Mercedes-Benz Sprinter (2006 - 2018) used car review

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By Jonathan Crouch

Introduction

The Mercedes Sprinter is a large van with a big heart. When the second generation version was launched in 2006, that heart meant a class-leadingly efficient range of diesel engines that really took the fight to large van rivals. These refined units offered potentially large efficiency savings to businesses who appreciated this model's spacious, practical, high quality virtues. It ought to stack up well as a used buy too. Does it? Let's find out.

Models

Panel van (2.1 CDI diesel - 95, 129, 163bhp / 3.0 V6 CDI diesel 190bhp)

History

When it comes to large vans, one stands above all others across Europe: this one - the Mercedes Sprinter. Nearly a million examples of the second generation version of this nodel were made. This vehicle, launched in 2006, shared its design with arch-rival Volkswagen's Crafter - but not its engines. A new generation of Euro5-compatible CDI diesel units introduced in 2009 set running cost and efficiency standards that rivals struggled to better. Amongst these were vehicles like the Vauxhall Movano/Renault Master design and the Peugeot Boxer/Fiat Ducato/Citroen Relay collaboration, plus of course that VW alternative. But generally, all played catch-up behind this Sprinter in the large van sector. Mercedes was first to introduce a V6 engine to this segment, first to introduce Stop-Start technology to cut costs and was a leader in promoting natural gas power as an alternative. This MK2 Sprinter was facelifted in 2015, then replaced by a third generation model in the Spring of 2018.

What You Get

The look of this MK2 Sprinter changed little in its lifetime, but then large vans in this class don't tend to be bought for aesthetic reasons. The imposing twin-slat grille complete with its large Three-Pointed Star is sufficient to make the point that yours is a business not prepared to compromise on quality. And to emphasise the practical side, there are heated wide-angle mirrors and a useful step in the bumper from which it's easier to climb up and clean the tinted windscreen. Minor front end changes featured as part of the 2015-era facelift.

Inside, the links to Mercedes-Benz passenger cars are instantly apparent. The clear, classily penned instruments, the ventilation controls and the stereo installations are all borrowed direct from models like the B-Class and A-Class. This means that the quality is beyond the level that you might expect in a panel van of this kind. Elsewhere, care was taken to keep things tough and hardwearing while retaining the plush ambience. At the wheel, the seats feel supportive and while the steering column isn't height adjustable, the optional 'Comfort' driver's seat that most original owners specified offers the option to alter the angle of the seat cushion.

A three-seater cab is standard and features a middle seat backrest that can fold down and turn into a handy table that can be used to complete paperwork and also features a couple of cupholders and a pen tray. Other storage areas dotted around the cabin include lipped shelves above the windscreen on both driver and passenger sides, a shelf behind the instrument binnacle, large door bins which though a little narrow do have a moulding that will accommodate a flask or a bottle of water, a lockable glovebox and a dash-top shelf that will swallow an A4 clipboard. Nearby is a clip that can hold loose paperwork and there are coat hooks behind the seats. As for cupholders, well, there's one built into this passenger-side dash-top shelf, another as part of a pull-out ashtray and one more to the right of the instruments.

At the business end, we like the way that the rear doors can be swung through 270-degrees and latched against the sides. The rear door aperture is 1565mm in width, while its height is either 1540 or 1840mm, depending upon your choice of roof height. The rear loading height can be as little as 689mm and a useful rear step (where fitted) is a good halfway point to rest heavier loads before hauling them up to final floor-height. Ultimate loading capacity does of course depend upon your choice between four body lengths, the Short one that has a loadspace length of 2600mm, the Medium version that boosts this to 3265mm and the long or extra long options with their extended overhangs that boost total loadspace length to either 4300mm or an enormous 4700mm.

The compact and long body style options sit on a standard wheelbase of 3,250mm or 3665mm, but the lengthiest 'long' or 'extra long' models get an extension between the wheels to 4,325mm. If it's ultimate cargo capacity you want though, you'll need to find somewhere to park either High or Super High roof models which boost the standard 1650mm loading height to either 1940 or an enormous 2140mm. As you would expect, these heightened roofs make a big different to cargo capacity, boosting the load bay volume up from the Short length Standard roof model's 7.5 cubic metres to a truly cavernous 17 cubic metres. Plus near vertical interior walls and levelled-off wheelarches mean that you can make the very most of the space on offer.

Permissable gross vehicle weights range from 3.0 to 5.0 tonnes. With corresponding payload capacities of between 730kgs for the smallest Sprinter to 2,510kgs for the largest, this LCV should accommodate just about anything most businesses can throw at it. One dimension's the same for all Sprinters, however, and that a 1780mm loading width that narrows to 1350mm between the wheelarches - easily wide enough to slide in a Europallet, something you can also do through this sliding side door. This can optionally slide open automatically via the remote central locking and has a door aperture width of 1300mm and a corresponding height of between 1520 and 1820mm, depending upon the roof height you've selected.

Once everything's in, you'll be pleased to find that there are three interior lights provided for night-time work and that there are eight tie-down points in the floor to secure potentially wayward loads. Should you forget to use them and everything slides forward, you'll be glad of the full-height bulkhead. All Sprinter panel vans come equipped with a high density, anti-absorbant ply-lined floor but to add to that, most original owners specified a ply-lining kit to protect the interior sides. Others also ticked the box for a useful shelf above the cab that gives you somewhere to stow load lashing straps and the like.

Keeping costs down will be a major priority for potential owners, people who'll like the clever Assyst service computer that was standard on all Sprinters and is able to detect when a garage visit is required, taking into account the vehicle's actual usage. The likely average oil change interval is reckoned to be around 25,000 miles, with servicing intervals set at around 50,000, though some operators will be able to extend these intervals by up to 6,000 miles or more with careful use. Residual Values are predictably class-leading. In practical terms, you're looking at about 40.5p per mile for a long-bodied High-roofed 313CDI Sprinter as opposed to 42p per mile for an equivalent Ford Transit. All of this is of course is further aided by this LCV's legendary reliability, underlined by over 7 million miles of testing: it uses an an engine that's been developed to run for a minimum of 220,000 miles.

As for day-to-day operating costs, well these were reduced significantly by the cleaner Euro 5 engine range introduced back in 2009 that keeps emissions down to between 222 and just over 260g/km depending on model. Expect fuel consumption of between 28 and 31mpg on the combined cycle. If you're familiar with the operating costs of an older pre-Euro5 Sprinter, then Mercedes reckons that the post-2009 one should save you between 55 and 165 gallons of fuel a year in comparison to its predecessor on a 30,000 annual mileage, depending on the variant chosen. Up that annual mileage to 90,000 and the annual savings would increase to anything between 165 and 500 gallons.

To get towards the upper segment of those potential savings, then you'll to get a Sprinter that was originally specified with the extra cost EcoStart system that cuts the engine when you don't need it at the lights or in urban traffic. Operators have found that this system can cut their fuel bills by up to 24% or more - and that they more than got this feature's extra cost back in higher residuals at the end of the ownership period. To really maximise on lower running costs, you'll need to get a Sprinter originally specified with Mercedes' BlueEfficiency package. As well as EcoStart, this includes battery management, low rolling resistance tyres, an ECO power steering pump, a gearchange indicator, a controlled fuel pump and a number of mechical modifications. You could potentially further increase your savings by taking advantage of the fact that this vehicle will run on a proportion of up to 10% biodiesel.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

The engines are tried and trusted units, but not without issues. Take the diesel engine's high pressure injection system. The seals around the injectors go, causing a chuffing from beneath the bonnet. Smells through the ventilation system, and a black build up around the injectors also highlight the issue. Depending on how bad it is, you could be looking at anywhere from £150 to £500 fix. Check the propshaft; they tend to fail at about 100,000 miles though they're not too expensive provided you don't source it from a dealer where they'll charge around £800. For all other parts we'd suggest genuine Mercedes items only, particularly brakes.

Servicing is around £250+VAT for a small service, to around £300+VAT for a larger one. Other niggles include check straps on the doors failing, sliding doors jamming and brake light switches failing - the latter confusing the ECU into thinking you're braking when you're not. There have also been a few recalls for fuel leaks.

Replacement Parts

(approx based on a 2015 Sprinter 316 CDI ex VAT) An air filter costs in the £11-£18 bracket. A fuel filter costs about £20-£35 but for a pricier brand, you could pay in the £50-£65 bracket. A set of front brake pads cost around £28, though for a pricier brand you could pay up to around £50. A set of rear brake pads cost around £16-£34, though for a pricier brand you could pay up to around £55-£61. A set of front brake discs cost around £70, though for a pricier brand you could pay up to around £145. A set of rear brake discs cost around £62, though for a pricier brand you could pay up to around £125. A front shock absorber costs about £67 but for a pricier brand, you could pay in the £100-£165 bracket. A rear shock absorber costs about £40-£75.

On the Road

The conditions under which business people have to operate their vans aren't getting any easier, so you want a vehicle like this one to be able to ease the strain of everyday motoring. And first impressions once you climb up into the cab are pretty good. The steering wheel is set at more of a bus-like angle than the brand's smaller Vito model, but visibility from the commanding driving position is great and there's a quality feel to everything around you, underlining the reputation of the Three-Pointed Star that shines out from the middle of the steering wheel.

The driver's seat's firmer than the norm but offers good support under the thighs and in the small of the back, which should mean fewer aches and pains at the end of a long drive. Just how long a drive you'd want to undertake, however, will depend very much on the engine you choose for your Sprinter. The powerplant that forms the backbone of the range is Mercedes' stalwart 2.15-litre four-cylinder common rail diesel, an engine which has already gained a good reputation for its combination of performance, economy and refinement and, almost uniquely for a four cylinder LCV diesel, is fitted with balancer shafts to eliminate vibration and improve what were already class-leading levels of refinement.

As with previous Sprinter models, this unit comes in three states of tune, the options beginning with the 95bhp entry level version. Though this version has a useful 250Nm of torque, it has only a single-stage turbocharger that can't match the smoothness or response offered by the twin-turbo that's fitted to the 129 and 163bhp versions of this engine. These respectively deliver either 305 or 360Nm of pulling power, enough to deal with increased towing weights that in the case of the 3.5 tonne model that most businesses buy have risen to the same figure, 3.5 tonnes. Unusually for a van in this sector, there's also a 190bhp V6 CDI diesel option offering a massive 440Nm slug of torque so potent that it must be channelled through a redesigned version of the 6-speed manual gearbox.

For the post-2009-era models, Mercedes redesigned all Sprinter gearboxes, adding 'ECO Gear' labeling that referred to the way that ratios had been more widely spaced for efficient running, topped and tailed by a very low-geared 1st for snappier hill starts fully loaded and a long-striding top to massage economy and refinement on the motorway. And talking about snappier starts, if you choose a five-speed automatic gearbox model, it comes with Start-Off Assist, essentially a hill-holder clutch to stop you drifting backwards on uphill junctions. On the move, handling will as usual depend on the load you're carrying but traction is sure and can be boosted if your business habitually uses off-tarmac tracks, by choosing a Sprinter equipped with the 4x4 system that was an option for original buyers on 211, 311, 315 and 318 CDI Sprinter models.

Overall

Despite its European success, this Sprinter still isn't one of the first vans that many British business think of when they're looking for a really large used LCV. Yet perhaps it should be. It's as big and practical as any of its rivals, with a more refined powertrain. Plus, crucially, if you get a model that was originally specified correctly, you'll be buying into a set of running cost figures that can't be bettered in this segment.

Yes of course there are cheaper rivals. Some of them feel a little more avant garde too and have cleverer cabs. But when it comes to the things that actually matter when it comes to running a vehicle of this kind, the Sprinter ticks most of the important boxes with the kind of thoroughness that you'd expect from something bearing the famous Three Pointed Star on its grille. All of which means that whatever your business, this could be your righthand van.

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