What's New for 2008
2008 Dodge Sprinter passenger vans now come standard with seating for 12, regardless of vehicle length. A standard emergency exit window is now included, while a power-sliding side door has been added to the options list.
The union between Mercedes and Chrysler ended up being an unhappy marriage that recently ended in divorce, but Dodge at least got a decent chunk of alimony in the form of its 2008 Sprinter passenger van. Sure, a huge people-carrying shuttle may not seem like a prize worth coveting, but the Sprinter represents the lone modern offering in a segment that ceased any engineering innovation during the Nixon administration. While the Ford and GM competition have made continual updates over the years, the Sprinter was completely redesigned last year and represents a significant evolutionary step thanks to its Mercedes engineering and unique body styles.
The 2008 Dodge Sprinter passenger van's clear advantages are in the realms of cargo capacity, passenger space and comfort, available body configurations, and driving dynamics. It doesn't take long to realize how different the Sprinter is -- a mere glance will suffice. Its sloping front end, long wheelbases and two tall body styles give the impression that a strong breeze could make it tip over like a boozed-up co-ed. Yet it's actually just as wide as the GM and Ford models, but handles more like a midsize SUV than a plumber's van. Also, Mercedes says it engineered the stability control system to compensate for the taller center of gravity and shifting cargo loads.
A further examination of the Sprinter's dimensions reveals a standard wheelbase even longer than the Econoline's extended-wheelbase model, and at 273 inches, the largest Dodge Sprinter is almost 2.5 feet longer than the biggest GM van. The Sprinter is also the only full-size van to offer a choice of factory roof heights. The high roof option provides a cavernous 76.4 inches of interior height, allowing a 6-foot-3-inch person to walk around upright. To accomplish the same task, Econoline and Express/Savana passengers would have to be no taller than 4-foot-4. Those vans, therefore, require an aftermarket conversion if they are to be used as people-carrying shuttles.
A choice of two engines are available, with a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 standard. The diesel provides excellent fuel economy and ample torque for urban and suburban uses. An optional gasoline V6 (a $2,000 credit option) is preferable for more highway-going drivers or those who struggle to find a diesel pump. Neither engine provides the power of several GM and Ford power plants, nor are they capable of towing the same loads. The Sprinter tops out at 5,000 pounds, while its competitors can lug upwards of 10,000.
Overall, though, we think the 2008 Dodge Sprinter should be an appealing choice for many full-size van buyers. Despite being a little underpowered and pricey compared to V8-equipped GM and Ford vans, the Sprinter's multiple large body styles and quality construction make it an excellent choice in this segment. That price disparity is probably erased for those who would otherwise rely on an aftermarket outfitter to create a passenger shuttle.
With Chrysler and Mercedes no longer together, it's unknown how long the Benz-sourced and German-built Sprinter will wear its Dodge badge. For the time being, however, commercial customers and gigantic families should give this automotive alimony a chance.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Dodge Sprinter is a full-size van. There are three body styles available for the passenger version: one with the regular 144-inch wheelbase and the standard 65-inch roof; a regular-length Sprinter with a high roof (76.4 inches); and a long 170-inch-wheelbase model with a high roof. All Sprinters come standard with seating for 12 passengers in four rows (two/three/three/four), while models with the optional gasoline V6 can be equipped with seven-, nine- and 10-passenger configurations.
Standard equipment includes 16-inch steel wheels, full power accessories, folding wide-angle heated mirrors, a sliding passenger-side door, automatic climate control, a tilt-telescoping steering wheel, emergency exit window, cloth upholstery and a CD player.
The options list is longer than the actual van. It includes 16-inch alloy wheels, a power-sliding passenger door, bi-xenon headlamps, foglamps, headlamp washers, cruise control, parking assist, a rearview camera, a heated windshield, a rear air-conditioner and rear heater, a rear window washer/wiper, an auxiliary battery, upgraded front seats, heated front seats, steering-wheel audio controls, front and/or rear power sunroofs, cell phone connectivity, a trip computer and a six-CD changer.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2008 Sprinter comes standard with a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 making 154 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. It gets fuel economy in the mid-20s, which is dramatically better than its competition. An optional 3.5-liter gasoline V6 produces 254 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque. Both engines come standard with a five-speed automatic with an automanual mode. Properly equipped, the passenger version of the Sprinter can tow 5,000 pounds, and a regular-wheelbase model has a maximum payload of 2,937 pounds.
All 2008 Dodge Sprinters come standard with stability control, traction control and antilock disc brakes. The Sprinter's stability control system was calibrated to compensate for shifting cargo loads and the vehicle's tall center of gravity. Optional safety equipment includes front-seat side and head curtain airbags, front and rear parking sensors and a rear parking camera.
Interior Design and Special Features
With the exception of the Dodge logo on its steering wheel, the Sprinter's interior is pretty much identical to the Mercedes-Benz version sold elsewhere in the world. Build quality is, therefore, far better than anything else in this class and actually superior to most other Dodge vehicles. Four front seat styles with multiple adjustments ensure decent comfort, and overall ergonomics give the impression of driving an SUV instead of a gigantic van. The old Sprinter's city bus steering column has been thankfully replaced with a new tilt/telescoping setup.
Thanks to its 51-inch sliding door opening and class-leading 20-inch step-up height, getting in and out of the three possible rows is easy. Once inside, the high roof option and its 6-foot-4-inch cabin height makes the Sprinter an ideal choice for passenger shuttles. With seemingly more room inside than many New York City apartments, up to 12 occupants can be accommodated. Gasoline-powered Sprinters offer different configurations with fewer seats and expanded cargo capacity.
With its huge windshield and truncated front end, piloting the 2008 Dodge Sprinter feels pretty similar to being behind the wheel of a tour bus. And at up to 23 feet long and 9 feet high, it could be one, too. Thankfully, that feeling of bigness is dispelled by a reasonably carlike driving position and respectable handling. Quite simply, this is the easiest and least cumbersome full-size van to drive -- no surprise considering it was designed to navigate Europe's cramped streets. Around town, the turbodiesel engine offers more than enough power, and only when passing at highways speeds does it start to run out of steam. With its superior gas mileage and ample torque, we'd stick with the diesel engine over the optional gasoline power plant, even though the latter knocks about $2,000 off the sticker.