Safety is definitely the theme for the MY-2014 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.
The automaker’s latest refresh of the van, which debuted in 1995, features a number of new features designed to make operating the van safer and more efficient.
Automotive journalists from around the globe, including Work Truck magazine, recently put these features and the van’s drivability to the test during a ride-and-drive event hosted by Mercedes-Benz in Dusseldorf, Germany, home of one of the Sprinter’s manufacturing plants.
Company leadership outlined the new MY-2014 Sprinter’s fleet benefits, including improvements in CO2 emissions, fuel efficiency (up to 18 percent), and strong resale values.
“This is probably the best Sprinter ever. We will be the segment’s benchmark,” said Claus Tritt, general manager of Commercial Vehicles at Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA), during his briefing.
Putting Safety First
The MY-2014 Sprinter includes a number of upgraded safety features, including crosswind assist, collision prevention assist, blind spot assist, highbeam assist, and lane-keeping assist.
Crosswind assist is part of the Sprinter’s electronic stability program (ESP), which is available as standard equipment on all models, and consists of antilock brakes, acceleration slip regulation, electronic brake force distribution, hydraulic brake assist, load adaptive control, roll over mitigation, enhanced understeering control system, automatic brake disc drying system, and electronic brake prefill.
Crosswind assist is designed to compensate for the effects of wind gusts on the vehicle, which can cause a driver to dangerously oversteer and/or drift out of the lane. The crosswind assist system is based on the automaker’s ESP, and is activated when traveling 50 mph.
During the ride-and-drive, participants put this system to the test on a track equipped with industrial-grade fans that produced gale-force winds.
The crosswind assist detects forces acting on the vehicle as a result of a crosswind or wind gusts by reference to the data supplied by the sensors for yaw rate and lateral acceleration, which form part of the ESP, according to Mercedes-Benz. During a high-wind event, the crosswind assist is able to identify the strength of the crosswind and compensates, taking into account the vehicle’s speed, load, load position, and the driver’s steering behavior. If the driver does manually oversteer, the crosswind assist will automatically be reduced.
Rear-end traffic collisions are among the most common traffic accidents that fleet drivers can experience, particularly in heavy urban traffic where stop-and-go driving and sudden stops are common. The MY-2014 Sprinter’s optional collision prevention assist system is designed to avoid or mitigate these collisions.
The system warns the driver when the distance from the vehicle ahead is too short and at a further escalation level, when there is an acute danger of collision. The warning comes in the form of an auditory and/or visual signal.
The radar-based proximity warning assist helps the driver maintain an appropriate safe distance from the vehicle in front, according to Mercedes-Benz. A radar sensor in the Sprinter’s front bumper continuously measures the distance from the vehicle ahead in the same lane and the relative speeds of the two vehicles, according to the automaker. The proximity warning assistant calculates the necessary safe distance on the basis of this information.
The system is operational at a speed of about 20 mph.
If the driver does not take evasive maneuvers to either slow down or change lanes, the system will pre-charge the brakes. The system can be switched off as necessary.
The optional blindspot assist adds an a warning triangle at the bottom of each sideview mirror, designed to give warning of objects in the driver’s blind spot. If a driver attempts to change lanes with a vehicle in the blindspot, a warning alarm sounds.
The optional lane keeping assist sounds an alarm if a driver has strayed out of his or her lane. The optional highbeam assist automatically switches the highbeams on or off as the situation warrants, and reduces the possibility of oncoming drivers becoming dazzled by the halogen or bi-xenon headlamps equipped on the Sprinter, according to Mercedes-Benz.
Also available are back up cameras, a backup warning system, the PARKTRONIC system, and an optional tire monitoring system, among other safety options.
Looking Under the Hood
Increased safety isn’t the only change the MY-2014 Sprinter has undergone. It is available with either a BlueTEC four-cylinder or V-6 diesel engine. The four-cylinder BlueTEC engine produces 161 hp. The V-6 produces 188 hp.
The rear-wheel drive MY-2014 is available either as a 5- or 7-speed automatic transmission. U.S. mileage ratings were not available as of press time.
Incorporating Design and Efficiency
The MY-2014 Sprinter features a new grille design that is a bit more upright than the previous model, more pronounced bumpers, and headlamps with sharper contours. While the design does have a certain aesthetic flair, it’s built for safety. The higher bonnet results in improved protection for pedestrians, according to Mercedes-Benz.
The MY-2014 Sprinter will be badged in the U.S. and Canada as either a Mercedes-Benz or Freightliner vehicle. The Freightliner version of the Sprinter has a slightly different grille design reflecting the Freightliner brand.
For the U.S., the Sprinter features two roof heights, three lengths, and two wheelbases. GVWR ranges from 8,550 lbs. to 11,030 lbs. To aid in making the Sprinter more aerodynamic, the floor was dropped about 1.25 inches.
The cabin interior has also seen a number of renovations, including a more supportive seat and a steering wheel with an enhanced grip. These cabin improvements reflect a commitment by Mercedes-Benz to driver-fitness safety, according to the automaker. The new Sprinter can also be contented with Bluetooth and a GPS navigation system with a 5.8-inch video display.
Tritt noted in his overview that the combination of the variations available from the factory and the strong U.S. upfitting program gives fleets “thousands of variations” to choose from. According to Tritt’s statistics, about 60 percent of Sprinter models in the U.S. and Canada are used in the construction trades, with delivery services and passenger transport following at 15 percent each, and retail/wholesale functions rounding out the pie at 10 percent.
For Mercedes-Benz, the MY-2014 delivers a “total package.”
“The enormous expertise of our engineers is undisputed,” said Volker Mornhinweg, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans. “At the same time, I’m still impressed today by the visionary power demonstrated by the engineers of the first Sprinter generation, who were able to predict what future van customers would need. Their foresight revolutionized the prevailing view of the van universe. It lent its name to an entire segment. And, it continues to define that segment like no other vehicle.”
The company expects the vehicle to be available in the U.S. in September 2013.