I have a big family by modern standards. It's not big enough for a reality show, but between me, my wife, and our three kids, we max out every sedan on the market. So when a family vacation came up that added my mother, stepdad, sister, and her daughter to the equation, the headcount of nine people was also one more than every currently available minivan's seating capacity. Our choice: go big, or go home. Literally.
That's why a humungous 2013 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Passenger Van arrived at our offices one sunny afternoon. Size? This thing's got it: 12 passengers can sit comfortably, and all of their luggage can fit behind the fourth row of seats. With a diesel V-6 engine, it lacked for neither power nor fuel economy. And since it's a Mercedes-Benz, its driving characteristics are top notch for its class. On the other hand, it's massive, cumbersome, loud on the road, and incapable of going into any sort of parking structure. So how would it fare as a weekend getaway vehicle? We were about to find out.
Model and PriceBefore we get to price, you'd probably better be sitting down. Got your seat? OK then, here goes: The 2013 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 Passenger Van 144-in. High Roof we drove cost $59,170.
It doesn't start off that way, and if you look at it dollars-per-pound like a steak, the Sprinter may be the least expensive Mercedes-Benz you can buy. The base price for the passenger version is $40,320. Among the nearly $19,000 in options was the $2,210 high roof, and a $1,175 premium package that included heated mirrors, cruise control, and more comfortable front seats. The $1,555 accessory package threw in a bunch of lighting-related features, like fog lights, headlamp washers, and super-bright Xenon headlights. The most expensive option was the $3,335 rear air conditioning, which proved as necessary as a steering wheel on a muggy San Diego weekend. That steering wheel, incidentally, cost an extra $295 thanks to the various controls, plus the trip computer. A bunch of other options were thrown in, like the chrome grille ($230) and left and right rear seat armrests ($260 per side). But still, even with the $995 destination charge, that's a bundle.
Safety and Key FeaturesThe Mercedes-Benz Sprinter doesn't undergo crash tests in the U.S., but it'd likely do well, being the size of a starter home and all. However, Mercedes-Benz has gone to a great deal of trouble to prevent one in the first place. It has strong brakes, with anti-lock and discs on all four corners. Stability control comes standard, and a demonstration of the system years ago showed that it works very well at keeping this big boy upright. One of the many options was a $1,525 security package, which added driver and front-passenger thorax and side airbags to the mix.
Family Friendliness and Utility"Family friendly" is a moving target with this van. On one hand, sure, it'll hold everybody and all their stuff. My three kids each had their own row to sit in. Fully grown adults can stand upright without banging themselves on the ceiling. There's ample storage space for, well, anything really. Without the seats, you could probably fit in a really crazy souvenir from the zoo. Like, an elephant, or maybe a hippo.
With massive interior space comes massive seating capacity: 12 people in this case, and everyone has enough room to stretch out. The Sprinter handily bests the Nissan NV2500 we drove last year, offering more legroom and an order of magnitude more headroom, too. However, like that big Nissan, the Sprinter isn't an easy climb for smaller passengers. The floor is high off the ground, so smaller kids--or mobility-impaired adults--will have to find grab handles, or just stow a step stool somewhere inside. The seatbelts are also mounted pretty high up, so even older kids might have to be in booster seats to make sure the belt fits them properly. As for the rear air conditioning, it worked great, but the vents are mounted on the ceiling...six feet above the floor. Get them aimed right before you start that 300-mile road trip.
Comfort and QualityAmericans know Mercedes-Benz almost exclusively as a maker of luxury cars, so it's surprising to see such a utilitarian vehicle bearing the three-pointed star. However, Mercedes brings the same product philosophy to the Sprinter as it does to everything else, so it's no surprise that this big van is screwed together as tightly as an S-Class. Fit and finish are excellent, with consistent seams throughout. The quality of the materials is good too, but keep your expectations realistic here. This is a utility vehicle, a passenger version of a van designed for heavy-duty hauling, so the plastics are hard, but durable, and there are very few soft touch places inside.
And, no, there's no Designo interior option.
The seats are quite comfortable though, and the driver's chair adjusts as much as you'd need for this vehicle. Unlike the Nissan NV2500, there's no center console between the front seats. It's a bit of a mixed bag; on one hand it's easier to get in back, but on the other, there's less storage space.
How it DrivesThe 2013 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is unlike any other Mercedes-Benz on the road. Power from the diesel V-6 is a modest 188 hp, but there's ample low-end torque. While it's not speedy, the Sprinter never feels like it's in the way, either. What really surprised us was the fuel economy. We recorded consumption in the mid-teens, and it even kissed the 20 mpg mark on the highway. That's pretty impressive for a drivable barn and far better than the Nissan NV2500 we drove last year.
You can't expect this van to be light on its feet. At more than 19 feet long and around 10 feet tall with the air conditioning unit, this is a big, ponderous vehicle no matter how you slice it. However, for its class, it's surprisingly easy to drive. The ride is comfortable, and the steering feels pretty good in your hands. The footprint isn't much different from a full-size pickup truck, and once you've adjusted yourself to it, the Sprinter's maneuverable in town. Backing up is made easier with huge side mirrors, and a hilarious backup camera. It's mounted on a small arm above the rear cargo doors, nearly 10 feet off the ground, and the picture it produces is like your own personal traffic-copter. The mirrors and surprisingly good sightlines make this biggest of Benzes relatively easy to maneuver around a parking lot.
As long as it's not covered. The Sprinter's cartoonishly tall roof lets a 6-foot 2-inch guy like me stand upright inside, but it also makes it impossible to take the Sprinter into a parking garage. Even driving around is a bit of a challenge; since I didn't have the exact measurements, I overcompensated and felt nervous whenever I went under a low-ish bridge; if you've ever hunched over a little as you drive a pickup through a parking garage, you'll know what I mean. It's also loud inside. There's a ton of wind and road noise, and although we were hardly expecting S-Class levels of quiet, it still wore us down on our short-ish drive from Los Angeles to San Diego. If you plan on driving one on a longer road trip, plan for frequent stops.
SummarySo who's this for, really? It's for anybody who needs a large van to carry a small multitude, preferably with the ability to stand up inside. It's for someone who needs that capacity, but wants relatively good fuel economy, too. It's not exactly a mass market, but it's one that requires and deserves attention, and gets it from a number of sources. Like a sports car or a Jeep Wrangler, it's a specialty vehicle, designed with the express purpose of transporting a whole bunch of people and their stuff from place to place. If that's what you need, the Sprinter's a tough act to follow.
Spec BoxPrice-as-tested: $59,170
Fuel Economy: EPA fuel economy estimates not available
Cargo Space: 1 Walmart
Child Seat Fitment, Second Row: Good
Child Seat Fitment, Third Row: Good
Child Seat Fitment, Fourth Row: Good
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: N/A