The full details of the 2019 update to the Sprinter have been released now. The new van has a longer-looking “snout”, updated cab interior, but almost identical load area. Mercedes will offer a gasoline version in North America but it’s not clear whether we’ll get the new front wheel drive version.
Mercedes will start producing this van in their Charleston, SC plant when it opens in summer 2018. That will help them to avoid the Chicken Tax, which requires a costly disassembly and reassembly of every cargo van built in Germany as it’s shipped across to the USA.
The gasoline engine will also reduce the entry price – by around $4000 – to make Sprinters more competitive with the Dodge ProMaster and Ford Transit vans. Daimler are also planning an e-sprinter that they claim will be good for local deliveries in model year 2020.
There are several cosmetic changes to the exterior. The front bumper area seems like it’ll be available either in black plastic or in body color. The whole hood area appears more prominent, although that could be an illusion brought on by the new shaping of the front fender area. There’s a new alloy wheel design. From the front doors back, the van looks almost indistinguishable from the existing NCV3 models. Fingers crossed that items like roof racks, third party windows, and all the other elements you’re likely to use in a conversion will cross over from the NCV3 to the new model.
The front wheel drive version has an 80mm lower load floor and “wheel housings that can carry cargo.” That sounds interesting for taller people who want to do a DIY conversion. It can also carry 50kg (~110lbs) more payload. Moving to front wheel drive also allows Mercedes to offer a true cab-only solution, letting body builders bolt pretty much whatever they want on to the rear of the vehicle. That adds more flexibility for RV manufacturers. It still isn’t clear whether the front wheel drive option or the cab-only option will be available in the USA.
Another new thing that Mercedes is making a big deal of is the telemetry system for fleet management. They claim this means that the van “Becomes a node on the internet of things.” In other words, the vehicle will be permanently connected to the internet. As Daimler put it in their press event, “Connectivity is a fixed part of the Sprinter DNA. ProConnect is the operating system of our Sprinter hardware.” There will be a smartphone app that allows the driver to access vehicle data and functions.
That raises a couple of issues. If there’s a smartphone app, how long until it gets hacked? Also, does this mean that our vans will rat us out to the dealership? “Fully connected” vans sound great for fleet managers, but do individual owners want more dealer spam as part of the supposedly intelligent products and services?
The telemetry functions require a data link, and it seems like a passenger-accessible WiFi hotspot will also be offered, at least on the passenger equipped vans. Hopefully that doesn’t mean we have to subscribe to a plan just to keep the vehicle on the road.
The central dash display element uses the latest version of the MBUX infotainment operating system. It’s light years ahead of the Audio 15 stereo head unit on the current Sprinters, but like all automotive displays it’s only after you’ve tried to use it while driving that its true usability becomes apparent. Good luck ripping that unit out and replacing it with an aftermarket one! There’s a lower-spec dash that does look like it comes equipped with a regular single-DIN stereo head unit.
There also appeared to be a couple more features on offer from a safety and comfort perspective. Blindspot assist now gets rear cross traffic alert and exit alert. The windscreen wiper system gets a different fluid spray pattern called “Wet wiper system” to make things safer. There’s a 360 degree view of the van when you back up, and the backup marker lines bend to show where the vehicle will end up based on your current steering wheel position. These are things that many cars have had for a long time, but it’s new to Sprinters. Some other new features that were shown in presentations but not elaborated on were traffic sign assist, attention assist, and active distance assist (Distronic). Finally it appears that there will be electric seat adjustment controls (hopefully also with key-based memory).
One press picture showed two-person passenger bench seats with controls for reclining. Daimler claim they’ve made these seats more comfortable, and added practical cupholders and USB charging.
In the press release, Daimler mentioned 8 body variants from 3.0 to 5.5 tons (sounds like 4 lengths, 2500/3500 – same as today). The USA has never had the shortest length vehicle. It wasn’t clear from the press release whether there will be high and low roof versions of the van. When you add up all the different permutations, apparently there are 1700+ actual variants available. That obviously doesn’t include all the optional extras.
So, on first looks there appear to be some interesting cosmetic changes that might make the vehicle more appealing to drive and the option of a gasoline engine to grab back some of the market that the Transit and ProMaster have been running away with. The external styling changes are likely to be relatively polarizing, but my guess is that after a year or so we really won’t care what the van looks like, so long as it performs, and so long as none of the new features get in the way of creating a DIY conversion.
Here’s the official press release. All images in this post are courtesy of Daimler from their site.