I had a lot of fun driving what has been nicknamed “The Santa Van” by my coworkers. And yes, we had fun using it to deliver toys to good little girls and boys. If the sleigh breaks down, the fat jolly guy could use a vehicle like this Mercedes-Benz Sprinter to finish his appointed rounds.
Truth be told, I actually had this vehicle twice recently. The first time was around Thanksgiving and it kept ringing in my head (an angel gets its wings) that I need to reschedule this big beast for the winter holidays. After a little fastening of the wreath around the Mercedes grille emblem and the addition of a guy in a red suit and some little helpers we were ready to put the Sprinter through its paces with holiday toy deliveries for local charities.
When they first delivered the big red van I immediately flashed back a decade to a time when we drove my wife’s son home from college (whose campus colors just happen to be red). Back then this thing was called the Dodge Sprinter as Mercedes-Benz was a corporate partner with the Chrysler Group. The Sprinter never left the Mercedes fleet as it is a popular global product. Only thing is, according to some weird import rules (known as the chicken tax, of all things) the Sprinter arrives here in boxes and crates and is assembled on North American soil. Things will change soon though as a new plant is being built in South Carolina and there is an all-new Sprinter on the way to roll off those assembly lines in the next year or two.
Our test model was the 2500 Crew Van 144 in 4WD running gear. The 2500 signifies a three-quarter ton designation and the Crew Van means it gets a second-row side window port and starboard along with a bench seat built for three. The 144 is the box length (170 is also available) and this thing can haul a lot of cargo. It is powered by the BlueTEC 3.0-liter V-6 turbo diesel engine that generates 188hp and 325 lb. ft. torque. This engine is mated to a five-speed automatic gearbox that sends power to the rear wheels or, with the push of a button, all four wheels. A useful standard feature on the new Sprinter vans is the Crosswind Assist technology that helps drivers maintain stability under heavy crosswind conditions. The 4×4 system does not add much weight to the vehicle but it does add body lift in the range of 4.3 inches at the front. This is one tall beast to climb in and out of.
Our Crew model adds a bench seat to the second row behind the captain’s chairs up front. Front seats are heated and it arrives with a Bluetooth radio with color display and the rear windows get heavy tint to keep prying eyes off your precious cargo. Our tester also arrived with optional backup alarm, electric sliding step for the passenger side sliding cargo door, electrically heated windshield, chrome grille, leather steering wheel with multifunction controls, rear spring vibration absorbers, 12V rear power outlet, navigation system, headlamp cleaning system, light alloy wheels, trailer hitch package, fog lamps, and rearview camera. Some of the technology added to our Sprinter Crew van includes parktronic park assist, light and rain sensor, blind spot assist, collision prevention assist, lane keeping assist, and high beam assist.
The engine runs fairly quiet (passes the drive-thru test) and surprisingly smooth. The torque arrives on demand when requested and this van will pull steadily through the powerband, laden or empty. It is a large vehicle with a tall roof so caution has to be taken (no parking garages and watch for low-hanging tree branches over the roadway). It maneuvers nicely and can park in most parking spaces with no problem and the turning radius will amaze you.
Pricing for the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Crew Van 144 begins at $41,495 and our tester arrived with a final window sticker of just over 60 grand. Fuel economy is not listed for a vehicle of this size and accommodation, but we saw around 10-16 mpg during our time behind the wheel.
Mercedes has already shown the next (third-gen) Sprinter will arrive with electrification, making it even more popular in key markets around the globe. Certainly, not everyone is in the market for a vehicle of this nature but everything from small businesses to families who like to go camping may find the Sprinter from Mercedes-Benz to be the niche vehicle for them. And yes, if the reindeer just aren’t up to the task of pulling ol’ Saint Nick and all the gifts, this Santa van will work very nicely. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.