YOU could be forgiven for imagining a van that measures 23 feet in length and over nine feet in height would be a lumbering beast, both in its looks and its road manners.
And in some cases you’d be right. But the vehicle that arrived at our offices for testing the other week – the new Mercedes-Benz Sprinter long wheelbase high roof 311 – proved not only a delightful looker, but could for all the world have been an oversized car once out on the open road.
The Sprinter is built at the DaimlerChrysler factory in Dusseldorf and shares its production line with the new Volkswagen Crafter, although VW has changed the front end and has a different set of engines.
A total of 1,000 different models will be available when it is finally at full production and prices will range from £15,330 to £26,270 ex-VAT.
There are three wheelbases on offer – 3,250mm, 3,665mm and 4,325mm – and four lengths, with the options of standard, high and super-high roofs.
Gross vehicle weights range from 3.0 to 5.0 tonnes and load volumes range from 7.0 cubic metres to 17 cubic metres.
A huge side-loading door measures a class-leading 1,300mm.
In the cab, there is more room than in the old model, the seats are totally new, offering better support, and the steering wheel angle has been changed from 47 to 32 degrees, making for a more car-like driving position.
Driver’s airbag, adaptive ESP (traction control), ABS brakes, acceleration skid control, electronic brakeforce distribution, hydraulic brake assist, CD player and six-speed gearbox all come as standard, while window and thorax bags, hill-start assist and a new Parktronic parking assistance are offered as options.
The new Sprinter has a choice of engines – a four cylinder 2,148cc unit offering 88bhp, 109bhp, 129bhp and 150bhp and a new 3.0-litre V6 diesel with a blistering 184bhp.
All engines are common-rail, achieving Euro IV standard, and are rear wheel drive.
Behind the wheel
OUR test model is likely to be the big fleet seller. At 109bhp it isn’t outrageously powerful, but it certainly has enough under its belt with 209lb-ft of torque added in – and it also boasts a huge back end that will swallow 14 cubic metres of cargo. Basic price is £21,795 ex-VAT but with extras like alloy wheels at £560, air-con at £850 and sat-nav at £1,200, the final price reaches £24,820.
As soon as I climbed aboard I started reaching in to the recesses of my brain for new superlatives. Even without all the added-on goodies, the cab is light, airy, classy and comfortable and firing up the powerplant results in hardly a murmur.
It’s top marks to Mercedes-Benz for making ESP traction control a standard fitment.
The system will automatically sense when one or more wheels are losing traction and will ease off power on particular wheels to correct the skid.
Under way, the Sprinter’s ride and handling are the stuff of legends. Just the right amount of ‘feel’ through the steering wheel, a dash-mounted gearstick which is slick and smooth and cornering capabilites that inspire utter confidence.
There is a downside to all this luxury and smoothness of course. It’s almost too easy to forget all that height and length behind the cab. Manoeuvring – as I soon discovered – demands the utmost care and concentration.
MERCEDES-Benz reckons it has invested no less than E1.8bn in this model, so it’s no surprise that those superlatives come so thick and fast. After a week with the Sprinter, I was left asking myself: ‘Can vans get any better than this?’
Gross vehicle weight (kg): 3,500
Payload (kg): 1,320
Load volume (cu m): 14
Power (bhp): 109
Torque (lb-ft): 209
Price (ex-VAT): £21,795