When I last tested the Dodge Sprinter van in 2005, I had a few complaints, but one of them was not: "Gee, I wish it was bigger."
The new 2007 model, on sale since last spring, addresses that noncomplaint anyway -- this huge van is now, well, huger. It's wider, taller and longer. The height of the test van was really an issue -- it was about 7 feet, but with an auxiliary air conditioning unit on top of that, it meant parking the Sprinter at the end of our tree-lined driveway, or I could have taken out a few squirrels' nests. Unless you have a Winnebago-sized garage, figure on leaving the Sprinter outside.
The Sprinter migrated to the U.S. from Dodge's then-parent, Mercedes-Benz, in 2002, because Dodge was dropping its own Ram full-sized van. And although the Sprinter is only an oblique replacement, sales began to take off in both the industrial and civilian markets. The Sprinter passenger van like the one tested can carry at least nine people, or 10 with a bench seat replacing two center bucket seats. In cargo configuration, the smallest, lowest Sprinter model has 318 cubic feet of cargo space, and the largest has 600.
The test Sprinter was built on the smaller of the two available chassis, with a 144-inch wheelbase, which is the distance from the center of the front wheels to the center of the rear wheels. The longer version has a 170-inch wheelbase.
There are two new engine choices: The Sprinter I drove in 2005 had a turbocharged 2.7-liter, 154-horsepower five-cylinder diesel engine, now replaced by a 3.0-liter diesel V-6 with 154 horsepower or a 3.5-liter V-6 gas engine with 254 horsepower. The diesel costs $1,840 extra. Both engines get the same transmission -- a five-speed automatic. The test Sprinter had the 3.5-liter gas V-6, and it worked much better in this van than I expected.
On the road, the Sprinter is easier to drive than you'd figure. The test model had plenty of features, some standard, some optional. The big rear air conditioner added $2,450, the higher roof added $1,800, and an upgraded stereo was $765. Shipping and other options raised the $34,350 base price to $45,005.
Safety equipment included (thankfully) electronic stability control, mandatory with a vehicle this tall, plus antilock brakes and traction control. An optional $1,295 "security group" added side and side-curtain airbags for the front seats.
Dodge sold 1,626 of the new Sprinters in June, but since they've only been building them at a new South Carolina plant since March 27, sales should pick up as the pipeline to dealers fills. This is a better Sprinter -- but I still say it was already big enough.