Mercedes-Benz Sprinter – the success story: The benchmark – the Sprinter has been the clear leader in its class for almost 20 years now
- The new Sprinter in 1995: modern, powerful and safe
- Extensive facelift in 2000
- Sprinter equipped with ESP® as standard in 2002
- 2006: a completely new Sprinter embarks on its success story
- 2009: new four-cylinder engines, ECO Gear six-speed transmission
- 2012: ADAPTIVE ESP continually evolving, new automatic transmission
It has given its name to an entire vehicle segment: ever since the first generation of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter was presented in the spring of 1995, it has dominated the van segment with a permissible gross vehicle weight of 3.5 t. The Sprinter sets the standards on all fronts – from economy through safety, environmental compatibility, comfort and ease of operation to power and performance.
The new Sprinter in 1995: modern, powerful and safe
The new Sprinter which appeared in 1995 was the first commercial vehicle from Mercedes-Benz to bear an actual name, rather than a prosaic model designation consisting of numbers or letters. The newcomer followed in the wake of the T1 van, which was known internally as the “Bremer” on account of its initial production location in Bremen.
The T1 was considered the epitome of durability, solidity and reliability. In a production period spanning 18 years, Mercedes-Benz sold almost a million units of this model series featuring a strikingly angular and short bonnet.
The Sprinter got off to a head start straight away when it was launched in 1995. It was immediately apparent that this vehicle was one of a kind: short-nosed, high-traction rear-wheel drive, timelessly modern appearance, spacious cab and a comprehensive range of engines. Alternatively to the standard engine rated at 57 kW (78 hp), a new direct-injection turbo diesel matching power with economy and generating a power output of 90 kW (122 hp) was also available – a sensation at the time. The drive train featured a five-speed manual transmission. A four-speed automatic transmission with torque converter was soon additionally introduced as an alternative.
The Sprinter was not only fast – it was safe, too: the chassis featured independent wheel suspension at the front with transverse leaf springs, and the standard scope of equipment included disc brakes on all wheels, the ABS anti-lock brake system and an automatic brake differential. The belt buckle was attached to the seat, and the three-point seat belts were height-adjustable. A further success factor was a wide range of body variants, covering both closed vehicles in self-supporting design and numerous chassis variants.
The Sprinter was full of ideas: its streamlined aerodynamics with flush-fitted windscreen, partially covered windscreen wipers and large corner radii saved fuel and reduced wind noise. The cab was unusually spacious, featuring various clever ideas such as accommodating the warning triangle and first-aid kit in closed stowage compartments at the bottoms of the doors and placing the toolkit under the co-driver’s footwell.
Extensive facelift in 2000
Mercedes-Benz marked the launch of the Sprinter’s second life cycle at the beginning of 2000 with a facelift covering the vehicle’s appearance, equipment and appointments. The Mercedes star protruded into the long downward slope of the bonnet, while new headlamps and a front apron with two steps were defining exterior features. The cab sported a dashboard in a totally new, curved design. The shift lever in the form of a joystick was a particularly conspicuous new feature, along with additional comfort details such as beverage holders and stowage facilities. The joystick protruded out of the centre console, ensuring that it was within easy reach without obstructing through-cab access in any way.
The driver’s airbag now featured as standard, and all seats were equipped with three-point seat belts. Headlamps with free-form reflectors lit up the road ahead. The ABS system was more powerful, and the automatic brake differential had made way for a fully fledged acceleration skid control system. The longer front end improved crash safety.
The new CDI diesel engines with four and five cylinders covered an impressive output range from 60 kW (82 hp) to 115 kW (156 hp). Common rail injection and four-valve-per-cylinder design were introduced together with these engines. As an alternative to the manual transmission, Mercedes-Benz offered the Sprintshift automated six-speed manual transmission. A five-speed automatic transmission with torque converter was soon also added to the range to accommodate customers seeking a particularly high standard of comfort.
Windowbags were introduced as an optional extra in the spring of 2001. The chassis range now extended up to a gross weight of 5.99 t.
Sprinter equipped with ESP® as standard in 2002
Just one year later, the Sprinter was upgraded yet again. Apart from a few subtle touches to freshen up the vehicle’s appearance, the main focus was on the inner workings: the brake booster was uprated, and above all the Electronic Stability Program (ESP®) was introduced as a standard feature on all closed variants of the crewbus with a gross vehicle weight up to 3.5 t. ESP® was successively extended to other variants, including the chassis versions in 2004.
The “Safety Showcase” study at the 2004 International Commercial Vehicle Show provided a preview of things to come, with an adaptive ESP® system responding to different vehicle loads, active roll stabilisation counteracting vehicle roll, a lane assistant and adaptive cruise control, a tyre pressure monitoring display and variable-ratio steering, for example.
2006: a completely new Sprinter embarks on its success story
2006 marked the beginning of the future: following a production output of around 1.3 million vehicles over eleven years, a totally new Mercedes-Benz Sprinter took to the road as the European market leader in its class. Its appearance took up the Mercedes-Benz design idiom, combining it with the functional attributes of a van. A defining feature was the consistent design encompassing the entire vehicle, from the front end through the dynamic side line to the tail lights with body-like contours.
Three wheelbases, four lengths, three height variants and numerous gross weights, body, engine and transmission variants resulted in around 1000 basic models. With a gross weight of 3.5 to 5.0 t, the Sprinter covered all the key segments in its class. The product range even included a chassis with low frame and independent wheel suspension on the rear axle. The standard scope of equipment including power windows and central locking with radio remote control set new standards, as did the use of high-quality materials finished to an excellent standard of workmanship, even more room inside, the particularly prominent centre console, the optional multifunction steering wheel and the stowage system.
New features premiered in the Sprinter’s class included optional bi-xenon headlamps and the Add-Light system, rain/light sensor and Keyless Entry and Slide, enabling the doors including the electric sliding load compartment door to be opened without a key. Exterior mirrors with additional wide-angle lenses and integrated indicators ensured the necessary vision and visibility.
The CDI turbodiesel direct-injection engine with four cylinders and a displacement of 2.15 l covered an output range between 65 kW (88 hp) and 110 kW (150 hp). Certain engine variants boasted two-stage turbocharging – another first in the vans segment. The new top-of-the-range diesel engine was a 3.0 l V6 engine generating a power output of 135 kW (184 hp) and maximum torque of 400 Nm, as an alternative to the V6 petrol engine with a displacement of 3498 cc and an output of 190 kW (258 hp). The engines complied with the Euro IV or EU 4/III emissions standard. A five-speed automatic transmission with torque converter was available as an alternative to the five-speed manual transmission.
A new transverse leaf spring made of glass-fibre reinforced plastic on the front axle and new parabolic springs on the rear axle provided the basis for handling characteristics ranging from neutral to a slight understeering tendency and high driving comfort. ADAPTIVE ESP®, an electronic stability programme which is able to determine the vehicle’s mass and centre of gravity, featured as standard on all models. 16-inch wheels were standard. In addition to the standard-fit driver’s airbag, a co-driver airbag, thorax bags and windowbags were also available.
2009: new four-cylinder engines, ECO Gear six-speed transmission
Three years after its relaunch, the Sprinter’s performance was upgraded once again with new engines and transmissions. The powerhouse at the core of this enhanced performance comprised a range of totally new four-cylinder engines with the designation OM 651. The displacement of 2.15 l was all that they had in common with their predecessors. The power spectrum ranged from 70 kW (95 hp) to 120 kW (163 hp). Key characteristics were an undersquare configuration, two overhead camshafts driven by gearwheels and a short chain, balancer shafts, common rail injection with a maximum injection pressure of 1800 bar and cooled exhaust gas recirculation. Ancillary units such as oil and coolant pumps and alternator operated in controlled mode. All these attributes together led to high tractive power, low exhaust emissions, low fuel consumption and extremely smooth running. The engines complied with the Euro 5 emissions standard or optionally EEV. The V6 OM 642 with a displacement of 3.0 l now generated an output of 140 kW (190 hp) and maximum torque of 440 Nm, while the 3498 cc V6 petrol engine was rated at 190 kW (258 hp).
The new engines harmonised to perfection with the equally new ECO Gear six-speed manual transmission, which Mercedes-Benz developed specifically for vans. Its defining feature is a particularly broad gear ratio spread, with a short first gear and a long sixth gear designed to keep the engine speed low. Depending on the model concerned, the new drive train lowered NEDC fuel consumption by between 0.5 and 1.5 l/100 km.
Other new developments concerned ESP® trailer stabilisation, an adaptive brake light and an optional heating function for the wide-angle lenses in the exterior mirrors. Improved upholstery enhanced the standard of seating comfort. A universal interface for navigation systems or MP3 players was optionally available.
2012: ADAPTIVE ESP® continually evolving, new automatic transmission
Three more years down the road, the spring of 2012 saw the introduction of further technical enhancements on board the Sprinter. The new generation of ADAPTIVE ESP® incorporated additional functions. Brake Disk Wipe performed cyclic drying of the brake disks to improve braking performance when driving in the rain. Electronic Brake Prefill gently applied the brake pads when the driver took his foot off the accelerator abruptly.
The closed variants of the Sprinter were now available with a seven-speed automatic transmission with torque converter – a world first in the vans segment. This transmission combines a broad spread with close ratios. This means dynamic performance combined with a fuel-saving, low-emissions style of driving involving low engine speeds.
The BlueEFFICIENCY package enabled impressively low fuel consumption. Depending on the model variant and final drive ratio, Sprinters with a permissible gross vehicle weight of 3.5 t and the new longest rear axle ratio run on as little as 7.0 l/100 km in combined mode. The new developments in 2012 represented only an interim facelift for the successful Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, however: a year later, it opened up another chapter with engines complying with the Euro VI emissions standard and new safety systems.