Luxurious touches for Mercedes-Benz blue collar worker
LASHINGS of luxury have been added to Mercedes-Benz's workhorse van range.
Sprinter vans now come with a flashy touchscreen and digital driver instruments which can be controlled via steering wheel mounted controls.
Improved safety has also improved with the option of the latest life-saving technology - including radar cruise control, rear cross traffic alert and active lane keeping assist which autonomously stops the vehicle straying outside the lines.
Power has been bolstered across the four-cylinder and V6 turbo diesel engine line-up with the addition of front-wheel drive variants, complementing rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive options.
Prices have increased in line with the improved equipment, rising $3000-$5000 depending on model - where there is an array of options. Mercedes says 1700 different Sprinter variants are available when you combine body types, drive configurations, cab designs, body lengths, tonnages and load compartment heights.
That's more than outgoing model, but the primary goal of this latest iteration is to bring passenger-car comfort and convenience to vans.
Sprinter is Mercedes' fourth most popular model in Australia, only trailing the C-Class, GLC SUV and compact A-Class.
"It can be transporting cement, fresh produce all the way through to VIP transportation for events or a high-end motorhome. It has really broad scope so it needs to be multi-talented,” Mercedes-Benz's Blake Vincent said.
"It works off a building block principle...we have a lot of customisation and it can be tailored to a specific customer's needs.
"We have more flexibility than we have ever had.”
Launching from this week, the range won't be complete until next year with the 12-seater minibus due in the second quarter while all-wheel drive models will land about June. There will also be a tractor-head option, which enables motorhome builders to attach the front end to bespoke bodies.
Look at the skin and the Sprinter maintains traditional proportions - minor changes have been made to the grille, headlamps and bonnet.
The rear-wheel drives have an identical load area to enable seamless upgrades. They are available in mid, long and extra long wheelbase.
Front-wheelers, only available with four-cylinder engines in short and mid wheelbase, come with a 50kg additional payload and a 80mm lower loading sill.
Despite the Sprinter's length and breadth, they're a simple vehicle to drive.
Safety additions become vital tools in traffic, enabling confident lane changes, while the optional cameras offer impressive all-round vision - an exercise involving a completely blacked out cabin proved their value in confined spaces.
Sampling the mid-spec four-cylinder and the V6, both proved solid but it's the latter which is the choice for those wanting more serious punch (that's also the donk used by the nation's ambulances). While six-speed manual transmissions are available, automatics account for about 98 per cent of sales.
Steering is light while the new infotainment system is simple to navigate once you have your bearings and steering wheel touchpads mastered.
While Mercedes has brought passenger car luxuries to the segment, there are various storage spots and a lot of hard-wearing plastics throughout the cabin. It's designed for long haul hardiness, not first-class.
Servicing packages are available in three tiers - basic, select and complete - and are claimed to be at least 20 per cent cheaper than pay as you go options. Intervals are long at 40,000km or annual.
Warranty coverage is on par with the industry, three years or 200,000km with roadside assist for the same period, only trumped by the Ford Transit which is five years and unlimited travel.
Vans have often been overlooked in the past for the latest safety gear, but for the first time Sprinter comes with active brake assist and attention assist. Former options like lane keeping assist, blind spot warning, reverse camera, four airbags and cross-wind assist are also now standard.
Blind spot and reverse camera are not available on cab-chassis models.
Upping the ante are a range of new options, including a 360-degree camera with parking package ($1232), active lane keeping assist which can autonomously steer between road lines ($554), parking package ($792), traffic sign assist to keep a constant eye on speed limits ($385) and radar cruise control ($1067) that always maintains a safe distance when tailing other vehicles.
Embedded within the Sprinter is Mercedes' billion dollar baby.
Significant investment was required to deliver the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX).
It's like Siri or Google Home for your car.
Making its debut on the just-released A-Class, there is a central seven-inch touchscreen (optional 10.25) and a digital display for the driver which sits between the speedo and tachometer.
On the touchscreen, you can press, hold, drag, zoom, pinch and swipe like you would on a smart device.
On the steering wheel are two touch pads which offer the same functionality as the touchscreen, on the left you can also control the main screen, while the one on the right dictates what is seen in the driver's binnacle.
"We want them to be able to do everything without taking their hands off the steering wheel,” MBUX expert Nathan Robinson said.
It can personalise and house up to 10 profiles - learning the driver's preferences in terms of satnav destinations, music, contacts and even the seat position (if you have electric seats).
"It's intuitive enough down to the time and day what you might like to be listening to,” Robinson said.
One function expected to be available next year is Mercedes Pro, which will enable position tracking and full vehicle analysis.
Fleet managers will be able to access driver logs, have real time data on vehicle condition and know exactly when servicing is required in real time.
Raising the bar in the van segment, it's impressive that these workhorses have more advanced infotainment systems than most other Mercedes-Benz vehicles. Safety improvements are vital and many of the options should be on the shopping list of fleet buyers. The segment leader maintains a winning formula to rival Winx.
AT A GLANCE
PRICE $41,238-$71,880 plus on-roads.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING 3yr 200,000km w'ty with roadside assist for same period, servicing annual or 40,000km, capped price servicing packages available.
ENGINES 3.0 litre 6-cyl 140kW/440Nm RWD and AWD; 2.1-litre 4-cyl 84kW/300Nm FWD, 105kW/330Nm or 120kW/360Nm FWD and AWD. FWD options are 84kW or 105kW and a motorhome segment exclusive 130kW.
TRANSMISSION Six-speed manual, seven-speed automatic or optional nine-speed automatic.
SPARE Full size.
CARGO 17 cubic metres, payload 1720kg-2929kg, gross vehicle mass 3550kg-5000kg.