Mercedes-Benz Sprinter VS Nissan Navara
- 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
- Composed on-road dynamics
- Deeper tub for dual cabs
- Punchy engine
- Noticeable price jump
- Safety equipment could go further
- Aged interior
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|
Whereas passenger cars and SUVs are refreshed every four or five years with a new-generation model, utes often have a much longer shelf life. This doesn’t mean customer expectations are changed, though, as new pick-ups should still have the latest and greatest in safety and specification.
So, what is a brand meant to do when their all-new pick-up model is still years away?
|Engine Type||2.3L 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.
Nissan’s new Navara might not move the ute game forward as much as some recent entrants, but those that want to stand out from the usual Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger crowd would do well to check out Nissan’s workhorse.
The added standard safety across the board is nice for those looking for a dependable workhorse, but the small quality-of-life updates such as a new steering wheel keep the Navara from feeling stale.
Would be even better if the interior was given a bigger overhaul, like the exterior, but the 2021 Nissan Navara remains a strong option in a competitive segment.
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.
Nissan’s updated 2021 Navara wears a new exterior design featuring a revised front grille, bulkier bonnet, fresh bumper design and tailgate stamped with its name.
By borrowing the look from the US market-Titan, there is no doubt this makes the new Navara butcher and more muscular than before, but I actually prefer the sleeker look of the outgoing car.
Maybe it’s the swathes of chrome surrounding the front grille? Either way, I think the Pro-4X is the best interpretation of the new Navara, mainly thanks to its blacked-out bits that make it look even tougher.
The rest of the exterior hasn’t changed much, though the tray in dual-cab variants is now 45mm deeper, making the tub slightly larger.
The tray now measures 1509mm long (floor), 1490mm wide (top), 1134m between the wheelarches, and 519mm deep, though it still won’t fit a full-sized pallet.
The 2021 Navara’s off-road chops remain intact with approach, departure and breakover angles at 32.7, 20.3 and 23.2 degrees respectively for our ST-X dual-cab, while ground clearance when unladen is measured at 224mm.
Stepping inside the 2021 Navara, and the cabin looks much the same as it did before.
The steering wheel is new however, and borrows its design from the Qashqai and Leaf to make the interior feel a little less utilitarian and a just a little more chic, while the driver’s display is also a fresh addition to the 2021 model.
However, these small changes don’t do much to detract from the ageing interior, which has remained largely the same since 2015.
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.
Much of the 2021 Navara is carried over from last year, which means familiar switchgear, seats and trims.
Up front there is plenty of room for occupants, and storage options extend to generous door bins that accommodate large bottles, a deep centre console bin, two cupholders and a small tray just ahead of the shifter for wallets/phones.
All options offer usable storage space, but the wallet/phone tray could be a little deeper with higher sides to stop things sliding around when cornering.
In the back – at least in dual-cab versions – the seating situation is, again, familiar to anyone who has been in the current-generation Navara.
Outboard passengers are afforded decent head-, leg- and shoulder-room, but middle passengers might find it a bit of a squeeze.
Unfortunately, it’s a little no frills back there, with the only amenities being a fold-down armrest with cupholders, door bins, map pockets and air vents.
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.
The price of Nissan’s Navara has increased across the board this year, but more equipment is added as compensation.
There are four grades of Navara available for now – SL, ST, ST-X and Pro-4X – mixed up with 4x2, 4x4, manual, automatic and three different body style options for a total of 22 possible permutations.
Prices for the SL kick off at $32,300, before on-road costs, making the point-of-entry to the Navara range $5150 more expensive than before.
However, Nissan has justified this, somewhat, with the inclusion of more standard equipment and safety.
The SL is fitted with 17-inch steel wheels, a 7.0-inch driver display, cloth interior, keyless entry, and powered windows and door mirrors, as well as more safety equipment, which we will detail further below.
The next-step-up ST is available exclusively in dual-cab pick-up form and starts from $47,780, but adds digital radio, 17-inch alloy wheels, leather-accented steering wheel and shifter, a chrome sports bar and LED headlights.
The ST-X meanwhile, is offered in king- and dual-cab pick-up bodies, priced from $51,270, and is fitted with 18-inch wheels, dual-zone climate control, leather-accented interior, push-button start and auto-folding side mirrors.
Our test car, the 4x4 ST-X dual-cab automatic rings the till up at $58,270 ($1870 pricier than before).
Sitting atop the range for now is the Pro-4X, which is available exclusively in 4x4 dual-cab pick-up form, priced at $58,130 for the manual ,and $60,630 for the automatic.
It differs from the rest of the Navara range with bespoke styling, leather interior and all-terrain rubber as standard.
All versions of the Navara are also fitted with an 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto support, Bluetooth connectivity and six-speaker sound, but ST grades and up also score satellite navigation and digital radio.
However, this is somewhat offset a little by promotional drive-away pricing available to both private and business customers.
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 engine line-up for the 2021 Nissan Navara carries over unchanged from before, which means all but the base grade are fitted with a 2.3-litre twin-turbo-diesel four-cylinder that produces 140kW/450Nm.
The entry-level 4x2 SL manual versions meanwhile, are powered by a single-turbo 2.3-litre diesel engine, outputting 120kW/403Nm.
Despite the carryover powertrains, the higher-output engine remains competitive against the ute segment, even when stacked up against newer rivals like the Isuzu D-Max and Mazda BT-50 that need a 3.0-litre engine to produce the same figures.
The engine also affords a payload rating of between 1004-1146kg, depending on spec, as well as a braked towing capacity of 3.5 tonnes.
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.
Official fuel consumption figures for the Nissan Navara range from 7.2-8.1 litres per 100km, depending on engine, transmission, spec and body style.
The ST-X automatic we drove for review is rated at 7.9L/100km, making it about as thirsty as its competitors.
After a day of mixed driving conditions, including road and gravel with and without a load (as well as with a trailer), we averaged 9.0L/100km.
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.
Without much changing under the skin, the 2021 Nissan Navara drives much as it did before; and that is to say it handles itself admirably on the black top.
With a unique multi-link rear suspension set-up, the Navara feels composed on the road, even without a load in the rear.
And when driving with some weight in the tray – in our case a 325kg box – the Navara remains as calm and collected as you would want in a dual-cab ute.
Even with a trailer attached, the added weight and change in handling geometry is not enough to perturb Nissan’s ute on some of Melbourne’s tight and twisty roads.
Likewise, the carryover engine offers enough grunt to haul cargo about without much fuss, though the 2.3-litre twin-turbo-diesel unit in our ST-X test car proved a bit loud and grunty under load.
It’s certainly punchy enough without any weight or a trailer in the back, though, and its 140kW/450Nm outputs keep it very competitive against other utes in the segment.
The seven-speed automatic transmission paired with the engine is also smooth and fast shifting, never hunting for a gear when needed.
For those that like to shift themselves, there is manual ratio selection available on the shifter, though there are no wheel-mounted paddles.
Road noise is also quite prevalent in the ST-X, due to the 18-inch wheels, while wind noise is also noticeable at freeway speeds thanks to the Navara sporting the aerodynamic profile of a large brick.
These cabin intrusions are still noticeable despite Nissan’s claims of bulking up sound deadening to improve noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels, but we’d have to drive both new and old cars back-to-back to determine if the tweaks are successful.
The big question mark here though is how the new Navara handles itself off-road, and with our driving limited to just paved roads, we’ll have to wait and see if Nissan’s new ute is still as adventurous as its rivals.
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 2021 Nissan Navara wears a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, though its examination was conducted in 2015 when the current-generation model was introduced to Australia.
While the Navara from six years ago didn’t feature any form of autonomous emergency braking (AEB) or lane support systems, it still managed to score 14.01 out of 16 for the frontal offset test, and full marks in the side impact (16 points) and pole (two points) tests.
The overall score awarded to the Navara in 2015 was 35.01 out of 37 points.
Standard safety features in the 2021 model now include AEB, hill-start assist, cruise control, seven airbags, automatic headlights and trailer-sway control.
A reversing camera is standard on all grades barring the single cab, SL king-cab chassis and SL dual-cab chassis variants.
Stepping up to the ST adds rear cross-traffic alert, a surround-view monitor, automatic wipers, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning and high-beam assist, while the ST-X scores rear parking sensors and a tyre pressure monitor.
There’s no doubt the 2021 Navara is the safest iteration yet, but when competitors offer features like blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert as standard throughout the range, it’s hard to ignore the shortcomings on the Nissan ute’s spec list.
Like all new Nissan Australia models, the 2021 Navara comes with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with five years roadside assist.
However, the benchmark for warranty remains Mitsubishi and its Triton, which is offered with a 10-year/200,000km assurance period.
Scheduled servicing intervals in the Nissan Navara are set for every 12 months/20,000km, whichever occurs first.
Service costs are different for manual and automatic vehicles though, with five years/60 months maintenance on the manual adding up to $2883, and $2847 for the auto.
This means the Navara is more expensive to maintain than some rivals, which hover around the $2500 mark for five years’ worth of servicing.
However, the service intervals of the Navara are slightly longer at 20,000km, instead of competitor’s 15,000km range.