headlights also were redesigned, and now use daytime running lights. A subtle change is that the badge font is different. Inside are plenty of new features, such as navigation, backup camera, new seat fabric, new center stack design, and a new steering wheel. The cabin still looks like that of a van, but it more resembles a Mercedes interior than before.

A telling part of our drive in the Sprinter was a test of its many available safety features. There are systems that help with dealing with blind spots, holding the current lane, collision prevention assist, and many more—this van offers the most safety features of any full-size van on the market—but one of the most impressive demonstrations was of Crosswind Assist. This system won't be available at launch, but should arrive later in 2014. Anyone who has driven a high-profile van through a nasty crosswind, or has felt the vehicle move when passing a big-rig, knows it can be tough to keep it in the lane. Crosswind Assist automatically intervenes above 50 mph, using stability control to brake individual wheels on the side of the vehicle that's facing the wind. The system is smooth and incredibly effective.

Mercedes-Benz may not have made the van look dramatically different for 2014, but the van is ready for the upcoming competition. We'll have a better idea of how the Sprinter fares after we drive the ProMaster and Transit. The 2014 Sprinter goes on sale this September. Cost hasn't been announced, but for Sprinters powered by the four, pricing will be lower than it was last year.


2014 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 Crew Van
BASE PRICE TBD
PRICE AS TESTED TBD
LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD, 5-pass, 3-door van
ENGINE 2.1L/161-hp/265-lb-ft twin-turbodiesel DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 7-speed automatic
WHEELBASE 144.3 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 232.5 x 79.7 x 96.3 in
CURB WEIGHT 5390 lb (est)
GVWR 8550 lb (est)
PAYLOAD CAPACITY 3160 lb (est)
TOWING CAPACITY 3500 lb (est)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON Not rated
CO2 EMISSIONS N/A
ON SALE IN U.S. September 2013
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