Designed and powered by Mercedes-Benz, the full-size Sprinter van was initially assembled by Freightliner. Early in 2003, the Sprinter adopted a Dodge nameplate. Newly available features for 2006 include a ParkSense rear backup system and a high-pressure headlamp washer.
Designed specifically for commercial applications, the Sprinter is built on a choice of three wheelbases. Sprinters come either with a standard 64-inch roof height or in high-roof form that provides 73 inches of walk-through height. Sprinters come in 2500 (three-quarter-ton) and 3500 (one-ton) ratings, but only the 2500 series includes a passenger model.
A large grille incorporates the Dodge Ram logo. Sprinters ride on a 118- , 140- or 158-inch wheelbase. The 158-inch-wheelbase model comes only with a high roof; others have a choice of the regular or high roof. A large sliding door is installed on the right side, and one for the left is available. The back doors open to the vehicle's full height and swing open 270 degrees on models with the 140- or 158-inch wheelbase, compared with 180 degrees on vans with the 118-inch wheelbase.
Sprinters have an independent front suspension, rear leaf springs, power rack-and-pinion steering and a turning radius as small as 36.7 feet. Buyers can choose the standard 3.72-1 rear-axle ratio or an alternate 4.11-1 differential.
Up to 10 occupants fit inside a passenger-carrying Sprinter. Two people sit up front and as many as three more rows of seats can be installed. Sprinters have a flat cargo floor and tapered rear wheel housings. Storage space ranges from 247 to 473 cubic feet, depending on the model. Air conditioning is standard, and a rear unit is available for passenger models.
Under the Hood
A Mercedes-Benz 2.7-liter inline-five-cylinder turbo-diesel engine produces 154 horsepower and 243 pounds-feet of torque. A lever on the forward console controls the five-speed-automatic transmission.
All-disc antilock brakes are standard. Acceleration Skid Control can brake the spinning wheels in low-traction situations. An Electronic Stability Program is standard on 2500 models. Side-impact airbags are not available, but daytime running lights are optional.
The Sprinter is easier to drive than some might expect. It's 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 adequately comfortable for longer hauls.
The driver's compartment of a cargo model is rather stark, but passenger versions are inviting. Though pleasant and accommodating, the driving position, pedal and steering-wheel positions mimic those in a bus. The seats are designed for low-fatigue driving and feature firm but comfortable support.
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