2013 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter: Adopting a ‘van-do’ attitude – Wheels.ca

29 Apr 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on 2013 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter: Adopting a ‘van-do’ attitude – Wheels.ca
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

2013 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter: Adopting a ‘van-do’ attitude

Posted on September 21st, 2012

A few years ago, I embarked on a family RV trip in a 32-ft. Class-C built on a Ford E-Series platform with a big gas-sucking V10.

While the camping bit was fun, the driving part was less than enjoyable. The noise, snail-like pace, instability and horrendous fuel economy were enough to turn me off RVing forever.

Yet, after driving a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter-based Class-C conversion by Winnebago, I might be persuaded into giving RVs another shot.

This second-generation Mercedes Sprinter commercial van (née Dodge Sprinter) has been with us since 2008. Because about 75 per cent of them are modified by aftermarket upfitters for both commercial and recreational purposes, Mercedes-Benz assembled a number of conversions for us to sample, ranging from a cherry-picker to a refrigerator truck to a full-blown luxury limo.

I snagged the Winnebago first and, like any proper RV experience, my driving partner and I got lost immediately.

Nonetheless, while trying to figure out our location by lining up the Sears Tower with a burned out ’74 Caprice, I immediately realized driving this 25-foot RV was a breeze. In fact, compared to my last RV experience, the Sprinter/Winnebago felt like a Ferrari. It was stable, nimble, had real steering feel, strong brakes, a tight turning circle and meaningful acceleration.

Granted, we’re not comparing apples to apples here. The admittedly more expensive Sprinter uses a sophisticated unibody construction versus the antiquated body-on-frame of the traditional Class-C — and 25-feet is about the maximum for the Sprinter platform. The old Detroit warhorses can handle up to another 10 feet of “RV-ness.”

Where the Sprinter really wins out is with its fuel economy. The turbocharged 3.0 L BlueTec diesel V6 puts out 188 hp, 325 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,400-2,400 r.p.m. and according to the Winnebago rep, can return almost double the fuel mileage of a comparable gas-powered C-Class RV.

If you’re looking for Canadian content, Roadtrek Motorhomes out of Kitchener, Ont. produces excellent Sprinter Class-B (van-style) conversions starting at $108,000.

The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van is available from the factory in two wheelbases, three body lengths, two load ratings (2,500 and 3,500), two roof heights and can be ordered as a passenger van, cargo van, crew van, minibus or just the cab on chassis. For 2013, the Sprinter gets standard comfort seats and an auxiliary audio input. Prices range from $42,900 for the base 144-inch cargo van to $56,100 for the 170-inch passenger van.

One of the more interesting conversions I got to drive through the streets of Chicago was an EMS ambulance built by North Carolina-based American Emergency Vehicles. Even at a hefty 4,100 kg, it drove much like the Winnebago — that is to say, smaller than it weighs and looks.

American Emergency Vehicles president Mark Van Arnam likes the Sprinter, not just for the fuel economy that can save an ambulance service thousands of dollars per year. “An ambulance is a high-risk vehicle, so handling is important. The safety features far exceed anything in the Chevy and Ford,” he says.

Iconic RV-maker Airstream, in business since 1931, brought their luxurious $140,000 Interstate conversion to the party. This long wheelbase eight-passenger sybaritic cocoon, fitted with kitchenette and bathroom, is designed for executive transport and the wealthy client whose RV experience doesn’t include the crass camping part. These folks typically use the Interstate to get from one five-star resort to the next.

Sixty per cent of Sprinters sold go to the construction segment (carpenters, plumbers, HVAC, etc.) and while this Euro-sophisticate costs about $10,000 more than it competitors, it cleaned up at Vincentric’s inaugural Best Fleet Value in Canada Awards, showing the lowest total cost of ownership when factoring in its fuel economy, long service intervals and high residual value. Still, the Sprinter grabs less than 10 per cent of the market.

So why is Mercedes suddenly flaunting the Sprinter to the press? Could be the impending arrival of Ford’s slick new 2014 Transit commercial van that gets both diesel and 3.5 L V6 EcoBoost power.

My favourite Sprinter conversion was the More Cupcakes van that Maria Ibarra drives around Chicago and from which she sells her scrumptious confections.

“I love driving this thing.”

I asked if she is ever the victim of road rage: “No. Nobody messes with a cupcake truck. Only the police sometimes.”

Maybe she should start selling doughnuts.

2013 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

BASE PRICE/AS TESTED . $42,900/$150,000+

ENGINE . 3.0 L turbodiesel V6

FUEL CONSUMPTION . N/A

POWER/TORQUE (hp/lb.ft.) . 188/325

COMPETITION . Nissan NV, Ford E-Series, Chevy Express, GMC Savana

WHAT’S BEST . fuel efficient; dynamics, ergonomics and safety a cut above

WHAT’S WORST . initial cost

WHAT’S INTERESTING . showed lowest total cost of ownership at inaugural Best Fleet Value in Canada Awards

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