Sprinter vans, by their very nature, have a way of catching crosswinds and acting as a giant sail in windy conditions. This can cause an unsettling driving experience, especially when transporting a top-heavy load or no load at all.
Mercedes-Benz has come up with a solution in the form of crosswind assist, a new safety system to be offered for the first time on 2015 Sprinter vans. I recently spent a couple days in Charleston, S.C., where Sprinter vans are assembled, to experience this and other new features.
On the way to Charleston I spent a good amount of time wondering how they’d create the crosswind conditions required to demonstrate this new feature. I got my answer upon arriving and seeing several jet boats lined up behind the Mercedes plant. These engines had the ability to generate 90 mph crosswinds – likely greater than any such conditions you’ll encounter, except for maybe in the infamous Wreckhouse region of Newfoundland.
Stand upwind of these jet boats, as I did, and you’d be picking dirt and gravel out of your teeth for many hours afterwards, as I was. However the demonstration was highly effective. We didn’t get to drive – they left that to the professionals. However, we followed a Sprinter van without crosswind assist in a Sprinter with crosswind assist, and the difference was obvious. The van in front of us was moved laterally on its tires while we barely noticed the blast as we drove through at 60 mph.
Mercedes accomplishes this by using adaptive ESP yaw sensors to detect lateral wind force and then applies countersteer as required through selective lateral brake intervention. It’s a pretty impressive system. I wonder if it will be viable on Class 8 trucks?
Mercedes also showcased for the first time its new factory-installed 4×4 configuration on an aggressive off-road course behind the plant. Try as we might, we didn’t break anything. It’s unlikely that a Sprinter van will encounter conditions any rougher than the course they built for the demonstration. Often, only three wheels were touching the ground.
There are Canadian customers who’ll appreciate these 4×4 capabilities, including those in the oilpatch. This is an important market for Mercedes, which has set up a satellite office in Fort McMurray, Alta. to service Sprinter vans there.
You can read more about the 2015 Sprinter van here.
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