TORONTO, Ont. – Mercedes-Benz Vans ushered in a comprehensive refresh of its Sprinter van with the 2019 model year, with the biggest development being the arrival of a gasoline engine.
The gas engine, available on the models 1500 and 2500 cargo, crew and passenger vans, are best-suited for lower payloads and allow Mercedes to better target Ford’s customer base. It also gives a lower acquisition price for cost-sensitive customers, or those who want to avoid complex diesel exhaust aftertreatment.
Fuel costs are expected to be about 5% higher for the gasoline model, Mercedes-Benz announced at a Fleet Ride-and-Drive in Toronto Sept. 17. The Toronto stop was part of a three-city Canadian tour, which also visited Vancouver and will end in Montreal. Fleet customers, dealers and press were cycled through the events and offered the chance to drive the Sprinter on a tight, closed course and on the road.
The Sprinter’s versatility was a key talking point for Mercedes. There are now 90 variants available between the Sprinter and it’s smaller sibling, the Metris mid-sized van. That doesn’t include options and configurations, which bring the total ways a Mercedes van can be spec’d to about 750 variations, according to Iain Forsyth, national manager, vans with Mercedes-Benz.
Taj Gill, product specialist for vans, said Mercedes is considering bringing its Master Solutions program to Canada. That would see Mercedes deliver vans that are already equipment-upfitted. About 75% of its vans are upfitted and dealing directly with Mercedes will simplify the buying process.
Mercedes is also delivering vans in Canada that have been pre-wired for Intelligent Connectivity, which is not yet offered here. When it is brought to Canada, existing vans will be able to easily connect to the service.
Gill said Mercedes is the only OEM to offer a mid-sized cargo van in Canada today, in the form of its Metris.
“If a business is looking for a van, and a large van is too large and a small van may not be big enough, that’s where the Metris comes in as a perfect fit,” he said.
The gas-powered Sprinter is a good fit for parcel delivery, florists, bakeries and other businesses that don’t require heavy payload.s The 1500 model with the four-cylinder gas engine has a GVWR of 8,850 lbs, which Gill said is best-in-class.
For heavier payloads, the 4500 and 4500 crew vans are good options. The crew van seats three extra passengers and adds cargo space.
Because both the Metris and Sprinter got a complete overhaul in 2019, the updates to the 2020 models are modest in comparison.
The Metris now comes pre-wired for connectivity services, when available, and a couple new paint options. The 2020 Sprinter will now be available with Sirius XM satellite radio, and Mercedes’ MBUX infotainment system will be available with a seven- or 10-inch screen without navigation, giving cost-conscious customers a cheaper infotainment system option.
Because the Metris and Sprinter carry the Mercedes emblem, they’re naturally not the cheapest vans to buy. But the company is shifting the discussion to total cost of ownership, which paints a more favorable picture.
“The calculation is done to give the customer an idea of how much they’re going to be paying through the overall life-cycle,” said Gill. It encompasses annual kilometers, fuel cost, depreciation, maintenance, repairs and insurance. Gill gave some examples for both the Metris and Sprinter.
A Metris cargo van with a three-year life-cycle (32,000 kms per year) with a four-cylinder gas engine and 126-inch wheelbase will carry an MSRP of about $36,000. With 54% depreciation, total fuel costs would be about $15,282, bringing the total cost per kilometer to about 48 cents. The 135-inch wheelbase model would be about two cents per kilometer higher. That’s about three to four cents more per kilometer than a small van, while offering greater payload.
The Sprinter’s operating costs range from 46 cents to 53 cents per kilometer, based on engine and wheelbase, based on the same three-year ownership cycle.
Focus on safety
Also on display was the suite of active safety systems available on the Sprinter. They were demonstrated in a controlled environment in the Toronto Congress Centre parking lot, where only orange cones could be injured if things went awry.
Active brake assist and blind spot assist were demonstrated. Active brake assist measures the distance in front of the van and will apply the brakes if the driver does not when following too closely. Blind spot assist is useful when backing, as it recognizes vehicles, pedestrians or cyclists and applies the brakes before the van backs into them.
A 360-degree camera shows the area immediately surrounding the van, and sections of the van’s edges light up on the display when dangerously close to another vehicle or object. Forsyth said about 40% of cargo van buyers are choosing the new safety systems, with the take rate on the rise. Many fleet buyers are self-insured and see a reduction in their damage-related expenses.
On the road
Out on the busy roads around the Toronto airport, the Sprinter handled well for a large vehicle. The gas engine was extremely quiet. I drove a 2500 model with a 9G-Tronic smooth-shifting transmission. The diesel are mated to a seven-speed.
Visibility was excellent, and the van was easy to maneuver even without the optional 360 camera. There are some clever updates built into the 2019 model year Sprinter. Gone are the plastic bumpers that used to be mounted to the sides of the van to protect it from dings and scratches caused by the opening of the rear doors. A more advanced hinge has been incorporated, which stops those doors from contacting the sides. Those hinges will also keep the door in position even if a car whips past at 80 km/h.
With the 2019 model year, nothing was changed aft of the B-pillar, so that customers who found upfits that worked for them wouldn’t have to scramble to change their design.
The Mercedes star has been repositioned, at both the front and rear of the van. A plastic floor is available, in addition to wood, to save some costs and increase payload slightly. It’s also easier to maintain.
Inside, new features on the 2019 model include a new multifunction steering wheel and dash, with additional storage options.
The rise of e-commerce has fueled growth in the large van segment, while the small van market has been flat, according to Forsyth. Large package delivery customers such as FedEx are counted among the largest buyers of Sprinter vans.
But small business owners and contractors also remain an important market for Mercedes. The company’s entire Canadian dealer network is now set up to sell and service Sprinter vans. There are 58 Mercedes-Benz dealers in Canada, as well as three standalone van centers.
James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies