What's New for 2011
For 2011, the Cargo Van variant of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter can be had with a rear bench seat, thus becoming the Crew Van. The new Minibus version is slightly longer than the Passenger Van and has more seats.
"A Mercedes-Benz full-size van? What, are we made of money? Are you going to suggest a Louis Vuitton work belt next? How about a Gucci hard hat?"
Yes, the idea of buying a 2011 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter might seem a little nutty for your cargo-hauling or people-moving needs, and, yes, it is more expensive than full-size vans from Ford and GM. However, only two years ago, this van was known as the Dodge Sprinter -- the last vestige of the ill-fated DaimlerChrysler -- and for the most part, it's the same excellent vehicle. At the time, the Dodge Sprinter was well worth its price premium, but now the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter carries a price premium that's $4,000 more than before, so apparently a big three-pointed star is worth more than a chrome Ram's head.
Despite being constructed of better materials and to a higher standard than its American competition (though nowhere close to its fellow Benzes), the Sprinter has a number of other notable advantages. For one, it's absolutely cavernous thanks to its minibus dimensions and space-efficient design. The load floor is the lowest among full-size vans and yet someone 6-foot-3 can walk around upright within its rear compartment (the max height in a Ford E-Series is 4-foot-3). In its largest configuration, the Sprinter cargo van has a maximum storage capacity of 547 cubic feet; the most a Chevy Express can muster is 237.3.
Since the Sprinter is bigger and taller than everything else, driving it around must be only slightly less cumbersome than an 18-wheeler, right? Actually, the Sprinter's modern chassis design makes it far more maneuverable around town than the full-size Detroit-branded vans. In fact, driving the Sprinter feels pretty normal except for its colossal windshield and short front end.
Thanks to its turbocharged diesel engine, the Sprinter also has a fuel economy advantage over its competition. This engine now makes more power as a Mercedes than it did as a Dodge, and it also features Mercedes Bluetec technology, meaning it burns just as clean as a gasoline engine. While the Sprinter's diesel V6 offers torque output that's similar to smaller V8s from rivals, horsepower is way down. Certainly no one would ever describe the Sprinter as anything other than slow (surely the Sprinter name is meant to be ironic). As such, the Sprinter is best-suited for an urban or suburban environment rather than the highway.
Should you find the Mercedes-Benz badge too pretentious, the Sprinter is also sold as a Freightliner with almost identical specifications. Unfortunately, it also comes with an almost identical price tag, which is certainly its biggest drawback. Though superior in most ways to its ancient competitors from Ford and GM, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter's added cost might be hard to justify. That's a shame, though you could always try to find a used Dodge version instead.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is a full-size van available in multiple configurations, each available with two wheelbases and two roof heights. The Cargo Van has only two front seats matched with an empty cargo bay, while the Crew Van is essentially a Cargo Van with a three-place rear bench seat. The Passenger Van features four rows of seats good for 12 people, while the larger MiniBus adds an additional seating row for a grand total of 15 people. The Cargo Van is also available in a 3500 configuration (versus the standard 2500), which ups its payload capacity.
Standard equipment on the Cargo Van includes 16-inch steel wheels, right-side sliding door, wood cargo floor, 270-degree-opening rear doors, air-conditioning, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a two-speaker radio. The Crew Van is identically equipped save for its second-row bench seat and added adjacent side windows. The Passenger Van is equipped similarly, but features three rear seat rows, rear interior trim, tinted rear windows and rear speakers. The new, stretched-wheelbase MiniBus version has additional seats available in a number of different configurations, plus an electric dual-panel passenger side door.
The options list for each is lengthy, but highlights include 16-inch alloy wheels, a driver-side sliding rear door, parking sensors, a rearview camera, bi-xenon headlights, headlight washers, automatic headlights and wipers, a heated windshield, heated power mirrors, foglamps, cruise control, upgraded front seats and an upgraded stereo. The Cargo and Crew Vans can be equipped with driver-compartment bulkheads, a roof fan, a fixed rear sunroof and roof rack mounting rails. The Passenger Van and MiniBus can be equipped with a rear heater, rear air-conditioning and rear windshield wipers. Many of these optional items are available within packages as well.
Powertrains and Performance
Every 2011 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is rear-wheel drive. The turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel V6 features Bluetec exhaust-scrubbing technology and produces 188 horsepower and a robust 325 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard. There are no EPA fuel economy estimates available, but given its engine, expect significantly better gas mileage than that of the Sprinter's Ford and GM competitors.
Every 2011 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter comes standard with stability and traction control, and front airbags. Optional are a driver side airbag, driver and front passenger side airbags packaged together, front side curtain airbags, parking sensors, a back-up alarm and a rearview camera.
Interior Design and Special Features
Despite its Mercedes-Benz badge, don't expect wood trim, leather upholstery or the latest high-tech gizmos inside the Sprinter. At the same time, build quality is notably better than in other full-size vans, and the Sprinter generally also has a more modern feel. A tilt-and-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 and class-leading 20-inch step-in height, the Sprinter makes entering and exiting the passenger area a cinch. Inside, the high-roof option and its 6-foot-4-inch cabin height allow for even tall folks to walk upright; the Ford and Chevy at best can only accommodate the Lollipop Guild. The Sprinter's payload is similarly superior, and the rating of the 2500 Cargo Van ranges from 2,872 pounds to 3,469 pounds depending on body configuration, while the rating of the 3500 ranges from 4,845 pounds to 5,375.
With its huge windshield and truncated front end, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter does a pretty fair impression of a tour bus from behind the wheel. And at up to 24 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 the Sprinter's power deficit becomes glaringly apparent.