After a seven-hour overseas flight through six time zones and a five-hour drive from JFK that should have taken three, my bed was beckoning. That all changed when I pulled into my driveway and was greeted by the 2010 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500.
After quickly unloading the luggage and kids, I volunteered for a quick run to the grocery store to get some basic rations in the cupboards after a two-week trip to Spain. Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Maseratis call out to other automotive journalists. My heart was had by a 12-seat passenger van aptly nicknamed the ďArmadillo.Ē
The Sprinter, formerly sold by Dodge and now back in the Mercedes stable since the messy divorce, is most commonly associated with hauling freight (and in fact is also sold through the Freightliner network). Despite regular appearances as a family shuttle on "Jon and Kate Plus 8," itís often overlooked as a great personal vehicle for large families. Honestly, if there are four children or more populating the homestead, this is your vehicle of choice.
Why is that? Itís an amazingly easy vehicle to drive and it treats the driver like a king (or queen if youíre a soccer mom). This is a vehicle you could drive for hours with no discomfort thanks to the comfort driverís seat, a $190 option that adds a suspension to the front seats, which smooth out rough road surfaces like on the big rigs.
The rack-and-pinion steering is responsive. But that trip to the local supermarket required a bit of planning when it came to parking, even though the Sprinter fit in a standard parking space. Hereís a tip: always pull through. Youíre not going to want to back this armadillo out of a parking space under any conditions.
Some friends expressed fears it would be top-heavy, which is understandable given the fact it is almost nine feet tall in the high roof model that Mercedes loaned us for a week of testing. However, it doesnít get buffeted by the wind at highway speeds, probably due to its 5,776-pound curb weight.
Additional peace of mind comes from the adaptive electronic stability program, as well as ABS and brake assist. The Sprinter, though, lacks airbags beyond the first row because of the vehicleís roots as a cargo van. Front side airbags and front curtain airbags cost $1,140. That could be a deal breaker for some folks.
The Sprinter looks ridiculously big (especially next to my familyís 2008 Mazda5, which is more than four feet shorter) but at 232.5 inches is only 10.1 inches longer than a Chevrolet Suburban and only six-tenths of an inch wider.
Letís be frank. The Sprinter is never going to be lauded for its fuel economy, but the 3.0-liter, turbodiesel V-6 does enhance fuel economy (Mercedes says it gets 30 percent better fuel economy than a comparable sized gas engine). I averaged about 15 mpg in mostly local driving. Sure, that number is going to drop as you add passengers, but itíll probably still hit 12 mpg with 12 people on board. Church groups, take note.
The Sprinter also has a tow rating of 5,000 pounds, and additional cargo space is available inside because the second and third row seats can be removed.
Will the Sprinter be a big seller for Mercedes? Itís tough to tell. This is the first model year Mercedes is selling the van, even though it has always been a Mercedes product. Mercedes wouldnít give us hard numbers, but said the cargo van would lead model sales, especially from conversion companies like Airstream.
At its base price of $39,820, the Sprinter isnít a bad deal because of its monstrous people and cargo capacity (158.3 cubic feet behind the rear seat). However, options quickly inflated our modelís bottom line to $56,495. Hereís a sample of options, the cost, and whether or not they are necessary.
- High roof, $2,160. Absolutely necessary if you are 6í1Ē and like to stand inside a van.
- Comfort driverís seat, $190. Save yourself $190 and skip the equivalent passengerís seat and buy the 2010 model because the comfort seats are a $720 package in 2011 models.
- Parktronic package, $990. You cannot live without these front and rear sensors. Unfortunately Mercedes gouges you by pairing it with power/heated exterior mirrors.
- Rear view camera, $900. Unnecessary with the Parktronic package. It didnít make backing any easier down my driveway.
- Accessory package, $2,170. For things like headlamp washing system, windshield with filter band, light and rain sensor, fog lamps, and bi-xenon headlamps. Of the group, only the latter is necessary.
- Heating package, $1,305. Without it you donít get insulation front and rear, a heater booster, or auxiliary heat in the rear. We New Englanders are a hearty bunch. We could live without that frivolity.
Plan on spending about $43,000 for a well-appointed Sprinter that is going to meet the needs of a family of seven better than a minivan ever could.
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About Boston Overdrive
|Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
|Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
|John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
|Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
|Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
|George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee