In the past, buying a full-size commercial van meant wandering down to one of the Detroit Big Three showrooms and buying a pickup truck based bread-box complete with a honking big pickup truck engine. But in 2001 Daimler began to change all that by bringing the European Sprinter van over to America. Originally sold as a Freightliner, then a Dodge and finally a Mercedes-Benz, the Sprinter had the designation for years as being the only van to offer multiple roof heights and multiple wheelbase lengths combined with diesel power.
|1. The new 2.1L turbocharged diesel engine develops 161 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque.
2. Power is sent to the rear wheels through a seven-speed 7G-Tronic plus automatic transmission.
3. The four-cylinder engine is available in any Sprinter configuration.
4. Pricing for the base cab and chassis four-cylinder Sprinter will start at $34,790 before fees and taxes with the cargo van beginning at $35,920.
That all started to change with the introduction of the high-roof Nissan NV2500 cargo van. Although still pickup truck based, the NV2500 did offer various roof heights. But this year the serious competition has shown up. Two of the Sprinters key European rivals, the Ford Transit and Fiat Ducato (aka Ram ProMaster) have arrived in America, diesel engines and all.
With these new competitors offering gasoline options, a larger dealer network and cheaper starting prices, Mercedes can no longer rely on the Sprinter’s lower cost of ownership and greater utility for sales. So the brand is introducing a new engine for the commercial van lineup in an attempt to shake things up in the segment once again.
The engine in question is Mercedes-Benz four-cylinder turbocharged diesel. A four-pot in a full-size commercial van isn’t the big news here. After all, the ProMaster also uses a four cylinder turbo-diesel. But the Ram’s engine, despite only having four cylinders, is the same displacement as the Sprinter’s V6 option at 3.0 liters. The new four-cylinder diesel in the Sprinter van measures in at only 2.1 liters.
2.1 LITERS OF POWER
Yes, this is that Mercedes-Benz four-cylinder engine. Quickly becoming the Bo Jackson of diesel inline-fours, this power plant now finds itself in luxury sedans, crossovers and commercial vehicles. Here the 2.1-liter engine develops 161 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque.
That is down 39 hp and a whopping 104 lb-ft of torque compared to what this same engine makes in the GLK 250 BlueTec. Mercedes’ official reasoning for this massive power downgrade is reliability but we feel it may have something to do with not overshadowing the Sprinter’s optional 3.0 liter V6 turbo-diesel that only makes 178 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque.
See Also: 2014 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Preview
But don’t let the numbers fool you; this engine is very capable for its size. Available in any wheelbase or roof height configuration, we were able to sample a short wheelbase, high-roof cargo van. Thanks to the twin-turbocharger set-up, turbo lag is virtually non-existent off the line and a decent amount of grunt is felt while accelerating to city speeds. Having spent a lot of time in the 2013 Sprinter, I have a pretty good idea of how the larger V6 engine feels to drive. Of course this new diesel feels down on power compared to the V6, but the gap is much smaller than I expected.
SEVEN SPEEDS COME TO COMMERCIAL VANS
Part of the power deficit is made up through the transmission. Like virtually every other Mercedes product, the 2.1 liter Sprinter van is equipped with a seven-speed 7G-Tronic plus automatic transmission. This gearbox is very smooth in operation and much better than the five-speed automatic paired up to the V6.
The one area where the four-banger leaves a bit to be desired compared to the V6 is sound; the new engine is far more audible in the Sprinter. Thanks in part to a harder working turbocharger and louder diesel clatter, the four-cylinder Sprinter sounds like a mini big-rig. It is not overly intrusive or annoying, just there. And, it is well worth the price to pay for a claimed 18 % improvement in fuel efficiency over the V6. During our very short all city drive we were able to achieve an observed fuel economy average of 24.3 mpg; not bad for a massive box on wheels.
Revised for 2014, the Sprinter features two new front end treatments depending on trim, with up-level models featuring xenon headlamps and cornering lights. Also added are a lot of new safety technology options like lane keep, blind spot monitoring and crash avoidance. Inside, the unibody van is familiar with storage places everywhere, cell phone nooks, power outlets and of course a commanding forward view.
Pricing for the base cab and chassis four-cylinder Sprinter will start at $35,785 before fees and taxes with the cargo van beginning at $36,915 including delivery. That is almost $3,300 more expensive than the entry level diesel ProMaster, but the Sprinter does come slightly more optioned out.
Having driven several Sprinters before, I know how capable these vans are. After a brief drive in the four cylinder version, it feels perfectly capable assuming loads are not too extreme. Airport shuttles, RV conversions and lightweight cargo applications will all be perfect fits for this new efficient offering from Mercedes-Benz.