Now that Ford and Ram are launching tall, European-designed full-size vans in North America, just how is the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter – the model that originally sparked this full-size van renaissance – going to stand out from the crowd? Perhaps the North American introduction of the new 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4x4, a full-size van with factory-installed four-wheel drive, might do the trick.
We reported earlier on both the latest iteration of the Sprinter 4x4, along with the chance it could finally come stateside, but official confirmation from the automaker itself arrived earlier this morning. Four-wheel-drive Sprinters are indeed coming to America under both the Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner nameplates, and should reach dealers by January 2015.
Four-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz Sprinters wear small “4x4” emblems on their rear doors, but they’re easily identified by their stance: the already towering Sprinter sees its ride height cranked up 4.3 inches in front and 3.1 inches in back in order to accommodate the 4ETS four-wheel-drive driveline. The system itself is similar to the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system used in the ML- and GL-Class models – including our formidable Four Seasons 2013 Mercedes Benz GL450. However, there is one notable difference: 4Matic is fully automatic, while 4ETS requires some driver assistance. Push a button to the left of the Sprinter 4x4’s steering column, and 35 percent of the engine’s power goes to the front axle. Don’t look for a series of locking differentials, like on the G-Class or the almighty Unimog; instead, the traction/stability control system can brake slipping wheels. If you truly require off-road fortitude, the 2015 Sprinter 4x4 will offer low-range transfer case gearing as an option.
According to Mercedes-Benz, the 2015 Sprinter 4x4 will be available in any form you like, so long as it’s a van. Buyers can add four-wheel drive to Sprinter passenger, crew, and cargo vans regardless of wheelbase or roof height. The only stickling point lies with powertrain. Although Mercedes launched a new 2.1-liter turbo-diesel four-cylinder/ seven-speed automatic pairing for the 2014 model year, the four-wheel-drive option mandates upgrading to the 188-hp, 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V-6, which is bundled with a five-speed -speed automatic transmission.
Pricing for the 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4x4 has yet to be announced, but like the Sprinter itself, which starts at $36,915 in base cargo guise, don’t expect the 4ETS system to be cheap. That said, it should be less expensive than prior four-wheel-drive Sprinter conversions offered in North America, which typically added anywhere from $18,000-$25,000 to the price tag. Better yet, Mercedes’ factory-built system is fully certified and warranted -- something the aftermarket conversions can’t come close to matching.