Over the years, the Sprinter has remained the only one of it's kind in the US van arena and was a favorite for new van consumers that could afford something better. The Sprinter model name has remained the same, while the front grill and steering wheel have carried names from Dodge, Freightliner and Mercedes Benz. Dodge's name disappeared in 2009, as Daimler Chrylser disolved, the Mercedes badging appeared, begining on the 2010 models and runs current today. Freighliner also offers it's rebadged Sprinter, made by parent company Mercedes Benz.
Today, things have changed quite abit since the 1970's, 80's, 90's and early 2000 for the full sized vans offerings. Today Dodge and Ford both offer full sized vans, similiar to their European counterparts. (Fiat) Dodge offers the front wheel drive Pro-master, Ford offers the rear wheel drive Transit, not to be confused with the small Transit Connect. Mercedes Benz/Freightliner offers the Sprinter.
Before the European van invasion, the full sized American vans were gas hogs, typically returning single digit or low double digit fuel economy numbers and the diesel versions returned a meager improvement over the dismal gasoline numbers.
Today, Dodge, Ford and Mercedes have diesel versions that return high teens to upper twentys in miles per gallon. That is obviously a big improvement, made even bigger when you account for the much taller and longer van size proportions available and the cleaner exhaust emmissions.
As in politics, I believe there it really boils down to two serious contenders worth considering. The first is the Mercedes, the second is the Ford. GM isn't in this game anymore (after 2016) and Dodge needs an overhaul on their transmission, drivetrain and interior ergonmics before I consider it a worthy competitor.
Over the years I have always watched the Sprinter with interest,as it entered the US market. Over the last few weeks I have gone "all in" and researched these competing vans, test driving them back to back before diving into the MSRP's and then the real purchase price points, from dealers all over the USA. This is no small feat, as there are likely more configuations then people on our planet. For example, the Ford offers three length choices and three roof height choices and they offer the T-150, T-250 and T-350. Ford has two gasoline engine choices or the 5 cylinder diesel option. After that point it begins to get alittle tough to find one in stock that has your desired seating options and materrials and then one of three exterior mirror choices and axle ratios, etc. With Mercedes you have really only the 3/4 ton 2500 to equip your passenger van and a choice between two diesel engines and two roof heights.In the cargo van configuration you have more roof heights and options to choose from. The MB also offers the 4WD option, that Ford- and everyone else does not.
Contrary to the well established Mercedes Benz name known in the US for offering well equipped, (if not posh) vehicles, with safety and performance standard; their Sprinter is just the family work horse that seems to be held at arms length from the rest of the Mercedes line up. For example, the Sprinter passenger van isn't on the normal MB site with it's family members, no it's segrated to the commercial stable...er I mean site, with it's strong, commercial half pint brother, the Metris. Without any added options or added features the Sprinter can be a (bleak) vehicle without even basics like rear AC, map lights, illuminated exit lighting ,cargo or passenger compartment lighting, front insulation, rear insulation, cruise control, front adjustable seats, various assist handles, passeger compartment cup holders, seat armrests, even the windshield glass band filter and rear view camera are all absent unless added as options. After these small options are added the real options for better comfort and added safety peg the needle towards sticker shock. You want rear AC in your Mercedes van? It's going to cost you $3,435 in a Special package that just includes the AC and one extra battery. If you want to add the neat 4x4 package it will add around $6800.00 to the msrp.
If you look for a full-sized passenger van and visit the dealer lot hoping to drive one you may find it difficult. It isn't uncommon to see about 10 cargo vans for every one passenger van. This means that you won't see a great variety of passenger van inventory for any make, which means that your search may require time, as you custom order one.
In order to save time I will just highlight the good and bad between the Ford Transit diesel and the Mercedes 4 or 6 cylinder Turbo Diesel.
When comparing the 3500 Ford Transit Medium Height Roof with 5 Cylinder Turbo Diesel:
1. The Sprinter offers much of the same safety technology as the Ford, plus they add Crosswind Assist, which brakes certain wheels on your Sprinter when cross winds above 20 or 25 hit, to help keep you in your lane. Especially useful if you chose the highroof option.
2. The Sprinter offers a steady 5,000 tow rating across the board on the 2500 model, no matter if you have the 4 or 6 cylinder or what features you laden it with, or even if you are loaded with cargo. The Ford T-350 with Powerstroke diesel has a tow rating that is diminished as you add more options or weight, so tow rating is at a rather disappointing 4400 pounds, well equipped and even less so after you load it with people and cargo.
3. The Sprinter has a higher, comfortable and commanding view, even more so with the 4x4 option. Despite being higher, the Sprinter felt a bit less tippy to me, likely due to a stiffer suspension.
4. The Sprinter seemed to offer more low end grunt, with even some wheel spin in the 4 cylinder.
5. The Sprinter 4 and 6 appear to hold a slight fuel milage advantage
6. The Sprinter is a well proven work horse by the heavy hitters, used by Fed Ex, DHL and UPS, among others
7. The maintenance calls for oil change service very 20,000 miles or ONE YEAR, costing roughly $350- $550.
FORD TRANSIT ADVANTAGES:
1. The Transit's Midroof option allows for more inside height when moving through the passenger compartment, and a lower exterior roof height than the Sprinter's high roof option. The Sprinter only offers the normal or high roof option on passenger 2500 vans and there are no 3500 passenger vans offered from MB, they turn into a shuttle buse configeration.
2. The passenger Transit 3500 in the middle length option is just another 4" more in wheelbase over the standard Sprinter 144" wheelbase and has far more cargo room behind the rear seats. The transit comes in three lengths, the Sprinter passenger vans come in two; the 144" and the 170".
3. The rear seats are more cushy and comfortable in the Transit. There are aftermarket options available however with the Sprinter.
4. The rear AC and Heat is no extra option and vents push air from the floor and the ceiling, with no AC unit adding height, mounted on the roof.
5. The standard Ford Warranty is much longer
6. The Transit is B20 friendly, The Sprinter is only B5 bio diesel friendly. This means that Mercedes could void your (already short) warranty if they find anything over 5% bio diesel in your fuel tank. Some small towns I have traveled through only offer B15 or higher.
7. The Transit has available rear windows that open for fresh air, The Sprinters just pop out in emergencies.
8. Ford offers the Sync system that allows for easy voice prompts for navigating, phone calls, text messages, radio selection without taking your eyes off the road.
9. Ford offers the airbag canopy protection through all the rows, Sprinter just offers airbags in the front seats.
10. Ford pricing is more competitive, with bigger discounts
11. Oil changes are quoted at about $100.00, instead of $350-$550 for the Sprinter at the dealership. Although, the Ford may require 2x the oil changes over 20,000 miles it still looks more favorable for the Ford.
12. The Ford Transit has smaller 15" wheels, which will likley be a bit cheaper to replace than the 16" on the Sprinter.
Which is better? In the long run the Sprinter probably has my preference over the Ford in longevity, although Mercedes doesn't seem overly confident in their own product, as they offer a much shorter warranty period.
A Mercedes dealer mentioned to me recently that MB has halted production of the Sprinter until the second quarter of 2017. This includes the 4x4's and the rear wheel drive vans. I understand this delay is the aftermath of the VW emmisions recall. Your deals on the Sprinter may become more difficult, as time goes on and stock dwindles.