Mercedes-Benz eSprinter review

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Mercedes has redefined state-of-the-art technology in the sector for large full-electric vans with this revitalised eSprinter. Jonathan Crouch reports

Ten Second Review

Mercedes has invested around 350 million euros into fundamentally improving its largest EV van, the eSprinter. Though visual changes are slight, the engineering updates are far-reaching, including a switch to rear wheel drive and a new range of batteries, the largest of which can take this LCV nearly twice as far as its predecessor. In one giant leap, the Three-Pointed Star is back at the top of the class for large EV vans. Whether you could justify the cost of one is another question.

Background

Manufacturers of large electric vans in Europe are in a quandary. They've been mandated under Euro 7 regulations to switch to full-electric drivetrains. But demand is way behind the aspirations of the politicians and it's clear that alongside EV-powered vans, they will also have to be producing diesel-powered ones for some time yet.

With the eSprinter, their largest electric van, Mercedes' response to this has been in two parts. The original model, launched in 2020 with a feeble 95 mile range from its 55kWh battery and limited body options, clearly wasn't cutting it. Hence the far-reaching update we look at here, providing a top 113kWh battery that'll more than double that range.

Everything's changed here: in fact, Mercedes claims the only carry-over component from the original eSprinter is the charging port on the grille. And everything will change again from 2025 onwards when an all-new generation of Sprinter arrives based on the brand's van.ea architecture. That's for the future, but let's look at what this far-reaching first eSprinter update means for right now.

Driving Experience

Engineering changes don't get much more fundamental than this. The eSprinter has switched from front to rear wheel drive, with the drivetrain now part of a new modular set-up. At the back, there's a completely new rear axle containing an electric motor putting out either 136hp or 204hp, depending on your preference. The vehicle's high voltage components and control systems now lie in the front portion of this van. While the battery packs sit in the middle under the floor and are now made of lithium-ion-phosphate and contain no nickel or cobalt. In place of the original model's old-tech 55kWh pack, there's now a choice of three available batteries: an entry-level 56kWh unit, a mid-level 81kWh option and the top 113kWh battery that can take this Mercedes as far as 248 miles. Both motors put out a gutsy 400Nm of torque, one reason why the eSprinter can pull a 2,000kg trailer. And each motor weighs only around 130kgs and is characterised by particularly high efficiency and optimised thermal management. 

Design and Build

You would never know from a glance at this improved eSprinter just how fundamentally its engineering has changed beneath the panel work. As before, there's a centrally-positioned charging port on the grille, which is actually the only carry-over part from the original model. That original came only in one single body shape, but Mercedes will offer a wider range with this enhanced eSprinter, starting with L2 and L3-length models, the latter with load space of up to 14m3. You can also talk to your dealer about chassis cab and factory-made dropside and refrigerated body options.

It'll be a little easier to identify this improved eSprinter from inside the cab because there's quite a lot more technology included. Primarily the latest version of Mercedes' MBUX infotainment system, which incorporates 'Hey Mercedes' virtual assistant voice control. The MBUX setup was missing from the original eSprinter. Otherwise, things are much like they would be with the diesel Sprinter. So the driver's workplace is uncluttered and practical, with ergonomically-shaped seats, plus a variable stowage concept ensures that everything has its place. The interior also features a modular dashboard design that allows for maximum flexibility - everything from extra storage, to cutting-edge infotainment and wireless charging is available. For pleasant temperatures inside the cockpit, owners can choose between a semi-automatic air conditioning system or automatic climate control, according to their comfort requirements.

Market and Model

As we compiled this Review, Mercedes had yet to announce pricing for this revitalised version of the eSprinter, but it's safe to speculate that there will be a bit of an uplift from the price required for the original model. Before deduction of the available government £5,000 plug-in grant, that was priced from just under £58,000 in its single 'Progressive'-trimmed L2 H2 55kWh form. As we've said elsewhere in this Review, in panel van form the new re-engineered model offers a choice of L2 or L3 body lengths, 134bhp or 201bhp motors and three battery options - 56kWh, 81kWh and 113kWh.

Like a diesel Sprinter, this EV model includes an advanced connectivity package, the 'Communication Module', which has an in-built LTE SIM-card offering rapid data transmission between vans, drivers and vehicle managers. And as you'd expect, safety is very well accounted for. This eSprinter gets standard autonomous braking, the brand's 'Active Brake Assist with pedestrian protection' package. Plus, like the Vito, this LCV is also fitted with 'ATTENTION ASSIST' drowsiness detection, to prevent fatigue and encourage drivers to drive responsibly with breaks when they get tired. The Mercedes-Benz Emergency Call system can summon rescue services in the event of an accident, whilst Rear Cross Traffic and Exit Alert monitors the rear of the vehicle, and can autonomously brake in the event of an impending collision. In the event of an accident, Sprinter automatically applies its brakes to prevent secondary collisions.

Practicalities and Costs

The rather limited 11m3 load capacity of the original eSprinter (which only came in L2 form) was just one of the things that put companies off. This revitalised model can now be had, as we've said elsewhere in this Review, in both L2 and L3 forms, the latter with a load capacity of up to 14m3. As usual with an EV van, the electric powertrain doesn't compromise the loading area in any way. As in any other Sprinter, the rear doors can be swung through 270-degrees and latched against the sides; and the cargo area also scores with clever detailed solutions like loadable wheel arches. The gross vehicle weight with the largest 850kg 113kWh battery pack tops out at 4.25 tonnes, while still delivering a maximum 1,575kg payload.

Mercedes has gone to a lot of trouble to make sure that this model is easily customisable for different businesses too. For up-fitters, nothing is different above the vehicle's frame, so conversion specialists will be able to put pretty much the same fittings - like storage compartments and flatbeds - on this electric variant as on any diesel Sprinter. And Mercedes has standardised connection points to help converters creating ambulances or converting this vehicle for the building or landscaping trades.

The eSprinter can now charge at up to 115KW - which is the same as Ford's E-Transit and more than twice as fast as Stellantis Group large van EV rivals from Fiat, Vauxhall, Citroen and Peugeot. This means that replenishing the eSprinter's entry-level 56kWh battery from 10 to 80% can be done in as little as 28 minutes from a powerful DC rapid public charging point; allow 42 minutes for the largest-capacity 113kWh battery. This improved eSprinter can also charge at up to 11kW from an AC wall box or public charger.

Summary

That the first generation eSprinter was something of a bodge job doesn't matter much. Most of the market wasn't quite ready for it anyway. What's important is that Mercedes has a large electric van worthy of its brand for the present and the future - and this revitalised eSprinter seems to be exactly that. We're surprised the company didn't wait until its next-generation van.ea-platform MK4 Sprinter model to move things along, but the marque's hand was clearly forced by the excellence of the Ford E-Transit, launched in 2022. So it is that this MK3-era Sprinter will actually end its life cycle with an electric version worthy of the technological heritage that lies behind the Three-Pointed Star on its bonnet.

This may look the same as the original eSprinter, but just about everything is actually different - and certainly better. The modular design means that Mercedes can more easily produce it alongside diesel models. And customers will appreciate the fact that there's a much bigger body shape option than before. This revitalised eSprinter though, will have a rather premium price, particularly in its largest-battery form. Which could keep the much more affordable rival Ford E-Transit in the frame for quite a few company customers. Make no mistake though; beyond these two models, choosing any of the other large EV-powered vans in this segment is simply opting for yesterday's technology.

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