Believe it or not, there is a market for utes that aren’t those style-focused 4x4s with double-cab bodies and modest trays. The 2019 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter cab-chassis, for example, could be seen as the antithesis of that more popular school of ute thought.
It’s more of a small truck than a ute, with workers at the plant in Germany clearly building the front third of a Sprinter van before knocking off work early, leaving an exposed rear end.
This allows customers to fit either short, mid-length or long trays, depending on whether you choose the mid wheelbase (MWB) or long wheelbase (LWB). There’s a choice of front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive, and four engines to choose from.
Our test vehicle is the Sprinter MWB 516 model, which is one of more than 1700 different versions of the Sprinter you can buy. So - as if you haven’t picked up on the fact already - there’s a configuration available for pretty much all commercial vehicle customers.
Don’t go thinking you’ll be able to duck into the underground carpark at the shops in this bad boy, because with dimensions measuring 6246mm long, 2199mm wide and 2348mm tall, there is no chance you’ll fit. It carries its bulk well, though, with nice proportions and, in MWB guise (with a 3665mm span between the axles), it is as handsome as such a vehicle can be.
The new-generation Sprinter has seen improvements in terms of its styling, with slimline headlights and a less nosy look to it. It actually looks a bit more like a Citroen, Peugeot or Fiat now than ever before, and that’s no bad thing in a conservative customer base.
The new-gen Sprinter has seen improvements, with slimline headlights and a less nosy look to it.
It actually looks a bit more like a Citroen, Peugeot or Fiat now, and that’s no bad thing.
While you can’t get a reversing camera on the cab-chassis model as yet, the vision from the driver’s seat is pretty good. The headboard of the tray sits a bit high, and the mesh protection panel takes a bit of getting used to, but the amazing forward vision through the enormous windscreen is terrific. The side mirrors - with normal and lower wide-angle lenses - are truck-friendly, too.
The Scattolini steel tray with integrated side toolboxes and a masonite floor is a nice bit of kit, though we were conscious of scratching the aluminium on the sides. You can choose whatever tray suits your specific needs, of course.
Our vehicle was fitted with some other ‘wow’ inducers, like the stunningly crisp 10.25-inch MBUX media screen and a leather-lined steering wheel that lifted the cabin ambience.
How practical is the space inside?
The cabin of the Sprinter has practicality at its forefront.
There are four cup holders near your knees, plus another two in front of both occupants on the dashboard, and you’ll find loose-item storage across the top part of the dash, too. In the middle, there’s a covered bin with twin USB-C ports, and you’ll find overhead storage for folders and workbooks, too.
The materials are all pretty ‘work-ready’, with hard plastics everywhere you touch. But the doors feature huge pockets - large enough for a 1.25-litre bottle - and it is certainly fit for purpose in regards to storage.
The optional Comfort Seats offer plenty of adjustment, but they can be a little uncomfortable.
There are four cup holders near your knees, plus another two in front of both occupants on the dashboard...
... a loose-item storage across the top of the driver's dash, and a covered middle bin with twin USB-C ports.
There's also overhead storage for folders and workbooks, too.
The Scattolini steel tray is a nice bit of kit, though we were conscious of scratching the aluminium on the sides.
The headboard of the tray sits a bit high.
Anchoring points can be found around the tray.
The larger 10.25-inch MBUX media screen dominates the middle part of the cabin with its crisp display and big colours, but using it might take some learning. The screen menus are often hard to navigate, and while MBUX is designed with voice control in mind, it failed multiple times on test - it seemingly couldn’t understand address inputs for sat nav, and also struggled with other commands.
The lovely leather-lined steering wheel features C-Class and E-Class elements, with small touch-sensitive track pads on either side that allow you to scroll through either the driver info screens or the media system. These are great in a passenger car, but to a tradie who has just jumped back in the cab after a day fixing dunnies? Maybe not.
Our model also had the Comfort Seats option ticked, and they offer plenty of adjustment (base tilt, base extension, height adjust, backrest tilt), but after a few hours at the wheel they can be a little uncomfortable. There are inner armrests for both seats, though.
Because of the height of the vehicle, shorter occupants will appreciate the grab handles on the A pillar and ceiling shelf.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
Standard equipment on all Sprinter van and cab-chassis models includes cruise control, keyless start, the company’s MBUX infotainment system, electric folding side mirrors, cloth seat trim, rubber flooring and daytime running lights.
List pricing (before on-road costs) for the cab-chassis model range starts from $41,238 and stretches up to $69,332. That includes both single- and dual-cab models of varying lengths.
Our vehicle was fitted with some ‘wow’ inducers...
... like the stunningly crisp 10.25-inch MBUX media screen.
The sat nav equipped 10.25-inch MBUX media screen dominates the middle part of the cabin with its crisp display and big colours.
Our particular test vehicle - the 516 MWB RWD single cab - has a list price of $57,549 (including GST, plus on-road costs) and was fitted with $11,708 of additional equipment. The options fitted include: Comfort Seat Pack ($715), seven-speed 7G-Tronic auto ($2875), adaptive cruise control Distronic ($1067), leather steering wheel ($231), MBUX 10.25-inch screen ($1584), Scattolini steel tray with aluminium sides and tailboard ($4626), and ladder rack at rear of tray ($611).
At $69,257 plus on-road costs as you see it in the images here, it’s not the most affordable option - especially if you’re looking for a light truck of similar capability. An Isuzu N Series or Hino 300 might be a cheaper bet, especially if you find a dealer who is eager to clear stock.
Or you could go for one of the much more affordable van-based cab chassis offerings in the market, which mightn’t match up on spec but will entice with a lower price; vehicles like the Renault Master, Ford Transit, VW Crafter and Fiat Ducato, for instance.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
There are a few different engines available in the Sprinter cab chassis range, and what you get depends on the drive layout.
Ours had the 2.1-litre four-cylinder with the twin-turbo engine, and in terms of engine specs, peak power hits at 3800rpm, while the torque band spreads from 1400-2400rpm. Those outputs are decent, but certainly don’t set any new standards.
The kerb weight of the Sprinter 516 MWB cab chassis is 2175kg, and it has a payload of 2315kg. That equates to a gross vehicle mass (GVM) of 4490kg - an important figure in that allows it to be driven on a regular car licence, as anything over 4500kg requires a light truck licence.
The towing capacity for this spec of Sprinter is 750kg un-braked and 2000kg braked. Therefore, it has a gross combination mass (GCM) of 6490kg.
How much fuel does it consume?
Because of the segment the Sprinter plays in, Mercedes-Benz doesn’t legally have to state a claimed fuel consumption figure for any of the variants.
There’s an optional 93L long-range fuel tank, if you need it.
Fuel-tank capacity is set at 65 litres for the FWD cab-chassis model or 71L for RWD versions. If you need it, there’s a long-range fuel tank option that pushes the capacity to 93L - something we’d recommend if you plan to run with a load a lot of the time.
Looking for the AdBlue filling point? It's under the bonnet.
What's it like to drive?
It doesn’t feel like a truck to drive, despite the fact you might be considering this against a cabover truck like the Isuzu N Series or Hino 300.
The steering is very direct and accurate, making it easy to place yourself on the road whether at high speed or when parking.
I told a few tradies that this big Sprinter was running a 2.1-litre four-cylinder with 120kW/360Nm, and the response was “isn’t it gutless?” And the answer was, as you might expect, “well, that depends what’s in the tray”.
The lovely leather-lined steering wheel is very direct and accurate, making it easy to place yourself on the road.
But with about 1500kg of pavers loaded in the tray the engine performance wasn’t as good as we’d hoped for, especially up longer hill climbs. There were moments when my foot was to the floor, but it was still losing momentum. It also sat at freeway speeds at a high 2500rpm, meaning if you needed to save fuel, you’d want to drop your speed (and therefore your revs).
The stopping performance was impressive, too, with the four-wheel disc brakes easily coping with requirements at high and low speeds, with a nice linear pedal response.
I can attest to the effectiveness of the auto emergency braking, which kicked in to save the nose of the Sprinter from adjoining itself to the back of another light truck with very dull tail-lights. The system jammed on the brakes and the ABS system pulsed to ensure there was no locking up - and this was in the rain with quite a bit of standing water on the road.
With 1500kg of pavers loaded, the engine performance wasn’t as good as we’d hoped; there were moments when my foot was to the floor, but it was still losing momentum on hills.
One annoyance that mightn’t make itself known until it’s too late is the dullness of the increment lights on the fuel tank display, especially if you’re driving at night and have them on a setting that is lower than sunlight (they’re very bright at night). Because it was hard to discern the increments, I got down to about an eighth of a tank when the low fuel warning light pinged at me, and the nearest servo was about 60km from my location.
Also, some issues with the tray. When you drop the sides down, there is no usable step rail as it's hidden behind. The fact the sides are attached to the rear gate by carabiners means you might find it annoying to be constantly undoing them. The load attachment hooks are good in that they disappear when not in use, but they can be hard to get hold of, and don't feel as sturdy as fixed tie-down points - plus if you're loading sand or gravel, the recesses in which they are hidden will be filled with gunk. Also, the little toolboxes rear of the wheel arches are handy, but they aren't water-tight (my spare straps got soaked).
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?
There is no reversing camera available, even optionally, at the time of launch - unlike the van, which has a standard-fit camera range-wide. M-B Australia says an accessory fit item will be offered, but it couldn’t confirm timing. There’s no ANCAP or Euro NCAP crash test rating yet, either.
The Sprinter is fitted with dual front and curtain airbags but side airbags are optional, at a cost of $726. Other safety options include adaptive cruise control ($1067), auto lights and wipers ($510), auto high-beam lights ($352), fog lights ($310), a reverse warning system ($405) and traffic sign recognition ($385).
It has auto emergency braking (AEB) and daytime running lights as standard, and it runs the latest ESP91 stability program that features assist systems including crosswind assist, trailer stabilisation and load-adaptive control.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?
Mercedes-Benz Vans offers a three-year/200,000km warranty - solid cover for those who plan to make their vehicle work hard for them and their business - and there’s 24-hour roadside assist included for that period, too.
Servicing is scheduled every 24 months or 40,000km, but your work usage and driving style may mean you’ll need maintenance a little sooner.
If you want the best-value ownership, consider a pre-paid service plan to be included in your finance. If not, there’s a ‘Best Basic’ capped-price servicing plan which is offered as an ‘as you go’ option. Costs vary depending on the model and interval (between $905 and $1575).
There is no question over the flexibility and fit-for-purpose nature of the Sprinter range, but as a cab-chassis light truck it makes a little less sense than the van version, lacking some equipment and not quite measuring up to competitors.
It’s still a very good vehicle, but as a four-cylinder it doesn’t feel quite as good as it could. Maybe the V6 would be a better bet.
Would you choose a Sprinter cab chassis over a light truck? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.