Mercedes-Benz Sprinter VS LDV T60
- Smooth diesel power
- Comfy, practical cabin
- Passenger-car tech
- Loud with windows down
- 360-degree camera would need to land as standard
- Much hyped new voice control can be... patchy
- Packed with features as standard
- Solid all-rounder
- Too-firm suspension (Pro)
- Resale value
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.
|Engine Type||2.1L turbo|
A lot is riding on the LDV T60. The dual-cab-only ute range is spearheading a new generation of better-built and better-equipped Chinese utes and (very soon) SUVs, aimed at carving out their own slice of the lucrative Aussie work-and-play market.
It’s the first Chinese commercial vehicle to receive a five-star ANCAP rating, it’s well priced and packed with standard features and safety tech across the range, but realistically is that enough to make it an appealing proposition in the eyes of the ute-buying public? And to overcome the public's wariness about vehicles from the People's Republic? Read on.
|Engine Type||2.8L turbo|
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.
Would you buy any van other than a Sprinter? Tell us in the comments.
The LDV T60 is a big step in the right direction for Chinese-built utes and should go a long way to convincing Aussie ute buyers that these are finally a worthwhile consideration. Well priced and feature-packed, this dual-cab range exhibits a marked improvement in build quality, fit and finish and all-round drivability. Right now, the Chinese are not major contenders by anyone's estimation but at least they're moving in the right direction.
For our money, and for work-and-play versatility, the Luxe auto is the pick of the bunch; you get all the standard kit with a few nifty add-ons, including on-demand rear diff lock, chrome door handles and door mirrors, sports bar and more.
Would you consider buying a Chinese-built ute? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
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.
From the outside, the LDV T60 is not unpleasant to look at – part-chunky ute, part-SUV styling – but there’s nothing startlingly special about it, either. It has the scalloped sides of an Amarok look-alike, the sporty stretch bonnet of a HiLux wannabe and everything in between.
I like it for its lack of pretension, as if its designers had a beer down the pub, scratched out their ideas on a coaster as a bit of a joke and then they decided they were actually pretty good, so those guidelines have stuck.
The interior is all clean lines and big surfaces, especially the plastic everything in the Pro, which is not a bad thing as this tradie-targetting model has a real everyday working ute feel to it.
The cabin is dominated by the huge expanse of dash-top and the ute’s 10.0-inch touchscreen entertainment unit.
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.
The cabin is neat and roomy with adequate storage space for driver and front-seat passenger; a lidded centre-console bin, big door pockets, a dash-height cupholder for driver and front passenger (although our supplied water bottles only fit in with a little bit of twisting and forcing) and a knick-knacks tray, replete with two USB ports and a 12V socket.
Those in the rear get door pockets, a centre armrest with two cupholders and a 12V socket.
The front seats are comfortable enough but lack support, especially at the sides; the rear seats are flat and workmanlike.
Interior fit and finish is a big improvement on what’s come before in Chinese-built utes and these build-quality positives may go a long way to helping convince Australia’s ute buyers that the LDV T60 is a worthwhile purchase – or at least worth considering.
The 10-inch touchscreen is clear, neat and simple to operate, although prone to glare. I did see one colleague struggling to get his Android OS phone working through his Luxe. (I didn’t even bother trying to hook up my iPhone; I’m a dinosaur like that.)
The LDV T60 is 5365mm long, 2145mm wide, and 1852mm high (Pro) and 1887mm high (Luxe). Kerb weight is 1950kg (Pro manual), 1980kg (Pro auto), 1995kg (Luxe manual) and 2060kg (Luxe auto).
The tray is 1525mm long and 1510mm wide (1131mm between the wheel arches). It has a plastic tub liner and four tie-down points (one in each corner) and two ‘tub rim anchor points’, which seem like a bit of a flimsy afterthought. Loading height (from tray floor to ground) is 819mm.
The TDV T60 has a 3000kg braked tow capacity (750kg unbraked); many rivals hit the 3500kg benchmark. Its payload ranges from 815kg (Luxe auto) to 1025kg (for the Pro manual). Towball download is 300kg.
One final quirk we should mention is that the two Pros we tested had the indentation for a driver-side 'Jesus!' handle, but no actual handle. Strange.
Price and features
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.
In an age where each new vehicle seems to offer a mind-boggling variety of trim and spec levels, the LDV T60 range is a refreshingly small and simple one.
The diesel-only five-seater LDV T60 is available in one body style – dual-cab – and two trim levels: Pro, aimed at tradies, and Luxe, aimed at the dual-purpose or family recreation market. The range is limited to dual-cabs at the moment, but, at the launch LDV Automotive Australia did tease the arrival of single-cab and extra-cab models in 2018.
The four options are Pro manual, Pro automatic, Luxe manual and Luxe automatic. All are powered by a 2.8-litre common-rail turbo-diesel engine.
The base-spec T60 Pro, the manual, is $30,516 (drive away); the Pro automatic is $32,621 (drive away), the Luxe manual $34,726 (drive away), and the Luxe automatic $36,831 (drive away). ABN holders will pay $28,990 (for the Pro manual), $30,990 (Pro auto), Luxe manual ($32,990) and Luxe automatic ($34,990).
The ute’s standard features in Pro form include cloth seats, a 10.0-inch colour touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, automatic height adjusting headlights, 4WD with high and low range, 17-inch alloys with a full-sized spare, side steps, and roof rails.
Safety gear includes six airbags, two ISOFIX child-seat restraint attachment points in the rear seat, as well as a raft of passive and active safety tech including ABS, EBA, ESC, reversing camera and rear parking sensors, 'Hill Descent Control', 'Hill Start Assist', and a tyre-pressure monitoring system.
Above and beyond that, the top-spec Luxe gets leather seats and leather-bound steering wheel, electrically six-way adjustable and heated front seats, automatic climate control and a 'Smart Key' system with Start/Stop button, as well as an automatic locking rear differential as standard.
The Pro has a multi-bar headboard to protect the rear window; the Luxe has a polished chrome sport bar. Both models have roof rails as standard.
LDV Automotive has launched a range of accessories including rubber floor mats, polished alloy nudge bars, tow bar, ladder rack, colour-matched canopies, tonneau covers and more. Bullbars for the ute are in the pipeline.
Engine & trans
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.
We did more than 200km around Bathurst in some LDV T60s, most of it in a Pro auto, and much of the drive program was on bitumen. A few things became obvious quite early on and, later, a few quirks popped up as well.
The 2.8-litre four-cylinder VM Motori turbo-diesel never seemed to struggle – on the blacktop or in the bush – but it almost felt too relaxed, as it was slow to respond and wind up, especially when pushed on long, steep hills.
However, a bonus of that under-stressed engine is that it is very quiet – we had the radio off and engine-related NVH levels were impressive. There wasn’t even any wind-rush from the big wing mirrors.
The six-speed Aisin auto trans is a smooth unit – no hard-shifting up or down – but there’s no real discernible difference in drivability between modes; Normal or Sport.
Ride and handling are adequate if unspectacular, although it turned in nicely – steering was very precise for something like this – and the ute held stable through long sweeping bends. Our tester was on 245/65 R17 Dunlop Grandtrek AT20s.
While our stiff-set Pro exhibited no arse-end skipping-around straight away, typical of an unladen ute, we did hit a few surprise lumps and bumps early on in the drive-loop and that got the back end jumping about in a brief but brutal manner.
As for the quirks, our overzealous ABS kicked in on several occasions for seemingly innocuous reasons when we tickled the brakes (discs all round) at lower and high speeds on bumpy stuff, which was concerning.
Secondly, a couple of journalists in a Luxe reckoned the blind-spot monitor in their LDV T60 failed to alert them to the presence of a passing vehicle.
While the Pro suspension was too firm (to cope with heavy loads, no doubt), the Luxe’s tended to wallow.
For off-roading enthusiasts, here are the numbers worth noting: ground clearance is 215mm, wading depth is 300mm, and front and rear departure angles are 27 and 24.2 degrees respectively; ramp-over angle is 21.3 degrees.
The launch off-road loops were more scenic than challenging but when we intentionally veered off-course and onto some steep hilly sections, we had the opportunity to check out the LDV T60’s engine braking (okay) and hill descent control (good).
The Pro auto was an easier drive over any off-road bits than the manual Pro was, as the light feel of its clutch and the loose throw of its gear-stick didn’t inspire confidence.
Underbody protection includes a plastic bash-plate at the front.
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 LDV T60 packs a lot of safety gear in for the price. It has a five-star ANCAP rating, six airbags (driver and front passenger, side, full-length curtain) and includes a raft of passive and active safety tech across the range including ABS, EBA, ESC, reversing camera and rear parking sensors, 'Hill Descent Control', 'Hill Start Assist', and a tyre-pressure-monitoring system. It has two ISOFIX points and two top-tether points.