Renault Master 2014 review
Having re-established Renault in the passenger car market in Australia, particularly in the high-performance field, the French marque is about to begin an onslaught on the light commercial field.
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On the commercial side of the Mercedes-Benz business, a new Sprinter van is talked about in the same revered tone as a new S-Class. Seriously; the company's best-selling van has the same flagship aura about it as the uber-luxe limousine.
Even in Australia - where it wears a price premium over most competitors - Mercedes says it has managed to cling to the top sales spot in the large-van segment for more than two decades. But in Europe (and especially Germany) it's even more ubiquitous - they are absolutely everywhere.
This 2019 update is kind of a big deal, then. And with a new (and cheaper) FWD variant, overhauled cabin technology that now mirrors the best of the passenger-car range, and new safety offerings like AEB, active cruise and a 360-degree camera, Benz reckons this new model will bite off an even bigger share of the market.
And so we took the Sprinter for a quick spin ahead of its Q4 Australian launch to see if they're right.
|Mercedes-Benz SPRINTER 2018: 310 CDI MWB|
|Engine Type||2.1L turbo|
|Price from||No recent listings|
The big news here is the introduction of a new entry point to the Sprinter range, a (first for this van) FWD model that is also offered with a new, nine-speed gearbox.
Mercedes is yet to confirm pricing or full specification for the updated Sprinter, but it reckons we can expect to see the FWD model lop about $5k off the starting price, lowering the entry point for an automatic SWB vehicle to around $42k (and about $39k for a manual).
That would bring it much closer to the heart of its segment - the Renault Master, for example, will set you back about $35k for a SWB with a manual gearbox.
The Sprinter will arrive in a standard specification across the range (SWB, MWB, LWB and XLWB) with plenty of personalisation options from there. And we do mean plenty; Benz reckons there are about 1700 possible variations.
New for this update is Benz's very cool 'MBUX' multimedia system (the one in the spanking new A-Class), which will be operated via a 7.0-inch screen as standard, with a 10.25-inch screen a cost option. The MBUX setup uses the same AI-enabled voice recognition system as the A-Class - meaning you can talk to it without using pre-defined key words, although it's still far from flawless - and it pairs with a six-speaker stereo.
The system joins Merc's heavily redesigned 'Touch' steering wheel as the standout new features. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are yet to appear, but Benz tells us it's coming post launch, and will likely be rolled out as a no-cost option.
It's a vast and slab-sided thing, of course, and practicality takes priority over design, but in the world of full-size vans, the Sprinter is a rather handsome beast.
Up front, the optional three-column LED headlights separate the massive horizontal slats of the grille, while sharp contours running the edge of the bonnet create a kind of power dome in the centre. It's a pretty dominant design, and it definitely lends the Sprinter a strong road presence.
But there's only so much crayon work you can do with a commercial vehicle, so, unsurprisingly, the Sprinter looks... a lot like a van. Lighter colours - and grey especially - look best, highlighting the subtle contours and making it look a little less blocky and heavy.
The cabin, though, looks properly great; a customisable blend of form and function (exactly how much of either is up to you) that - thanks to Mercedes' cool MBUX system and Touch steering wheel - feels like it could belong in a passenger car rather than a workaday van.
The materials are geared toward wear and tear, though, with fabric seats and hard plastics liberally splashed about the cabin.
It's available in in four sizes (five if you include cab chassis) and with three roof heights, so just how practical your Sprinter arrives is going to be up to you.
Benz reports total storage space can be up to 17 cubic metres, depending on configuration. The front-wheel-drive version is now eight centimetres lower at the back, too, making it a little easier to load.
Mercedes is yet to confirm the full load-carrying spec for Australian cars, but consider this; even the smallest and most underpowered model in the outgoing range could carry more than a tonne and tow in excess of 2000kg (braked), and those numbers are unlikely to have gone backwards. But then, that the big and cavernous Sprinter can carry stuff will surprise absolutely no-one.
The cabin is a super-clever mix of storage spots and hidey-holes, but special mention must go to the phone-sized slots in the dash for both passenger and driver, as well as the extra storage at head height, dash height and in the centre console.
Aside from the new nine-speed automatic offered in the FWD version, the engines and transmission options are carried over from the current models, although they do now offer a little more oomph.
That means a 2.1-litre diesel good for 84kW and 250Nm, 105kW and 330Nm, or 120kW and 360Nm, as well as the diesel V6 that produces 140kW and 440Nm. They're paired with a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic in RWD versions, while the FWD can now choose the new gearbox.
Mercedes is yet to confirm fuel use for the 84KW engine, but the mid-spec diesel will use 8.0L/100km - the very same as the most powerful 120kW option in the four-cylinder range. Updated numbers for the big 3.0-litre V6 haven't been revealed yet, either.
All those numbers are calculated on the claimed combined cycle.
It's utterly car-like. There's really no other way to describe it. Despite the fact you're dragging a cargo area big enough to swallow an Ikea showroom, the mass is largely unnoticeable from the driver's seat. In fact, if it wasn't for the way the sky-high driving position perches you above the steering wheel, it would be very easy to forget you're driving a van at all.
We only sampled one drivetrain combination - the 2.1-litre diesel paired with the seven-speed transmission, both of which carry over from the outgoing model, housed in a mid-wheelbase version - and the engine proved smooth and refined, gathering speed with nary a clatter or rattle in the cabin. It's not overly quick, but the low-down urge of the 360Nm (it appears at 1400rpm) is plenty willing to drag the Sprinter away from the lights.
With the window down, the diesel noise is far more noticeable, but the sound insulation does a great job of locking the noise outside when the cabin is sealed.
Even the steering feels surprisingly responsive, but with a reassuring lack of sharpness that mirth otherwise have you feeling like you're about to topple over. In a moment of pure madness, we pointed the Sprinter's massive nose at a climbing, twisting road, and while you're unlikely to win any hillclimb challenges,it doesn't feel overly top-heavy, either, and it will happily rumble to the top of most any mountain you should encounter.
Most importantly, though, the cabin is comfortable, mostly quiet, and feels less jittery or bouncy than plenty of dual-cab utes. With about 350 kilogram load on board, the ride was firm but not uncomfortable - exactly what we'd want from a van of this size.
And now, a small caveat. We were treated to a fairly limited test-drive on European roads that were ridiculously smooth, so we'll reserve full judgement on how the Sprinter responds to Australian conditions until it arrives locally in Q4 this year.
3 years / 200,000 km warranty
Benz should be commended for rolling out AEB as standard across the range for this 2019 update, which also includes new side airbags for the front seats, joining the dual-front bags from the outgoing model.
Active lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, active cruise and a 360-degree camera have also become available, but if and where they arrive as standard is yet to be confirmed. Expect cross-wind control to reappear, too.
The Sprinter has not undergone ANCAP crash testing.
The Sprinter arrives with a three-year, 200,000km warranty as standard, with service intervals pegged at 12 months or 20,000km. Roadside assist is included for the warranty period, but there's no capped-price servicing on offer.
If it was any more practical it would do the loading and unloading for you, but there's also no obvious penalty for driving a commercial vehicle here. It's comfortable, quiet and now offers better interior technology than even most Benz passenger cars.
And with a cheaper entry point now on offer, the Sprinter should have absolutely no problem holding onto its top sales spot.
|310 CDI MWB||2.1L, Diesel, 6 SP MAN||No recent listings||2018 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2018 310 CDI MWB Pricing and Specs|
|310 CDI SWB||2.1L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO||No recent listings||2018 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2018 310 CDI SWB Pricing and Specs|
|311 CDI VS30 MWB FWD||2.1L, Diesel, 6 SP MAN||No recent listings||2018 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2018 311 CDI VS30 MWB FWD Pricing and Specs|
|311 CDI VS30 MWB FWD HIGH ROOF||2.1L, Diesel, 9 SP AUTO||No recent listings||2018 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2018 311 CDI VS30 MWB FWD HIGH ROOF Pricing and Specs|
|Price and features||8|
|Engine & trans||8|