Nobody knows why the custom van lifestyle ended. Despite the keep on truckin’ imperative, the 1970s ended and took those kaleidoscopic fun-wagons with it. Maybe the Baby Boomers grew up and decided to stop smoking weed in the back of large vehicles with words like “Vandy Apple” painted on the side so they could get a real job and start smoking weed at home.
Perhaps the trend simply passed and foreign-built economy cars were the next must-have item. All we know for sure is that it was a mistake.
Fortunately, vans have only gotten better since the ’70s ended. The objectively perfect minivan had its heyday when leisure travel vans still held a corner of the market. While not so popular anymore, the van’s unparalleled versatility has kept it a viable option for work fleets and individual private owners who want a jack-of-all-trades vehicle in the driveway.
Mercedes-Benz is hip to this, revealing its third-generation Sprinter with all the customizable variables one would expect. However, it’s also adding load of new technologies and hardware as part of the brand’s “adVANce” philosophy. That includes new internet integration, driveline configurations, and a forthcoming electric model. Does this amount to the most exciting model in Mercedes’ lineup?
Well, no. An AMG C 43 would still probably be more fun.Â While you could certainly outfit the third-gen Sprinter to be the funkiest vehicle in your neighborhood, the base from which you would start that process is actually not as enjoyable to look at from the outside as the current model.
Things are a different story on the inside, however. Mercedes added a large center touchscreen (up to 10.25 inches) to interface with its MBUX multimedia system andÂ PRO connectÂ for fleet buyers.Â The PRO connect makes it possible to for businesses to manage orders online as well as check vehicle information â€” like its location, fuel level, or maintenance intervals. It can also setup a digital logbook for the driver that is accessible remotely. The system also has optional intuitive voice controls.
The interior layout is also more carlike, with the steering wheel offering more controls and a slightly premium look. Daimler promises improved sound deadening and ride comfort.
While the new-generation Sprinter line will still offer all- or rear-wheel-drive variants,Â Mercedes has added an entry-level front-wheel-drive option, as well. When combined with the myriad of body types,Â body lengths, tonnages, load compartment heights, and equipment features, MB claims there are over 1,700Â different versions of the new Sprinter.
That translates into a vehicle you can use for just about anything. Interested in a bare-bones all-wheel-drive hauler with gobs of interior space that can navigate a muddy construction site? The Sprinter has you covered. How about a modestly sized front-drive delivery van? Sprinter. What about a luxury bus for shuttling around celebrities or your comically large family? If they like German autos and diesel, then it has got to be the Sprinter.
That’s not to suggest other manufactures don’t have good alternatives. Ford’s Transit provides a lot of the same stuff, including GPS-based monitoring for fleets, and has powertrains that actually make it fun to drive. While Mercedes won’t offer a beastly engine, at least not in Euro-spec models, it arrives with two newly developed transmissions for the front-drive variant. One is a six-speed manual, the other a nine-speed automatic. Mercedes claimed the auto’s gear ranges are graduated to give an optimum balance between low fuel consumption and agile handling.
For Europe, the rear-drive Sprinter comes with a 2.1-liter diesel four-cylinder with three outputs rated at 114 hp, 143 hp and 163 hp. While the front-drive options come with the same powerplants, the top-tier inline-four comes in at 177 hp and is only available on the passenger trim. The 3.0-liter six-cylinder diesel also sticks around, but now makes 190 hp and 324 lb-ft of torqueÂ â€” an engine North America is all but guaranteed.
Still, Mercedes-Benz probably doesn’t intend to dazzle prospective buyers with its engines. It’s focusing instead on the Sprinter’s customizability and adding tech. In addition to the aforementioned internet connectivity and fleet-tracking, the third-gen van will be available withÂ a reversing camera showing its image in the rear-view mirror, a parking package with a 360-degree camera, keyless start, rain sensors and “Wet Wiper” system ensure optimum visibility at all times.
Mercedes says customers can place their orders now and get their new Sprinter vans starting in June. That does not include the all-electric eSprinter, however. The automaker claims it won’t be ready for launch until 2019. While there are zero technical details on the EV right now, Mercedes says itâ€™s “primarily designed for inner-city operations, not only protect the environment but also offer customers tangible added value with their day-to-day suitability and flexibility.”
That doesn’t sound very exciting. We’d recommend punching it up with a carpeted ceiling, some neon-colored paint, and a space-themed mural on the door.