2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4x4: First Drive

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Editor's note: Yes, we know the 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4x4 is not a pickup truck. But if ever there was a vehicle that works like a pickup truck, the commercial van is it. That's why we're taking a closer look at this vehicle and sharing its high points. And there may be another reason this particular vehicle will be more important to us down the road. More on that later.

Even the casual observer will notice the full-size van segment is a different universe than it was 10 years ago. Back then, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van was a curiosity, sitting far apart from its competitors, all of which were based on body-on-frame pickup-truck platforms.

Believe it or not, the Sprinter commercial van came to the U.S. in 2001 and can now be found with Mercedes, Dodge or Freightliner badges on the hood. Offered only in 2500 and 3500 configurations, the Sprinter competes directly with the Ford Transit, Ram ProMaster and Nissan NV commercial vans. All of them are more efficient, larger and more capable than any of the truck-based old-school full-size vans. In fact, depending on the configuration, Sprinters can have a payload capacity between 2,900 and 5,500 pounds, with gross vehicle weight ratings of 8,550, 9,900 and 11,030 pounds.

Four-Wheel-Drive Option

New for 2015, Sprinters will be offered with a four-wheel-drive (actually all-wheel-drive) option on the entire lineup for an extra $6,500. That price gets you 4 extra inches of ground clearance, re-arched rear leaf springs and an entirely new front-drive axle (with heavy-duty coil-over struts). This package has a dedicated transfer case, splitting the traction power 35/65 between the front and rear driveshafts. Each wheel also has electronic sensors to tell the traction control system when and how to slow a spinning wheel to redistribute torque to the non-spinning tire.

For an extra $300, you can opt for the low-range gear that multiplies the transmission and ring-and-pinion gearing (by 1.42:1), giving the vehicle better crawling and gripping capabilities on nasty surfaces or terrain. When compared to a non-4x4 version, we're told the four-wheel-drive system adds about 350 pounds to the vehicle.

We recently had the chance to take eight new Sprinter 4x4s into the Canadian Rockies up some sloppy logging trails above the snow line. The trails become muddy bogs as the snow melts and freezes, with gullies and small riverlets running through the slop, so they certainly present a challenge.

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All 4x4 Sprinters use the bigger 3.0-liter V-6 BlueTec turbo-diesel, which is rated at 188 horsepower and 325 pounds-feet of torque. The standard five-speed transmission is quick to respond with an easy-access stick off the center dash. Manual shifts can be done by tapping the stick side to side.

Putting It to the Test

When confronted with harsh road conditions, the driver engages the Sprinter's four-wheel-drive setup by pushing a button that connects the center differential, sending equal amounts of power to the front and rear tires. We were told the system works best in mud or sand with the traction control turned off to allow for a little more wheel slip before the brakes grab a spinning wheel. Although this sounds counterintuitive, it does prevent the system from reducing wheel speed too much, overheating the brakes and thus creating more problems. The trick with this system is to stay in the throttle to the point where the system can selectively get the right amount of power to the tire with the most traction.

Since the off-road section of our test drive was slick and greasy, the best way to hunt for traction proved to be sawing the steering wheel back and forth; having access to a low-range gear here did not help. However, had we been on a rocky, steeper surface with more technical challenges and tire traction, the lower gearing and slower wheel speeds would have been the ticket. We tested 4x4 Sprinters with and without this low-range capability (which is also activated by an electronic button on the dash next to the center-diff lock), and found the driving dynamics of the vehicles to be similar. However, with the low range engaged you will get a true 50/50 split between the front and rear axles. For that capability alone, the extra $300 is completely worth the expense.

The worst obstacle during our drive came at a remote high-elevation turnaround. We all climbed up a muddy, snowmelt-soaked two-track lane where the ruts got progressively deeper. Each van that attempted the climb had its front axles packed with more and more clay. Spotters used shovels to put dryer dirt and wood chips under the spinning front tires with marginal success. In the end, the 3500 dualies with mud-terrain tires had the easiest go of it, while the 2500 single-rear-wheel passenger vans equipped with standard-issue winter tires had more trouble.

From outside the van, you could hear the brakes working to keep the spinning wheels moving slowly enough to continue their plodding march forward. At other times you could hear the center differential trying to get as much torque as possible to the front wheels.

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At certain points during the drive, when a driver's natural reaction was to let off the throttle because all perceptible momentum seemed to stop, strong "encouragement" from our trail bosses had some drivers enthusiastically back on the throttle to further engage the traction control to get the behemoths moving forward again.

The four-wheel-drive system is smart and well-engineered, but it seems to us that a manually locking front and rear differential would make this vehicle more capable and predictable, giving the driver more confidence.


But don't think this full-size van's premium price is only justifiable for its unique drivetrain. On-road performance, especially with the Sprinter's higher center of gravity, is impressive. Front double A-arm and solid rear axles have two strong sway bars that keep the Sprinter stable and in control no matter how much crosswind you experience. Add to that a laundry list of standard and optional safety features, and you begin to see why this is the most expensive vehicle in the segment. Industry-leading technology on this rig includes crosswind assist, antidrift warning, collision warning and prevention assist, lane departure warning, tire pressure monitors, load adaptive control, electronic brake prefill, roll mitigation, auto brake wiping, blind spot warning, high beam assist and, when properly equipped, trailer brake assist. Many of these electronic features are specifically tailored for the length, size and weight of the selected model. You can even get an integrated navigation system and leather seats (3500 dualies also have a full suspension seat option as well).

Mercedes is the only four-wheel-drive van player, so this Sprinter is likely to be a huge hit in its first few years with fleet buyers looking for more cargo-carrying, dirt-road-conquering load haulers. That's likely to include local and national delivery companies that service remote routes and face weather challenges. We'd also guess a huge contingent of oil and construction companies, along with motorhome outfitters, will be happy about this feature too.

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As the premium player in the segment, pricing will be the biggest hurdle for these vans. More than 25,000 Sprinters were sold last year. Mercedes has almost 300 dealerships (including commercial Freightliner dealers) selling both 4x4 and 4x2 (rear-wheel-drive) Sprinters. Pricing starts at $44,596 (including destination) for a short-wheelbase, low-roof cargo 2500 4x4 but can go up to $60,000 for the long-wheelbase 4x4 passenger van with all the options. Yes, they're expensive, but they offer value and exclusivity.

We weren't the only ones to notice how nice the fully loaded crew-cab 4x4 Sprinter with comfortable seating for five and a huge cargo area behind the second row of seats almost seemed like an enclosed pickup truck. It doesn't take much imagination to visualize a closed-cab open-bed configuration based on the exact same platform that provides strong pickup truck capabilities. In fact, we enlisted the help of a professional illustrator to see what a Sprinter-based pickup might look like. Sure, it might cost a little more to enclose the passenger area and create a reasonable bed area strong enough to carry some heavy loads (Sprinters already have more payload capacity than any half-ton sold), but such a pickup could really shake up the full-size segment with a powerful and unique engine combined with stunning empty and loaded ride dynamics. Just sayin'.

To see a complete 4x2 price sheet for 2015 M-B Sprinters, click on the image below.

Sprinter MSRPs - MY15

Cars.com photos by Mark Williams; illustration by Theo Chin/Chris Doane Automotive


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MB 4x4Pickup Truck II


I see alot of potental here for a good hunting wagon.

Wonder if Ford Transit, Ram ProMaster, Nissan NV are getting factory four/all wheel drive in the future. The Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana had it...the catch was it was in the 1500 series and the 1500 was axed from the line up. There shouldn't be much of an issue to make a 4WD Transit since it's available in Europe in FWD, RWD like in the US, and 4WD.

Commercial vans off-roading. Nice!

Diesels arent dead! The Ford diesel engine plant in mexico is being upgraded for a f150 diesel motor and a small diesel for the superduty. the other block is undetermined. they are also going to produce transsmission with upgraded plats there too

@Mark Williams
I posted photos of the current Cab Chassis and Cab Chassis 4x4 variants before. They are similar to your illustration, but have a drop down utility bed . They are the standard options from the factory outside NA

Quigley make a 4X4 conversion for the Nissan NVs. Pretty impressive.

A change of tyres would of gotten you in further and a little deeper and into more problems to extract your vehicles.

There isn't much under body protection looking at the photos.

I like those MB V6 diesels, they seem to be quite good.

The last picture of the midsizer looks quite conservative. MB would build a pickup looking like that, if it was an Amarok competitor.

The V6 in a MB midsizer would make for effortless work. Currently the V6 diesel's can produce up to 420ftlb in the EU and here in Australia. That's enough for a midsize pickup.

@Big All

The last photo is a truck based on the sprinter frame. It would be a full size truck. I'd bet they would sell it as an HD too (2500-3500). Since they are bringing production to the US it would be an easy build using the current underpinnings and avoid the chicken tax. All that is needed is the pickup body. Judging by the price of pickups and MB's quality reputation here, I think they could sell a decent number of them. It would be nice to have a German pickup option, especially an HD.

No 9 speed automatic. No 7 speed automatic.
No center differential. This 35/65 is pulled from who knows' where.
And kind of weak diesel output. 200hp 400ft-lbs should be the minimum.

I saw all these units go by me on the hwy in BC and I wondered what the heck was going on. Nice units and would be a hoot to run around in

What about the full size Chevy Van Hillary Clinton is driving around in Iowa?
Hillary is one of us driving a Chevy!

I cant wait to see these on the Class B Offerings, its going to be the best RV ever, Are you listening Roadtrek, Pleasure-Way, Airstream, Winnebago ERA, Leisure Travel, we want this option on the Benzo Class B's you sell!

For the money they are asking, and seeing 6-10 year old Sprinters in my area with lots of rust, I would spend my money on a Tradesman Power Wagon, with a top of the line tall cap! Or a 2500 Tradesman Ram 4x4 with the 6.7 diesel option with the tall cap. But that is just me.

Correct two new Dieslsto be built by Ford in a new plant in Mexico

There's no reason to do a chop-top and long-nose "pickup" version of the Sprinter, when a pickup using the standard Sprinter cab and pickup bed would suffice. Perhaps a crew cab and regular cab. They wouldn't look a like the "pickups" we're accustom to, but who cares if they look funny?

Yes based on the Cab/Chassis Robert Ryan showed, except North America likes their pickup beds.

The cab 'partly over' the engine saves space, and that extra efficiency would help sell them, if mainstream consumers could get past the "Mercedes" part.

@papa jim

I am thinking about living in one of these vans down by the St. John's River in Forida. Thoughts?

Every European manufacturer has some version of a Cab Chassis variant of their Vans
Some like VW have something that looks almost like a conventional Pickup, used by Tradesmen. The larger and heavier Renaults, Mercedes, IVECO etc range from 5,500lb to roughly 10,000lb
Basically European Super Duty's with a vast array of permutations and uses.
You really have to see these in operation to see how capable they are, paper statistics do not tell anywhere the real story

An Australian Jayco Optimum Twin Slide 28.5 ft long, 15,000 GVWR, 23,000 GCVWR


a unibody van with sheet metal front strut mounts and a underpowered turbo diesel is an atrocity to off-road 4x4's, you should be ashamed of yourself to want to own one!

This is the closest Europeans get to a F150, a VW Transporter, with 3,000lb payload a modest 5,000lb towing

The VW Crafter, same small engine gets close to a 6,000lb payload and 5,000lb towing. That is the next small vehicle up. Yes both come as 4x4., but unlike the Amarok, again using the indentical engine, would look out of place as a family vehicle

The rust problem you speak of seems to be a US centric issue, not European. Remember in the EU they use salt and have as much if not more snow.

Maybe the US made vehicles aren't up to speed in comparison to their EU counterparts.

Maybe their should be a way to import them from the EU, the quality of EU vehicles is as good if not better than US vehicles overall.

I do think the Chicken Tax would stop their importation, though from the EU, you could of had better MB vans otherwise.

4x4 will expand the market for these vehicles. Good EMT vehicle.

This is the kind of testing one should do with any 4x4 pickup. Running them in an off-road park doesn't give any real world information.

I agree with you regarding how much testing of vehicles are done at PUTC. It's all about the biggest number.

Too many get caught up in the "bigger the number, must equate to better" mentality.

I do think this is driven by the way vehicles are marketed in the US. "Best in Class". This comment is a fallacy. Best in class denotes that the vehicles overall is best in class.

Here's a test or review Australian style. Notice how it is carried out differently. It's based on the journalists impression and experience.

Notice the FE includes not only on road, but off road as well in the final FE result.


No Fat Cowboy Pickup for me, more On the Mercedes Pickup, that will be the basis for the Nissan Navara , a Renault model to be sold in South America and Mercedes
Merc GLT will be no 'fat cowboy truck'

Mercedes-Benz has proclaimed its all-new ute – expected to be called the GLT-Class – will not be a "Fat cowboy truck for North America."

In an interview with CAR Magazine, Mercedes-Benz Vans chief Volker Mornhinweg also said the company's upcoming Nissan Navara-based one-tonner will be available in a wide variety of variants, from workhorse to leisure vehicle.

Due on sale by early 2019, the first mid-size Mercedes-Benz ute was confirmed by Daimler last month after it leaked this first teaser sketch.

CAR Magazine has now published two further sketches produced by Designwerk and says the dual-cab, which could also be produced in single-cab and other body styles, will be known as the GLT.

The nomenclature is consistent with Mercedes' existing SUV model family – rather than its commercial vehicle line-up – which includes the small GLA, mid-size GLC (GLK replacement), GLE (facelifted M-Class), GLS (facelifted GL) and the legendary G-Class.

Mercedes is yet to revel any technical details of its first mid-size ute, which will be based on the next-generation Navara ute (due on sale here by June) and the latest vehicle co-developed with Renault-Nissan.

The GLT will follow smart's latest fortwo/forfour micro-cars, which will share a platform with the next Renault Twingo but won't be sold here, as well as Infiniti's new Q30/QX30 small cars, which borrow the Daimler MFA platform that underpins the Benz A/B/CLA/GLA-Class.

In a role-reversing joint-venture that was previously killed off by Daimler in 2013 and now resurrected under the 'Project Andrew' codename, Nissan's new D23 Navara will donate its ladder frame and rolling chassis for the GLT, which will employ a different exterior, interior and engines.

That will make it a direct competitor for Australia's top-selling light commercials, including the Toyota HiLux (a new generation of which is due here later this year), as well as the Mitsubishi Triton (which will be replaced next month), the new Navara and the Ford Ranger and Mazda BT-50 (both of which will be facelifted in coming months).

Indeed, Mornhinweg said the new Benz ute will not go head-to-head with dominant full-size North American pick-ups like the Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado and Dodge Ram, but instead target established players in the world's four top mid-size truck markets – Latin America, South Africa, Europe and Australia.

"We are not going to develop a fat cowboy truck for North America," he told CAR. "After all, the big three – Ford, GM/GMC and Ram – already own about 90 per cent of that market, which typically absorbs in excess of two million units per year.

"In this cut-throat environment, newcomers like us would invariably fight an arduous uphill battle. That's why our focus is on a smaller and lighter pick-up truck which is already perceived as premium product in South America, Africa and the Middle East."

Mornhinweg told CAR the GLT will be built in three distinct equipment grades, including an entry model directed at trades people and a premium 'lifestyle' model, like its chief rivals.

"Modern pick-ups are becoming increasingly car-like," he said. "We shall take account of this trend by offering a wide choice of drivetrains as well as three different equipment levels provisionally labelled workhorse, dual use and leisure and family.

"Marketing expects dual-use to be the undisputed best-seller with the base and premium packs splitting the remaining 50 per cent."

The GLT is expected to be offered with four- and six-cylinder petrol and diesel Mercedes engines, matched to six-speed manual and seven-speed automatic transmissions, as well as live-axle rear-drive and 4MATIC four-wheel drive and independent rear suspension options.

Pricing should be in line with the most popular utes from the US and Japanese brands, meaning a range between about $20,000 and $60,000.

CAR says the GLT's instrument panel will take inspiration from the GLC and GLE SUVs, and that it will join the Triton in offering an (electric) sliding rear window, as well as coming with a unique tailgate that can be locked at both 90- and 180-degree angles.

"The customers out there are waiting for the Mercedes among the mid-size pick-ups," Mornhinweg told CAR. "We shall give them exactly what they ask for: impeccable fit and finish, top-notch safety and comfort, excellent vehicle dynamics and state-of-the-art connectivity.

"Yes, our vehicle looks plain and simple. But it is highly functional, it offers best-in-class passenger space in row two, the ergonomics leave nothing to be desired, and the materials used clearly exceed typical pick-up standards."

According to Daimler, the worldwide market for mid-size pick-ups is around 2.3 million units per annum, and the dominant player is Toyota's HiLux/Tacoma, which attracts around 700,000 yearly sales, followed by Nissan, Isuzu, Ford and GMC. Volkswagen's Amarok has snared just three per cent of the market since its 2010 launch.

Light commercials account for about 20 per cent of the total new-vehicle market in Australia, where about 200,000 are sold annually, making it the world's fourth largest market.

It's understood the GLT will be produced by Nissan alongside the D23/NP300 Navara, which will be manufactured in Spain, Argentina (where Renault will also produce its first one-tonne ute) and, for Australia, Thailand.

"We've been part of this from the very beginning and we are genuinely excited," Mercedes-Benz's Australian PR chief David McCarthy told motoring.com.au last month.

Robert Ryan - I'm surprised that you haven't been flamed ""We are not going to develop a fat cowboy truck for North America,"

Laramie, Long Horn, Lariet, King Ranch, High Country, 1794 all play up to that cowboy image.

Germans are not known for their subtley. I do not know what they mean if the are going to build an Upmarket Pickup, but it will not be for " Fat Cowboys"? Fat Germans, South Africans , Australians?
I guess what they are trying to say that the Mercedes Pickup, will have considerable work capabilities but can be in fairly luxurious

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