What's New for 2006
Minor additions this year include a rear park-assist feature, headlamp washers and wiring for hands-free cell-phone use.
On sale at Dodge dealerships since 2003, the Dodge Sprinter is actually a rebadged version of a Mercedes-Benz van built in Germany. By tapping into the resources of parent DaimlerChrysler, Dodge has come up with an alternative to the more traditional passenger vans from Ford and General Motors. Compared to these vans, the Sprinter is much more focused on passenger comfort, ease of use and driving dynamics. It's available in a comprehensive selection of configurations that makes it easy to meet specific needs. Not much flash or prestige can be expected of such a boxy van, of course, but the upright and narrow styling endows the Sprinter with near-flat interior sidewalls, a huge cargo capacity, easy urban maneuverability and plenty of flexibility. In addition to a selection of wheelbase lengths, the Sprinter is available with a choice of two roof heights. High-roof models make it possible for owners to stand up inside their vans when loading or unloading passengers or equipment. Families interested in converting their van into a camping vehicle will find this aspect of the Sprinter appealing as well.
The Sprinter's diesel engine is its weakest aspect. With just 154 horsepower available, the Sprinter's acceleration is rather meek at highway speeds, more so when the van is heavily loaded. Additionally, towing and hauling abilities are not as robust as those provided by the Sprinter's competitors. Maximum towing capacity tops out at just 5,000 pounds. In comparison, the V8-powered Chevrolet Express and Ford Econoline can tow anywhere between 6,000 and 10,000 pounds. The only bright spot here is fuel economy. Combined driving should result in about a 25-mpg average, significantly higher than that of the domestic V8s. Overall, we think large families or businesses in need of a passenger van should certainly consider the 2006 Dodge Sprinter. Its strengths certainly outweigh its weaknesses, particularly for buyers who require maximum interior space.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The Dodge Sprinter is a full-size van. For the passenger version, only the 2500 style is available. (A heavy-duty 3500 is offered for the Sprinter cargo van.) The 2500 has a wheelbase measuring either 118, 140 or 158 inches. Additionally, there is a high-roof version. The extended roof height provides additional capacity and allows an average-height person to stand up inside the van. Standard equipment is limited to the bare necessities. A comprehensive range of options is available that allow buyers to fully customize the Sprinter to their needs. Highlights include aluminum wheels, upgraded heating and cooling, a sunroof, heated windshield, rear park assist, sliding rear windows, upgraded seats, cruise control, an alarm system, a CD player and power windows, mirrors and locks.
Powertrains and Performance
An inline, five-cylinder 2.7-liter turbodiesel engine powers all Sprinters. It's rated at 154 hp and 243 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard and sends power to the rear wheels. Extended maintenance intervals and an estimated average 25 mpg help reduce overall operating expenses. Properly equipped, the Sprinter can tow 5,000 pounds.
The Dodge Sprinter comes with standard four-wheel antilock disc brakes, traction control and stability control. Neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has crash tested this vehicle.
Interior Design and Special Features
Though far from luxurious, interior accommodations are certainly adequate and businesslike. Filled to capacity, the Sprinter can accommodate 10 people. Fit and finish is up to typical Mercedes-Benz standards. Multiple seat adjustments ensure decent comfort, and overall ergonomics give the impression of driving a regular passenger car instead of a hulking van. Some will find the lack of tilt steering to be an annoyance. Storage cubbies abound, but don't expect to put a super-mega-size drink in any of the cupholders. Photos may make the Sprinter look diminutive, but do not be deceived -- it offers up to 473 cubic feet of interior capacity depending on wheelbase and roof height. The Ford E-350 Extended Van offers a comparatively paltry 308 cubic feet. The Sprinter's rear cargo doors open up to a helpful maximum of 270 degrees.
While far from nimble, the Sprinter handles more like a midsize SUV and is better than any other van in the full-size class. The ride is also surprisingly smooth, and the Sprinter's turning circle is smaller than those of other full-size vans. In spite of the engine's low horsepower rating, its generous torque and minimal turbo lag result in adequate acceleration at low speeds. Highway passing ability is not as impressive.