2012 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van - FROM $36,290
Yes, it is pricey, but the 2012 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is without question the most spacious and accommodating full-size passenger van.
What's New for 2012
The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter carries over unchanged for 2012.
The idea of purchasing a Mercedes-Benz for your cargo-hauling or people-moving needs may seem like paying for Jimmy Choo work boots. Why pay so much more money when a Ford or GM full-size van can get the job done? That's a fair question. However, even if the American vans can get the job done, they quite simply won't do it as well as the 2012 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.
Besides being constructed of better materials and to a higher standard (though nowhere near other Benzes), the Sprinter has a number of other advantages. For one, it's absolutely cavernous thanks to its miniature bus dimensions and space-efficient design. Its biggest configuration is nearly twice as spacious as a Chevy Express. The load floor is the lowest among full-size vans by a wide margin, and someone 6-foot-3 can walk around upright within its rear compartment when it's equipped with the optional high roof. You can now pull off a similar trick with the smaller Nissan NV, but the max height in the American vans is around 4-foot-3.
Now, one would think that driving such an immense vehicle would be only slightly easier than piloting a rolling Parthenon. Yet the Sprinter's modern chassis design makes it far more maneuverable around town than its American competitors. In fact, the Sprinter feels pretty normal to drive once you get past the colossal windshield and short hood.
With its diesel-powered engine, this Mercedes also enjoys a fuel economy advantage over its Ford, GM and Nissan rivals. It can't come close to the power of their gasoline-powered V8s and towing capacity is limited, but torque is about on par. No one would ever claim that the Sprinter lives up to its name, but around town it gets the job done.
In total, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is a superior full-size van whether you need it for cargo or passengers. That superiority obviously comes at a price, however, especially when you consider that only two years ago the Sprinter was badged as a Dodge and was about $4,000 less expensive. Now, the Sprinter is also sold as a Freightliner in pretty much identical form but with a $1,000 lower price tag. That doesn't exactly put a big chunk in the bottom line, but with a less ostentatious badge, at least it won't draw the same flack from the company accountant.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 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 with an extended-length body style as well as a 3500 configuration (versus the standard 2500), which ups its payload capacity.
Standard equipment on the Cargo Van includes 16-inch steel wheels, hill-start assist, 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 two rear speakers. The stretched-wheelbase MiniBus version is essentially an airport or hotel shuttle with additional seats available in a number of different configurations, and it includes 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, a speed limiter, different front seat designs and an upgraded sound system. 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 2012 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is powered by a turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel V6 that produces 188 horsepower and a robust 325 pound-feet of torque. Rear-wheel drive and a five-speed automatic transmission are standard. As it's a Mercedes diesel, this engine features Bluetec exhaust-scrubbing technology. There are no EPA fuel economy estimates available, but given its engine, expect significantly better fuel mileage than that of the Sprinter's Ford and GM competitors.
Every 2012 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.
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 270.4; the Nissan NV has 323. Plus, thanks to its 51-inch sliding door and class-leading 20-inch step-in height, the Sprinter makes climbing inside incredibly easy (both cargo and passenger vans). Once there, the high-roof option and its 6-foot-4-inch cabin height allow for even tall folks to walk upright. The new NV also manages this trick, but the Ford and Chevy vans 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 2012 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 where the Sprinter's power deficit becomes glaringly apparent. Should you need more grunt than the Benz and superior interior volume to that of the American vans, the Nissan NV is the best alternative.