There were 14 dudes, two bags each, plus camera equipment, two cases of water, one bag dedicated to booze, four bags of chips and six hours of road ahead of us. Two vehicles sat on the street. In the normal world of automotive physics, this wouldn’t work — and no one wanted to clown car it up to Portland, Maine.
Of course, the two 12-person passenger Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans (2500 Standard Roof 144-inch WB, $39,995) taking up commercial parking in the middle of Manhattan didn’t abide by normal capacities. We piled in, tossing bags haphazardly in the back. Two guys per row, a few spaces throughout, and with the roof-mounted AC whirling, things were more comfortable than an economy airline seat.
Mercedes-Benz, along with sister company Freightliner, builds the Sprinter line of utility-grade vans (in Cargo, Crew and Passenger setups) to be manhandled. The passenger version fits in alongside the Ford Transit Wagon XL ($32,270), Nissan NV Passenger ($32,810) and Ram Promaster Window Van ($33,255). It’s the most expensive option of the four and is seen as the pinnacle of the cargo van world (although both the Ford and Nissan have received great reviews as more affordable passenger van options).
The MB Sprinters are workmen — the kind that show up when you want them to, sans hangover. Its diesel engine, with 161 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque, had power enough to get us up to speed and merging on the freeways, and it also did good work to not suck down too much high-priced fuel. (With strategic drafting, one van made the 320-mile trip with some fuel to spare.) The ride was smooth, a nod to the more luxury element of the MB badge, rather than the industrial side of Stuttgart. The driver and passengers sat high, but no higher than they would in a normal truck, and the suspension ate up road noise. The interior layout was clean, commercial style, no-nonsense lines, with plenty of oversized compartments for storing log books or large bags of Doritos. The Bluetooth sound system took us half the trip to figure out how to operate, but that was American user error, trying to skirt the systematic steps of the German-designed interface.
For what it is — a work truck — the Sprinter feels like something more. Maybe it’s the thought that what you’re driving is a Mercedes-Benz. (Kudos to brand power.) But it’s also the details of design: The front fascia is aggressive, squared off, even somewhat sleek. The car handles like a school bus, but doesn’t feel like a truck. And with seven guys and a load of gear, and a six-hour drive ahead of us, there wasn’t the anticipation of being uncomfortable, sweaty, or desperate for space. And that’s good for a day’s work on the road.