In 2002, a brand-new Freightliner Sprinter van joined the small group of full-size vans sold in the United States. Designed and powered by Mercedes-Benz, the Sprinter was assembled by Freightliner. Early in 2003, the Sprinter van adopted a Dodge nameplate and was on sale at selected dealerships, but it also remains available as a Freightliner product.
A new cab/chassis model has been added for 2004, and an Electronic Stability Program (ESP) is available on 2500 models. New options include a heated windshield with a rain sensor, 16-inch aluminum wheels and a velour upholstery option. Cargo vans may now have windows all around.
Unlike most vans, the Sprinter was designed specifically for commercial applications; it is built on a choice of three wheelbases. Sprinters come with a standard 64-inch roof height or in high-roof form that provides 73 inches of walk-through height. Passenger-carrying vans are manufactured in Dusseldorf, Germany, but the final assembly of cargo models occurs in South Carolina.
Late in 2003, Dodge announced an agreement with the Airstream company to produce a Westfalia camper based on the Sprinter.
A large grille incorporates the Dodge Ram logo. Sprinters ride on a 118- , 140- or 158-inch wheelbase. The 158-inch wheelbase model only comes with a high roof, but other models may be fitted with one. A large sliding door is installed on the right side. Side-hinged back doors open to the vehicle’s full height and swing open to 270 degrees on models with the 140- and 158-inch wheelbases, compared to 180 degrees on vans with the 118-inch wheelbase. A sliding left-side door is also available.
Sprinters have an independent front suspension, rear leaf springs, power rack-and-pinion steering and a turning radius as small as 36.7 feet. Payload capacities range from 3,011 pounds for the high-roof 2500 passenger model on a 158-inch wheelbase to 3,693 pounds for a 2500 van on a 118-inch wheelbase. Cargo van payloads range from 3,728 to 5,170 pounds. Buyers can choose the standard 3.72-to-1 rear-axle ratio or an alternate 4.11-to-1 differential.
Up to 10 occupants can fit inside a passenger-carrying Sprinter. Two people sit up front and as many as three more rows of seats may be installed in the rear. A 6-foot-tall passenger in a Sprinter with the high roof can walk upright. The driver can adjust the seat backrest and seat rake angle. Sprinters have a flat cargo floor and tapered rear wheel housings to enhance interior volume. Storage space ranges from 247 to 473 cubic feet, depending on the model. Air conditioning is standard, and a second air conditioner is available for passenger models.
A Mercedes-Benz 2.7-liter inline-five-cylinder CDI (common rail direct injection) turbo-diesel engine produces 154 horsepower and 243 pounds-feet of torque. A shift lever on the forward console controls the five-speed-automatic transmission.
Dual front airbags and all-disc antilock brakes are standard. Integrated Acceleration Skid Control (ASC) can brake the spinning wheels in low-traction situations. Side-impact airbags are not available. All seats have headrests and three-point seat belts. Daytime running lights are optional.
Introduced to the U.S. market before the Dodge version, Freightliner’s Sprinter remains on sale in the 2004 model year. Freightliner dealers offer models that are similar both technically and visually to those offered at Dodge dealerships, but they display Freightliner badges.
Changes for 2004 echo those listed above for the Doge Sprinter. A new cab/chassis model is available, and an Electronic Stability Program (ESP) is now available for 2500 models. A heated windshield with a rain sensor joins the options list. Cargo vans may now have windows all around, and a Crew Van version is available. New 16-inch aluminum wheels are installed on 2500 vans.
The Sprinter is easier to drive than some might expect. This vehicle is undeniably a full-fledged truck, as revealed by the unmistakable engine drone when accelerating. Handling is unabashedly trucklike, and you won’t want to take curves at more than moderate speeds. Nevertheless, even a cargo-carrying Sprinter is comfortable enough for longer hauls, though you must expect a lumpy ride over rougher pavement.
The driver’s compartment of a cargo model is rather stark, but passenger versions are pleasantly upholstered and inviting. Though it is pleasant and accommodating, the driving position, pedal and steering-wheel positions are similar to those in a bus. The seats are designed for low-fatigue driving and feature firm but comfortable support.