Out the blocks

Out the blocks

The old adage reminds us that it’s ‘a marathon not a sprint’, but Mercedes seemingly begged to differ when they decided on the name for its long-serving van. Gary Squires sets out to try and debunk an old saying.
The last time I tested a Sprinter for Installer, it was a specially-adapted version that ran on natural gas (January 2010). It performed admirably, so I was keen to see how a more ‘traditional’ diesel model would measure up. Being a BlueEfficiency version, this Sprinter has a raft of features included that have been designed to make the van’s fuel economy and overall performance better – including a Stop/Start system and a speed limiter.
First impressions
There’s no denying that Mercedes’ vans look good – and, of course, part of the price reflects that. However, when you take into account that your van is often the first thing that customers see., a Sprinter would certainly create the right impression. The van plays an important part in advertising your business, so make it work for you.
The other notable thing about the Sprinter is the sheer size of it. Seeing it parked up at the kerb made me wonder how I was going to cope with it whileout and about on jobs- but the positive trade-off was that I knew I’d be able to fit all the clobber for the day’s (if not the week’s) jobs!
On the road
For a large van, it handled surprisingly well. It’s very capable of cornering with some momentum and, because of the firm steering and solid build quality, it generates a high level of confidence.
I found it quite surprising that this van had only 129bhp. It certainly felt like more because the van pulls along swiftly and smoothly without any effort or screams from the engine. I found that on the motorway, I was very quickly reaching the speed limit without really realising. ‘Fortunately’, this model had a speed limiter fitted so the fun stopped there.
Having a Mercedes Sprinter fitted with a speed limiter may seem a bit like being given a jam doughnut and being told you can’t eat the sugar – but from a safety and economy perspective, it’s probably essential to stop people getting carried away.
Keeping on the safety front, the brakes are superb. They are crisp and sharp without being too and bring the van to a quick, controlled stop from all speeds.
Because of its size, though, this isn’t the easiest van to park. It has a good steering lock, which helps, but the lack of reversing sensors or camera is a bit of an issue. Again, due to the size of the van, standard car park spaces are a challenge, but if you are choosing a van of this size, you probably need the space so will have to make sacrifices somewhere.
In terms of fuel economy, the on-board gauge was showing a fuel consumption of over 35mpg on the motorway, with a combined average of 33mpg and 30mpg around town. Perhaps down on the official figures but very impressive considering its size.
Inside story
Moving inside the cab, this was a very comfortable driving experience. Initially the seats felt a little hard when I first sat on them and there was no lumber support, but I got use to them very quickly and actually found them to be very good – to the extent, that I has no signs of back ache even after a 200 mile round trip.
The controls are all easy to use and it’s a very easy van to drive. Light but firm steering and a nice smooth gearbox, which helps to deliver the power efficiently to the wheels, ensure that there is plenty of performance combined with a good economy.
To make the driving experience even better, there is a good sound system (even at basic level) that is loud enough for music enthusiasts of all ages and can be easily controlled using the buttons located on the steering wheel. The built-in phone system is also easy to use, and the cruise control system has to be the simplest to operate that I have found so far.
The Sprinter has a very well laid-out cab, which has definitely been designed with the driver in mind. Everything is easy to use and reach, and there is so much storage space in the cab that you almost don’t need all the space in the back. There are cup and bottle holders everywhere and a storage area under the passenger seat, which is ideal for keeping laptops, etc out of sight. There is also an overhead shelf for additional storage (not that you could possibly need anymore).
In the rear compartment, there’s so much storage space in the back that I can’t think of much that you couldn’t fit in it. It seems like you could fit the entire stock of most plumbers’ merchants in there. Lengths of pipe are just swallowed up by the vast space, and it would be easy to fit all the materials needed to do a domestic central heating install inside in one go, minimising the number of trips needed to the merchant. Getting access into the back is also easy using the huge side door or the two rear doors, which open to 270°.
Overall impressions
There’s a whole range of things that I like about this van. It’s comfortable, easy to drive, quiet, solidly-built and has a great commanding driving position, which gives you a fantastic view of the road and hazards ahead. Despite its size, it’s nippy and returns a great mpg.
As well as a being a positive, though, there are drawbacks due to the van’s size. It’s not that easy to find a parking space – especially when relying on on-street parking –and car parks with any kind of height restriction are not an option.
Reversing is not as easy as it is with some other vans due mainly to the van’s size and lack of reversing sensors fitted to this test drive model. If buying one, I would definitely specify reversing sensors on my options list.
The Sprinter is not a cheap van at just under £22,000 plus VAT, but you definitely get what you pay for so if it’s within your budget, I’d be straight down the nearest dealer. It’s available in a range of sizes and specifications, so you should be able to find a model that suits your needs – it certainly won’t disappoint.