Fleet News

Mercedes-Benz ride and drive: fleets do their best – and worst – to put range to the test

ABS, ASR, ESP – all these new-fangled hi-tech systems sound fine on paper. But it is not until buyers have seen them used in anger that they can appreciate just how much they can increase the safety and security of drivers and other road users.

After all, if an operator has a fleet of 100 Mercedes-Benz Sprinters equipped with ABS brakes, he will never know how many times the devices saved drivers from accidents.

For the German manufacturer, it was not enough purely to have the most advanced vans in the world in terms of safety – UK bosses hired Prestwold Hall Driving Centre near Loughborough for three days and invited the country's dealers, press and fleet buyers to do their worst – or best – over a three-day event.

The Sprinter is now the second best-selling heavy panel van in Britain and in its new guise is offered with the option of Electronic Stability Program (ESP). ESP means the van will 'feel' when a driver is losing control of the vehicle and will correct the errors and stop skidding on wet or loose surfaces.

This system, which comes as part of a package with ABS brakes, is standard on all Sprinters apart from 82bhp and 109bhp versions, in which it costs an extra £795. I wonder how many of those fleet buyers who previously scoffed at the thought of spending so much cash on something they couldn't even see changed their minds after this event.

First up on the driving front to show off this wonderful piece of kit was the legendary 'elk test' in which the driver imagines he or she is swerving to avoid such a creature who happens to be ambling across the road at the time (maybe we should call it a cat test here as we don't have elks).

Drivers took the swerves at between 30 and 45mph and while other vans would have been trashed in seconds, the Sprinter's ESP system gently took over and eased off the power on various wheels to keep the occupants from toppling over. The only sign that anything untoward was happening was an orange light flashing on the dashboard. Next was was the slalom and once again the vans flew through with never a worry, despite being thrown round horribly.

Sprinter also comes in 4x4 format and while the van no way pretends to be a full off-roader, our tough-looking model tackled a series of muddy hills and holes and green lanes without ever looking like it was struggling. These vans aren't cheap – expect to pay up to an extra £9,080 on top of list price for them. But for fleets with a need for rugged LCVs, they don't come much more rugged than this.

Mercedes is also going one better than the opposition on alternative fuels. While most other manufacturers offer either LPG or CNG versions (or none at all), Mercedes has both on its list price. They cost £2,100 extra but 70% of the cost can be recouped under the PowerShift grant scheme.

Prestwold Hall also contains a two-mile race circuit and visitors were invited to take their pick of virtually the entire Mercedes range – with and without ESP.

Hands up all those who've been given the red flag by a marshal while thrashing round a race circuit in an LPG-powered dustcart. Another little tick to put in my ever-growing book of life experiences!

Afterwards, both organisers and visitors voted the event a great success – it can only enhance the already legendary reputation of the German manufacturer.

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