Mountain Wheels: Heaven on wheels in a ready-to-modify Mercedes Sprinter van |

Mountain Wheels: Heaven on wheels in a ready-to-modify Mercedes Sprinter van

Park a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter cargo van anywhere and five minutes later, there will be four more of them near you. Turbo power and versatility add to their popularity.
Courtesy photo

Behold the simple utility and, in Colorado, much-desired versatility that is your absolutely plain-Jane Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Cargo Van.

If you saw this particular teal-colored Aqua Green one zipping around in the High Country last weekend, you’ll note that I was not alone. Sprinters are everywhere — as delivery vehicles, as multi-passenger vans and increasingly as the platform for van life modifications that can stretch into the quarter-million-dollar price tag. Occasionally, I swore I saw more of them around me than green Outbacks.

What I admired most about my 2021-issue 2500 model (the standard 144-inch-wheelbase, 233.5-inch-long version) was that is has the bare bones to become any of those applications, but was still pretty awesome on its own, as a literal cargo van.

Best of all, they start at just $42,635, provided you’re OK with a rear-wheel drive model — hopefully the weight of your cargo or RV work will help provide more winter traction. Most folks opt for the much higher-riding 4×4 version, but I got what I thought was an absolutely perfect setup for conversion or full-time delivery duty, priced at $55,647. That included a wooden cargo floor with tiedown rings, the 270-degree-opening rear doors and a more user-friendly cockpit, with a miniaturized version of the full Mercedes MBUX color navigation, stereo and infotainment system.

The lack of 4×4 lift makes the Sprinter 2500 a slightly more accessible option, with those ultra-wide doors in the rear meaning effortless access to 373 cubic inches of cargo space, and a large sliding and locking door on the passenger side offering equally easy loading.

Accessing the cab is, admittedly, still a truck driver-styled effort, as the only official grab holds are way, way up at the top of sun visor deck — one of a variety of almost hidden cubbies and trays in the cabin, including eight cupholders and USB outlets that are hidden up and in front of the dash.

I had a less mobile passenger with me Saturday and getting aboard the Sprinter, whose seats are literally more than 3.5 feet off the ground, certainly requires some dexterity.

Once you’re there, however, you park yourself behind what must be the largest front window glass in anything that still resembles a passenger vehicle. Side glass is equally enormous — you may need to invest in aftermarket shades as they’re fixed and only work on the forward glass — and you still get authentic Mercedes-Benz door-mounted seat controls, though the truck-worthy seatbacks do not articulate much.

That’s because my van came with a full partition built behind the seats, with a large glass panel on top, but no cut-outs in the rear doors. An odd setup, yes, unless you’re hosting a mobile rave or using the van as a portable movie studio (there’s a TV-shoot-worthy array of ceiling LED lights back there, but you have to go all the way to the back to turn them on and off).

The car writers I know have all improvised and like them, I ended up borrowing camping gear and trying out one night of van life in a friend’s parking lot in Avon — going so far as to get a legal parking pass.

There’s 79 inches of headroom inside the high-roof cargo area (a $2,850 option) so you can stand up fully, maybe on a ladder, which will certainly be a benefit if you’re spending a lot of time inside. Everything is lockable and minus a small bit of claustrophobia of being inside a shipping container for an evening, you can certainly see the possibilities in those bare metal walls.

My other favorite aspect of the Sprinter is its larger 188-horsepower 3.0-liter turbo diesel, which meant that full highway speeds — and even some passing I would not think possible at 11,000 feet in a van this large — were indeed possible, with mileage in the 17 to 22.4 mpg range during my drives. Mercedes and Rivian, the electric truck company, signed a deal this week to eventually produce electric versions of the van.

The Sprinter’s largess is both real and also sort of an optical illusion. While it will fit in the same parking spot as a large pickup truck, it’s so tall and wide that you do need to remember its proportions (the two-level side mirrors and a high-mounted rear camera are very important). It’ll also corner much more impressively than I suspected, though I was indeed not carrying any cargo at all. Paddle shifters can help tone down your speed on descents.  The cabin is a bit spare but there’s all that storage and, as mentioned, the full navi with a voice-activated MB assistant and one big central speaker.

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