Many of those who drive commercial delivery vans aren’t specially trained to do so. They are couriers, craftsmen, or people who rent a van for the day to move something large. The dimensions and unfamiliar sight lines often lead to accidents or near misses—even when doing something as simple as backing out of a parking space. Or, as Mercedes-Benz development engineer Thomas Konzelmann puts it: “In a panel van, you don’t see anything. You just pray.” Mercedes is looking to make piloting a commercial van a safer enterprise with a raft of new features for the 2020 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.
Mechanical improvements such as all-wheel drive, low-range gearing, and electronic traction and stability controls will help maintain vehicular control under difficult road conditions. But what about avoiding accidents by other means?
Although many passenger cars offer most of these features, it has taken a while to cascade to the commercial van sector. The new Sprinter will offer the following features:
- Rear Cross-Traffic Alert. Using radar sensors and cameras on the back, front, and top of the vehicle, the Sprinter will stop dead if it senses a collision with a vehicle (or person) passing behind it.
- Parking Assist with rearview camera. In narrow spaces with limited sight lines, surround- and bird’s-eye-view cameras will help navigate the van with overlaid tracing lines of the vehicle’s path—especially helpful if the driver needs to tuck in the side mirrors. If a fleet buyer doesn’t want to splash the cash, base models will integrate the camera view into the rearview mirror, though its perspective is hardly as comprehensive. The system also senses if the flank or one of the corners of the van is in proximity to an obstacle that drivers might not notice while concentrating on what’s behind them.
- Drive Away Assist. If an obstacle is near the van (say, near the front bumper and out of the driver’s vision), the system detects the obstacle and keeps the vehicle speed to under 2 mph while sounding a warning for the driver to stop.
- Active Lane Keeping Assist. If the system senses the driver drifting into the adjacent lane, it will use the brakes to course correct. During a test drive of a prototype vehicle, this was the one system that did not work every time.
- Active Distance Assist with Distronic. This smart cruise control system works even in bumper-to-bumper traffic. From 15 mph on up, the system will maintain distance to the vehicle in front down to a standstill. If traffic begins moving within three seconds, the system will get the vehicle moving again. If paused at a light, a gentle toe on the accelerator will restart the system. If the system senses traffic ahead suddenly stopping, it will warn the driver but will also bring the Sprinter to a halt by itself if necessary.
- Active Braking Assist. Even without Distronic engaged, the system recognizes stopped vehicles in city conditions (up to 36 mph) and slower-moving vehicles at highway speeds (up to 62 mph) and will sound an alarm and slam on the brakes if the driver doesn’t intervene with proper haste.
- Downhill Speed Regulation. Similar to crawl control in 4×4 SUVs, DSR will use the cruise control to keep downhill speeds between 2 and 11 mph. San Francisco delivery drivers no longer need fear Filbert Street.
- Wet Wiper System. When the windshield gets cruddy, the system pushes water through the wipers directly onto the glass. Although more water gets on the windshield, it actually uses less water than hood-mounted sprayers.
- Crosswind Assist. With such a tall profile, cargo vans can get pushed around. The stability and braking systems intervene to prevent yaw and oscillations that can lead to a loss of control.
- Blind-Spot Assist. Despite large mirrors, panels vans still have enormous blind spots. As with many passenger cars, a symbol will illuminate on the Sprinter’s side mirrors and an audible warning will sound when a vehicle enters a blind spot.
- Trailer Stability Assist. Helps reduce oscillations that can occur when the van tows a trailer. The rearview camera can help navigate the hitch right to the trailer connection.
European models also get an optional air suspension with load-leveling rear dampers and air springs with adjustable spring rates. The standard U.S. suspension for the passenger-carrying Sprinter is a comfort suspension with rear-spring vibration absorbers; the suspension for all other 1500 and 2500 cargo variants is equipped with enhanced roll stabilization and body damping and larger torsion bar diameters. As you move up the scale, there is additional roll stabilization and body damping, increased torsion bar diameters on front and rear axle, and increased rigidity on the rear axle springs. The new Sprinter is available in front-, rear-, and all-wheel-drive configurations, but the U.S. will only get the latter two.
As is typical with many safety systems, you have to pay extra to get the best stuff. But the incremental cost is not a deal-breaker. Crosswind Assist is standard, but all other safety features are optionally available with different packages:
- Parking Package with Surround View/360-degree camera: $733
- Premium Package: $1,240
- Active brake assist
- MBUX multimedia system with 7.0-inch touchscreen
- Wet wiper system and rain sensor
- Rearview camera (head unit display)
- Active lane keeping assist
- Premium Package Plus: $2,530
- Leather steering wheel
- Tray for smartphones with wireless charging
- Intelligent navigation
- Sirius XM satellite radio
- MBUX multimedia system with 10.25-inch touchscreen
- Active distance assist with Distronic
- Free map data updates for 3 years
- Traffic sign assist
- Parking package
- Instrument cluster with color display
- Acoustic package
Driver Convenience package: $1,210
- Multifunction steering wheel
- 12-volt power outlet, driver seat base
- Electrically folding exterior mirrors
- Heated and electrically adjustable exterior mirrors
- Hinged lid for storage compartments
- Keys, two additional masters
- Blind-spot assist
- Attention assist
- Cruise control