Mercedes-Benz Sprinter VS Mitsubishi Triton
- 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
- Five-star safety
- Value for money
- Versatile drivetrain
- Load tub overhang
- Cramped rear seat
- Annoying chimes
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|
As the popularity of 4x4 dual cab utes continues to grow, so too does demand for premium models. And it’s not just family/recreational buyers driving this demand. Top-shelf utes are increasingly common on construction sites, where competition amongst tradies to win job tenders is often matched by a battle for bragging rights over who owns the best ute.
This goes back a long way. It really took off in the 1970s and early 1980s during production of Holden’s legendary HQ-WB One Tonner. They sold in huge numbers, but because they were produced in a very basic work-focused specification, it was only a matter of time before tradie owners wanted some individuality on the worksite.
Initially it was just a set of chrome 12-slotters and fat tyres with raised white lettering on the sidewalls. However, this showmanship quickly expanded into custom metallic paint jobs and leather interiors, Statesman or Caprice front-ends, jarrah trays with exquisite joinery showcased under 50 coats of clear and numerous other tweaks. Eventually some became too nice for work and joined the show car circuit instead - which defeated the whole point of the exercise! But that’s competition for you.
The Holden One Tonner era may be long gone, but rivalry between Aussie tradies for best ute honours remains strong. So we recently spent a working week in Mitsubishi’s stylish premium-grade Triton to see how it measures up in the premium ute market.
Read More: Mitsubishi Triton 2020 review
|Engine Type||2.4L 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.
Compared to its more expensive mainstream rivals, the lavishly-equipped GLS Premium offers unmatched value for money.
For less than $53K it has more than everything you need in terms of safety and features, plus proven Mitsubishi performance, reliability and build quality. Premium by name and premium by nature, it can more than hold its own in any battle for best ute bragging rights. And there’s no chrome 12-slotters or hand-made jarrah trays required.
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.
The conspicuously long rear overhang is a Triton design signature, which contributes to its expansive 5409mm overall length that’s almost line-ball with a Ford Ranger equivalent.
However, in stark contrast, the Triton’s relatively short 3000mm wheelbase results in sharp steering response. Combined with a compact 11.8-metre turning circle and 1815mm width, it all adds up to impressive agility in all conditions, from tight bush tracks and inner-city parking to rugged worksites with difficult access.
The 4x4 models with the latest 18-inch wheel stock have 220mm of ground clearance and improved approach (31 degrees), ramp break-over (25 degrees) and departure (23 degrees) angles.
Triton rear seating has always been tight, particularly for three adults. Tall ones sitting in the higher central position can have their heads pressing into the roof lining. By contrast, that same roof lining also has wide slot-type air circulation vents, which are superior to console-mounted vents in directing cooling air to the faces of rear seat passengers.
The most annoying noise award goes to the ‘Steering Wheel Unlocked’ warning, which chimes loudly every time the driver stops and departs the vehicle.
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.
With its relatively light 2045kg kerb weight and 2900kg GVM, the GLS Premium has an 855kg payload rating. It’s also rated to tow up to 3100kg of braked trailer and with a GCM (or how much you can legally carry and tow at the same time) of 5885kg, that means you only have to reduce your payload by 115kg to do it. Or you could just lower your towing limit by the same amount (to 2985kg) and keep your full payload.
Either way, this is a realistic set of numbers to play with, because most 4x4 dual cabs with 3500kg tow ratings have to reduce their payloads by half a tonne or more to legally do it. Which is totally impractical of course, meaning most 3500kg tow ratings are more like 3000kg or less in the real world. And most people don't need to tow more than 3000kg anyway.
The load tub is 1520mm long and 1470mm wide with a depth of 475mm. There’s 1185mm between the rear wheel housings, so you can’t squeeze a standard 1165mm-square Aussie pallet in between them, but a smaller Euro 1200 x 800mm pallet can fit. There’s six tie-down points (would be better if they were closer to floor height) and a full tub-liner.
Cabin storage consists of a bottle holder and storage bin in each front door plus an overhead glasses holder and single glovebox. The centre console has a small storage cubby at the front, two small (500ml) bottle or cup holders in the centre and a lidded box at the back which doubles as a driver’s elbow rest.
Rear seat passengers get a bottle holder but no storage bin in each door, flexible storage pockets on each front seat backrest, a pull-down centre armrest with two cup holders plus an open cubby in the rear of the console for small items. The base cushion is fixed, with no storage space beneath or the ability to be stored vertically for more internal carry space, like some rivals.
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.
Our test vehicle is the MY20 GLS Premium which is the top rung on the Triton model ladder. With a list price of $52,490, it represents outstanding value for money given that premium versions of its mainstream 4x4 dual cab ute competitors are priced above $60,000.
Beyond its black nudge bar, sports bar, load tub-liner, side steps and rear-step bumper, there’s chunky six-spoke 18-inch alloys with 265/60R18 tyres and a full-size spare. Plus LED dusk-sensing headlights and daytime running lights, halogen fog lights, chrome door handles, chrome door mirrors with integral heating and turn indicators, speed/rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, reversing and 360-degree cameras plus a rear diff lock.
Keyless entry reveals a sumptuous interior with dual-zone climate control, rear privacy glass, leather-appointed seats with heating up-front, leather-bound steering wheel/gearshift/handbrake and height/reach adjustable steering column. There’s also 12-volt/USB connections and a six-speaker system with 7.0-inch touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, DAB radio and multiple connectivity including Bluetooth.
Like we said, it’s fully loaded, but if subjected to a working role it wouldn’t take long for muddy boots and dirty grit-filled shirts and shorts to make that fancy leather and carpet look pretty second-hand. Tough canvas-type seat covers and dirt-trap rubber floor mats might be a good idea if you want to preserve such niceties.
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.
The venerable 4N15 four-cylinder turbo-diesel is still one of the best in the business, with strong all-round performance that belies its relatively small 2.4 litre capacity. It produces 133kW at 3500rpm and a competitive 430Nm of torque, which is served full strength at 2500rpm but remains plentiful from as low as 1500rpm.
The six-speed torque converter automatic transmission matches the engine’s impressive refinement, with over-driven fifth and sixth ratios for economical highway cruising and a manual shift mode using steering wheel paddle-shifters.
The model featured below is the 2020 Mitsubishi Triton GLS Premium
The excellent Super-Select 4WD-II system offers a choice of rear-wheel drive high range (2H) and full-time 4WD high range (4H) with centre diff unlocked, which is ideal for sealed and unsealed road use. The centre diff locked 4WD high range (4HLc) and centre diff locked 4WD low range (4LLc) settings are aimed at the rough stuff.
There’s also a choice of four off-road driving modes to maximise traction and stability on Gravel, Mud/Snow, Sand and Rock. And if that’s not enough to get you out of trouble, there’s also a rear diff locker.
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.
Mitsubishi claims a combined figure of 8.6L/100km. The dash display was showing a slightly higher 9.7 figure when we stopped to fill the 75-litre tank after just under 500km of testing. That wasn’t far off our own figure of 10.7 based on fuel bowser and trip meter readings, which means you could expect a realistic driving range of around 700km.
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.
The GLS Premium’s ride quality when empty or lightly loaded is not as jiggly as the lower-grade GLX+ we've previously tested. We can only put this down to the increased sprung weight of the top-grade model, which being almost 100kg heavier results in a noticeable improvement in suspension behaviour. It just feels more composed when empty or lightly loaded and therefore nicer to drive on a daily basis in cities and suburbs.
The power-assisted steering response and turning weight is good, being light at parking speeds and increasingly firm as speeds rise. Braking from the front disc/rear drum combination is reassuringly strong and consistent under all loads.
Around town it’s quiet and comfortable with more than adequate performance thanks to its healthy torque to weight ratio. The short wheelbase and tight turning circle also make parking and other low-speed maneuvering a breeze.
It’s a comfortable and relaxed highway cruiser too, with low engine, tyre and wind noise allowing conversations without raised voices. The over-driven sixth gear allows the 2.4 litre turbo-diesel to maximise fuel economy, loping along with only 1650rpm at 100km/h and 1800rpm at 110km/h.
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.
Maximum five-star ANCAP rating (last tested 2015) and the latest active safety features including AEB, lane departure and blind-spot warnings, rear cross-traffic alert, trailer stability assist and lots more. There’s also seven airbags including full side-curtains, plus ISOFIX and top-tether child seat anchorage points for the two outer rear positions.