What's New for 2009
The big news for the 2009 Dodge Sprinter passenger van is that the 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 is now the only available engine -- last year's optional 3.5-liter gasoline V6 is no longer offered. Otherwise, the Sprinter sees only minor changes for 2009.
Time moves slowly in the passenger-van segment. There are only three players in this game, and two of them -- the Chevy Express/GMC Savana twins and the Ford Econoline -- were last redesigned during the Clinton years. While these aging behemoths have been updated on an ongoing basis, it's hard to disguise underpinnings that date to 1992 (the Ford) or 1996 (the GM duo). The Dodge Sprinter, on the other hand, is a relative neophyte, having received a full redesign for the 2007 model year.
If the Sprinter were aimed squarely at the American stalwarts, then its up-to-date design would make it a slam-dunk choice. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. The Dodge is actually a rebranded Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, which is designed for European needs. Accordingly, the Sprinter is far more maneuverable and fuel-efficient than its American rivals -- but its turbodiesel V6 lacks the grunt of a good old-fashioned V8 or V10, and its narrow-looking body may seem odd to American drivers.
That narrow appearance is deceiving, however, as the Sprinter is actually just as wide as its Ford and GM competitors. It only looks narrow because it's longer and taller than other full-size vans. Indeed, the Sprinter's standard 144-inch wheelbase is even longer than the Econoline's optional extended wheelbase, while the available 170-inch wheelbase dwarfs what Ford and GM have to offer. The Sprinter is also the only full-size van to offer a choice of factory roof heights, with the high-roof option allowing a 6-foot-3-inch person to stand upright. The Econoline and Express/Savana roofs are about 2 feet shorter, so if you want to match the Sprinter in this regard, you'll have to go to the aftermarket or befriend pygmies.
The Sprinter's optional gasoline V6 has been dropped for 2009, leaving the 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 as the only available engine. This power plant offers superior fuel economy along with adequate torque for most around-town uses, though it's frankly dwarfed by the output of several Ford and GM engines. If you need to tow heavy objects with your passenger van, the Sprinter's not the best choice -- its towing capacity tops out at 5,000 pounds, while its rivals can lug upwards of 10,000.
The 2009 Dodge Sprinter's vices are clear: It's pricey to start, and it doesn't offer class-leading power. But we think its many virtues are compelling for most shoppers in this segment. The Sprinter boasts class-leading handling/maneuverability and fuel economy in a modern design, and its people-hauling capabilities are likewise second to none. If you need a full-size passenger van and know you won't have to tow more than around 5,000 pounds -- and you don't mind the price -- this is the way to go.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Dodge Sprinter is a full-size passenger van. There are three available body styles: one with the regular 144-inch wheelbase and the standard 65-inch roof, one with the regular wheelbase and a high roof (76.4 inches), and one with an extended 170-inch wheelbase and a high roof. All Sprinters come standard with seating for 12 passengers in four rows (two/three/three/four).
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, an emergency-exit window, cloth upholstery and a CD player with MP3 capability.
The options list includes 16-inch alloy wheels, a power-sliding passenger door, bi-xenon headlamps, foglamps, headlamp washers, cruise control, front and rear park assist, a heated windshield, a rear air-conditioner and heater, a rear window washer/wiper, an auxiliary battery, upgraded front seats, heated front seats, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, front and/or rear power sunroofs (on the standard-height roof only) and a six-CD changer.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2009 Sprinter is powered by a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 that generates 154 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. This engine is capable of fuel economy in the mid-20s, which is dramatically better than that of the competition. The only available transmission is a five-speed automatic with an automanual mode. Properly equipped, the Sprinter can tow 5,000 pounds, and the regular-wheelbase model has a maximum payload of 2,937 pounds.
All 2009 Dodge Sprinters come standard with antilock disc brakes and stability control. 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
Other than the Dodge logo on the steering wheel, the Sprinter's interior is pretty much identical to that of the Mercedes-Benz version sold around the world. Build quality is notably better than in other full-size vans, not to mention most other Dodge products. A tilt/telescoping steering column and four different front-seat styles with multiple adjustments ensure ample comfort, while the Sprinter's modern control layout makes it feel more like a midsize SUV than a utilitarian van. Thanks to its 51-inch sliding-door opening and class-leading 20-inch step-up height, the Sprinter makes entering and exiting the passenger area a cinch. Inside, the high-roof option and the 6-foot-3-inch cabin height make the Sprinter the ideal choice for passenger shuttles.
With its huge windshield and truncated front end, the 2009 Dodge Sprinter does a pretty fair impression of a tour bus from behind the wheel. And at up to 23 feet long and 9 feet high, it could be one, too. But a reasonably carlike driving position and respectable handling help make the Sprinter feel manageable around town. Quite simply, this is the easiest and least cumbersome full-size van to drive. Around town, the turbodiesel engine offers satisfactory thrust -- it's only on the highway that its power deficit becomes glaringly apparent.