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One Week With the 2020 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Crew Van: Worth the Changes?

Nicer isn’t necessarily better.

Pressefahrvorstellung Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2018. Technische Daten: 319 CDI, Kastenwagen (Kraftstoffverbrauch kombiniert: 9,5 l/100 km; CO2-Emissionen kombiniert: 249 g/km), Exterieur, Iridiumsilber metallic // Press test drive Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2018. Technical data: 319 CDI, Panel Van (combined fuel consumption: 9.5 l/100 km; combined CO2 emissions: 249 g/km), Exterior, iridium silver metallic

LOS ANGELES—In my last review of a Mercedes van, the little-brother Metris, I contemplated what life might be like if all Mercedes-Benz models were aimed at blue-collar buyers. The freshly-updated 2020 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter crew van shows us what life might be like if a van tried to get all "Mercedes fancy." I'd like to say lipstick and pigs come to mind, but that might give you the idea the 2020 Sprinter is a lousy van, but it isn't. Let's just say it's not the sort of player that's used to wearing a lot of makeup.

For those who don't follow the full-size van market with the verve of an NFL fan, the Sprinter was all new for 2019, with new squinty-headlight styling, an updated interior, and a much-needed dose of technology. We recently tested a 2020 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 Crew Van, which has seating for five and enough cargo space aft of the seats for a 4x8 sheet of plywood. (I actually used it to haul a 4x8 sheet of corrugated plastic, but plywood sounds more manly.)

2020 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Test: It Might be a Great Tow Vehicle

One of the 2020 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van's highlights is that the GCWR is so much higher than the GVWR, which, roughly translated, means you can tow at or near maximum (5,000-7,500 pounds, depending upon configuration) and still (safely) haul cargo in the van. For those not in the know, GVWR is the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, and it's the maximum rated weight of the vehicle, occupants, fluids, and cargo. GCWR is the Gross Combined Weight Rating, and it includes all of the above plus the trailer. A lot of vehicles don't have enough spread between them, so if you tow at maximum capacity, you need to leave your cargo—and sometimes your passengers—at home.

I'd planned to put this to the test, to the point that I bugged the Mercedes fleet folks mercilessly to send me a Sprinter van with a towing package, and they did. Unfortunately, it turns out Mercedes' towing package doesn't include pre-wiring for a trailer-brake controller—which means that in order to tow our horse trailer and have working brakes, I'd have to hack up the Sprinter's wiring. I wasn't comfortable with that and, while I didn't bother to ask, I was pretty sure Mercedes wouldn't be, either. We think of German manufacturers as being particularly thoughtful, but selling a tow package without a socket to plug in a brake controller doesn't seem like the most well-thought-out plan to me.

2020 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Test: Mercedes-Grade Fittings in the Most Unusual Place

The trailer situation left me with little to talk about save the Sprinter's new interior, which is … well, it's, um, new. The previous-gen Sprinter was simple and functional in this regard; nice, but nothing you'd brag about to the neighbors. The new Sprinter adopts much of the tech from Mercedes' cars, including the widescreen-display stereo, spindly column-mounted gear selector, the round "turbine" air-conditioning vents, and even the door-mounted power-seat controls.

Frankly, all of this fancy new gear looks a bit strange, floating in a sea of industrial-spec plastic from which the bulk of the interior is made. The new climate controls, with tiny lookalike toggles for temperature and fan, and small buttons for air direction, is as confusing to use as any Mercedes car. Sure, an owner will get used to such things—but what about the hired delivery driver, whose usual Transit is in the shop, careening down the road at 60 mph trying to figure out how to turn on the $*&$#!ing defroster? And I'd happily trade those fancy round vents for a couple more cupholders big enough to hold a big, all-day insulated water bottle, or perhaps an entry-assist handle mounted high on the A-pillar rather than the one mounted low on the door.

2020 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Test: Going With Gasoline

I've only driven diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans—traditionally, that's all the Sprinter offered—so I was surprised to learn my tester was powered by a gasoline engine, specifically a 190 horsepower, 258-lb-ft of torque, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. Tiny as it is, this little miracle worker has all the power needed for a lightly loaded van, assisted no doubt by the presence of nine speeds in its automatic transmission. It would have been nice to see how that engine handled a 5,000-pound trailer, but … well, let's not go down that road again. As before, the Sprinter also offers six- and (as of 2020) four-cylinder turbodiesel power, as well as optional all-wheel drive.

And the driving experience? Well, it's industrial. The Mercedes Metris struck me as exceptionally car-like, but the 2020 Sprinter van feels more like a truck. (Or perhaps I should say a bus, given all those seats.) It's comfortable and reasonably quiet, and while the electrically assisted steering doesn't provide much road feel, it's pretty amazing how tightly the Sprinter can turn (though we probably shouldn't be amazed, as Sprinters are made to negotiate impossibly tight European streets). The addition of a host of active driver-assistance and safety aids, including adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance, and automatic collision-avoidance braking, is great news for both Sprinter drivers and those who have to share the road with them.

2020 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Test: Should You Get One for the Price of a Ford?

Vans have gotten mighty expensive these past few years, and the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter starts at a little more than $36,000, which is comparable to the Ford Transit. (The front-wheel-drive Ram Promaster is the value king; it's a short-wheelbase, low-roof van that starts at $33,000.) Hey, a Mercedes for the price of a Ford! Truth be told, given my experience with testing the Ford Transit—real man-with-a-van stuff, I remind you—I don't know that Mercedes really has much of an advantage. Both are European-style vans with plenty of space to pack away your belongings, and both drive well, but I'll take the Transit's interior, which is busy but functional, over the Mercedes' displaced finery.

Nevertheless, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van is impressive. The new interior fittings may or may not make it any better, depending on your viewpoint (we don't think they do), and the exterior styling is a backward step compared to the 2018-and-earlier models. But in terms of functionality, the Sprinter just keeps getting better and better, causing us to continually raise our expectations for the humble box-on-wheels. We don't mind if the Sprinter is unable to shake off its work-vehicle roots, because at the end of the day, it's that functionality that matters most.

2020 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Highlights

  • Mercedes cargo van offers new safety features
  • Available as a cargo van, passenger van, a combo, or with a camper-friendly pop top

2020 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Pros

  • Roomy and capable
  • Extraordinarily maneuverable
  • Competitive on price with Ford vans

2020 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Cons

  • Towing package doesn't include trailer brake pre-wiring
  • Fancy Mercedes fittings look out of place in the Sprinter's industrial-grade cabin
Pressefahrvorstellung Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2018. Technische Daten: 319 CDI, Kastenwagen (Kraftstoffverbrauch kombiniert: 9,5 l/100 km; CO2-Emissionen kombiniert: 249 g/km), Exterieur, Iridiumsilber metallic // Press test drive Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2018. Technical data: 319 CDI, Panel Van (combined fuel consumption: 9.5 l/100 km; combined CO2 emissions: 249 g/km), Exterior, iridium silver metallic
2020 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 Crew Van Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICE $41,090 (base)
ENGINE 2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/188 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 258 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
LAYOUT 3-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD van
EPA MILEAGE Not rated
L x W x H 234.0 x 80.0 x 111.0 in
WHEELBASE 144.0 in
WEIGHT 5,500 lb (est)
0-60 MPH N/A
TOP SPEED 90 mph