Mountain Wheels: Mercedes’ Sprinter 4×4 earns mountain admiration
The sheer ginormousness of what turned out to be my mountain camping lifestyle/dirtbag Facebook peer group’s absolute dream car is quite daunting. More importantly, when dealing with the hugeness of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 4×4 passenger/cargo van, it can also be extremely painful to knees and legs while doing the very large leaps required to access the cab or the cargo areas.
But you oddly get used to climbing some 50 inches up to get into the seat or 28 inches to reach the back cargo area (my van came in a three-row, 10-passenger setup more suitable to an airport shuttle service).
And, with a little bit of practice, you’ll also get to its very, very tall demeanor in traffic and the real world, though it is literally so tall, about 118 inches with a roof-mounted auxiliary air conditioning unit, that it was going to knock into the top of McDonalds’ drive-thru stands. (Thank you to a guy behind me in a trailer who came over and helped me avoid that.)
How big? The full-time 4×4 setup for what is still really only the middle of the pack of the Sprinter family — the 144-inch wheelbase, 234-inch long 2500 model — helps boost the van way, way off the ground, so high that you look down upon people in F-250s. You end up with height that has more in common with Freightliners and Peterbilts at truck stops than normal vehicles.
But as a 190-horsepower turbodiesel-powered off-roader with a locking differential and so much torque (324 foot-pounds) that you can occasionally pass people uphill at 80 mph, if you travel without passengers, the Sprinter’s boost certainly exceeds its super-tall and long size and proportions.
I stopped at City Market in Dillon after helping move some material to friends in Breckenridge and discovered five other Sprinters, mostly setup as either full camper/motorhome conversions. You see why so many airport shuttle companies use them, especially with the added all-season stability of 4×4. And while it’s only 80 inches wide and rides pretty tall, it’s stable, even in 50 mph crosswinds on U.S. Highway 285, with electronic crosswind assist part of the very Mercedes-Benz technology underneath. I was not quite in the mood to corner adventurously on Swan Mountain Road (note to self: positively secure any tall, tippy cargo), but handling is much more stable and secure than you might expect.
My Sprinter, equipped with a six-cylinder 3.0-liter turbodiesel and a seven-speed automatic transmission, multiple rows of “comfort” seating — the more industrial delivery van seating must be extra brutal — and some niceties such as a rudimentary but quite powerful stereo system and digital air conditioning controls, came to $61,333. A full camper conversion could clearly cost you a lot more than that.
As mentioned, it’s still not the biggest of the bunch: There’s a 170-inch wheelbase version that can have a body as long as 274 inches, and you can get as many as 14 passengers and yourself into the largest configuration.
The vehicle’s 4×4 lift meant that wheel-well height was about at my navel, and the height just to leap up into the cabin is very tall and required some gymnastics, which you will have to get used to. Passengers might also need a stool to make for easier entries and exits.
Accessing the quite large, literally couch-sized cargo area in the rear (with the three-row seating) means swinging the giant barn doors open and taking a very big leap to the vinyl-covered floor.
It is so tall you can stand up in the passenger/cargo area and not hit your head on the ceiling. Seating is a bit tight by American standards, but there are loads of USB-C outlets, hand-holds, full self-contained shoulder belts for each passenger and umpteen ceiling vents, plus absolutely gigantic windows, including emergency escape glass on the left side.
For the driver and front passenger, it’s still pretty austere — not quite UPS delivery van austere — but pretty user-friendly. There’s a whole set of hidden cupholders and storage bins on top of the dash, and the air conditioning and audio setup certainly seem mild by modern car standards, but they do the job, with another single USB-C plug. You can also upgrade for 7-inch or 10.5-inch touchscreen displays.
Many Mercedes-Benz modern niceties are also blended into the functionality, including a tiny, thumb-operated trackball on the steering wheel to scroll through the trip computer.
The front glass seems like it came out of the living room of a four-bedroom house; my suggestion is to keep your eyes on the road and not go into the back and make yourself a sandwich while stuck in construction on Interstate 70.
Diesel performance and the seven-speed transmission were also way beyond what I expected, with wheel-mounted paddles helpful in dialing up a gear to hold you rock-steady at 65 mph while you roll down Georgetown Hill, not needing to stomp on the brakes.
It’s also set up to haul a trailer, if you like to make your motoring experience even longer, and the passenger van configurations can handle as much as 5,000 pounds while crew and cargo vans can go as high as 7,500 pounds.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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It was your typical ranch truck that stopped next to us — dirty, dented and hauling a horse trailer. Inside, silhouetted by the sun, were two cowboy hats and a gun rack.