What is it? Mercedes revolutionized the big van segment when it introduced the Sprinter to our shores more than a decade ago. Before that there were just “full-size” vans like the Ford Econoline, Chevrolet Express and the Dodge Ram Van. Now there are Sprinter-sized behemoths like Ram Promasters, Ford Transits and a host of smaller commercial vehicles. So to stay ahead of the curve, Mercedes is adding a 4×4 option to its giant Sprinter, thus creating the ultimate post-apocalyptic zombie-avoidance vehicle.
Sure, the old 4×2 drivetrain was pretty good, and that’s still available, in all its 4×2 glory. But to get places you never thought you could go in something this big, the 4×4 will expand your delivery route considerably.
While the 4×2 Sprinter comes with either a 161-hp four cylinder or a 188-hp V6, the 4×4 gets only the V6. But it’s a good V6, with 325 lb-ft of torque and a nice, smooth five-speed automatic.
What’s it like to drive? To show us just how far you can get with the extra driveshaft, the Mercedes truck people took us to the Monashee Mountains of British Columbia, halfway between the Cariboos and the Bugaboos, on a line midway between Vancouver and Calgary. In a place like that in winter, they assumed there’d be snow. But while we could see snow on the peaks around us, below our Bridgestone Blizzak W965s there was just mud.
That was fine, since mud works just as well as snow as a low-mu test surface. Did it work? Did the Sprinter 4×4 conquer all in its path? Mostly, yes.
We drove only cargo vans, some with windows, some without, none with any insulation inside. That meant listening to some reverberating sheetmetal as we drove down paved roads, but commercial drivers can handle that. If you want to redo the interior, go ahead; 70 percent of Sprinters are upfitted after sale. We recommend Sportsmobile of Fresno, Calif. They’ll build you a van so comfortable you’ll move into it and sell your house. Seating, forward visibility and steering was perfectly comfortable. Rear visibility in the panel vans was very tough. If you own a business and are buying a fleet of these, get the optional rearview camera; it’s terrible, but it’s better than having your drivers park by sound.
The 4×4 gets an extra 4.3 inches of lift in the front and 3.1 in the rear. The 4WD engages via a dash-mounted button that sends 35 percent of traction to the front axle. The low range option adds a 40 percent lower crawl ratio. The shortcoming is that whole drivetrain runs through open diffs front and rear. But Mercedes counters that with traction control that grabs the brakes of the slipping wheel to send traction to the tire getting the grip. This works well up until you’re in really steep, deep mud, whereupon (for our convoy, anyway) a Mercedes guy with a shovel appears and digs you out. That happened to another Sprinter 4×4 in our column and not to us, but it might have just showed that a snow tire isn’t necessarily a mud tire.
Do I want it? You can juggle facts, figures and internal stand-up height measurements all day long, especially when comparing commercial trucks with so many configurations. Both the Ford Transit and the Ram Promaster list starting prices of under 30 grand, but neither offer 4×4 drivetrains. For the $6,500 more the 4×4 costs over the $36,990 base 4×2 Sprinter, the added confidence you’ll feel in snow or mud may be worth it. Heck, you might as well throw in another $300 for the optional low range and drive out the showroom doors with all wheels spinning for $43,790.
The biggest selling points for the Sprinter, which is true of both 4×4 and 4×2 drivetrains, are its size and versatility. Mercedes says it offers two wheelbases, three body lengths, two cargo area heights, three Gross Vehicle Weight classes, cargo volume up to 547 cu. ft., payload up 5,415 pounds, cargo area height of up to 6 feet 6 inches, loading length up to 185 inches, towing capacity up to 7,500 pounds and a tongue weight of up to 750 pounds. And that’s before the 50 or so aftermarket upfitters get ahold of it. We’d say to get the optional backup camera, too, even though it’s maybe the worst backup camera ever made in terms of actually seeing what you’re backing up over.
But yes, Sprinter 4×4 = good.
The problem is that it’s already sold out through September. So unless you’ve already ordered it, you won’t get yours until Halloween. Trick or treat!