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What - Mercedes Sprinter 313CDI ECO-Start
Where - Hertfordshire, UK
Date - August 2009
Price - £23,245 (+VAT, where applicable)
Available - Now
Key rivals - VW Crafter, Renault Master, Iveco Daily, Peugeot Boxer, Citroen Relay
Mercedes brings start-stop technology to commercial vehicles with its Sprinter ECO-Start
We like - Affordable innovation that makes a real difference, makes a great van even better, brilliant for reducing urban emissions and improving air quality
We don't like - Should be standard on all vans
Gallery: Mercedes Sprinter 313CDI ECO-Start
Read more Mercedes car reviews
OK, a 6-metre van capable of carrying nearly a tonne and half of cargo is probably an unlikely purchase for a daily driver. There is, admittedly, a case for arguing the smaller Vito can cut it as an alternative to an MPV or SUV for families needing the extra space or sporty types with a 'lifestyle' to support.
But the Sprinter is only ever going to be a working vehicle. And much of that graft will be in congested cities, where a great deal of its time will be spent stationary. Stands to reason then that a hard working van is going to be a prime candidate for start-stop technology potentially capable of slashing fuel use by a fifth.
The diesel engines powering the vast majority of vans are way cleaner and more efficient than the smoky commercial vehicles of old, this Sprinter's common-rail 2.2-litre turbodiesel being a version of that used on C- and E-Classes not so long ago. Various power outputs are offered, our 313CDI boasting 129hp and 225lb ft of torque.
Sprinters are available in more than 200 configurations, comprising everything from traditional panel vans to tipper trucks and buses. Our medium-wheelbase, high roof version is a typical city delivery vehicle though, exactly the kind of van that can make a difference to urban pollution with a start-stop system in other words.
Those bald figures don't sound that impressive compared with even a mid-sized turbodiesel family car. But vans are tuned for low-end grunt and even with a decent load aboard the Sprinter lives up to its name. It's very smooth and refined too, a world away from the rough, noisy vans of a generation ago.
The ECO-Start is very unobtrusive too, shutting the engine off after being stationary for three seconds with the gearstick in neutral. Dip the clutch and by the time you've selected the gear the engine is up and running again. Mechanically the system comprises a revised starter motor, beefed up alternator and battery and a computer control system.
Ride and handling
Modern van man has it easy these days, even a big vehicle like the Sprinter being simplicity in itself to drive. The seating position and dash are more car-like than ever, only the big steering wheel and tall view really feeling anything out of the ordinary for those not accustomed to commercial vehicles.
Unladen the ride is a bit crashy but has to be able to cope with huge fluctuations in load but compared with old-school vans it's like being in an S-Class. Light controls, great visibility and huge mirrors make the Sprinter surprisingly easy to hustle along tightly packed roads too. But then any city dweller will already know that...
Van interiors have to be robust to withstand the hard use many drivers hand out to them and the thick vinyl floor and Tonka-tough construction inspire confidence in the Sprinter's build quality. But it's also very comfortable, which is nice to know if you're going to be spending all day in it.
Many of the controls and displays will be familiar to owners of regular Mercedes cars, the CD changer and optional air conditioning all adding to the creature comforts. Heavens, you can even spec heated seats, Comand sat nav and other luxuries should you so wish.
Economy and safety
So, just how much impact does the ECO-Start system have? And does it justify the £595 standalone premium Mercedes charges for it? Well, in financial terms a van covering 25,000 miles a year will pay that off in less than two years, based on an average saving of 6% on fuel costs compared with a non ECO-Start equipped equivalent.
But it's at street level where the ECO-Start's impact will really be felt. 6% is a conservative estimate and some operators have been able to slash fuel use by up to 20%. And by not belching out fumes and particulates while stationary at traffic lights the subjective improvements in air quality are obvious. Even noise pollution is reduced.
MSN Cars verdict
Stop-start systems are such a simple, obvious way to cut emissions it's a wonder it's taken this long. Mercedes is to be applauded for bringing this technology in where it can make a real, tangible difference to quality of life on city streets and save money for van operators into the bargain. Win win!
More images of the Mercedes Sprinter from Bing
|Need to know|
|Engine - Petrol||N/A|
|Engine - Diesel||2.2 turbocharged four, common-rail|
|Torque (lb ft)||162-243*|
|Top speed (mph)||N/A|
|Economy (mpg)||25 (depending on load)|
|* ECO-Start available on four-cylinder|
diesel versions only
|Rating||Mercedes Sprinter 313CDI |
|Ride and handling||***|
|MSN Cars verdict||*****|
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