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2009 Dodge Sprinter: Cooler Than a Real Luxury Vehicle?

rockstar.jpgAsk yourself this the next time you’re driving next to some high-zoot luxury or sports car: what kind of person is behind the wheel? Maybe a doctor or lawyer? Maybe a business executive of some sort? Now ask yourself this: who’s cooler, a doctor/lawyer/executive or a rock star? If you are like most people, you’d say it was the rock star.
I would then have to submit that a Sprinter is cooler than most luxury vehicles out there. Ok, I have truly gone off the deep end. Or have I?

In our business, we’re lucky to evaluate lots of vehicles. I’ve personally driven the streets in all kinds of high-end vehicles. And guess what? No one ever comments on my ride du jour or treats me differently. Not so with the Sprinter. Case and point: a group of friends and I pulled into a strip mall for some sweets and piled out of the van and into the ice cream shop. As we walked in to peruse the selection of thirty one flavors, a customer came up to us and asked us if we were a rock band on tour. She was totally serious. So how’s that for cool?
Ok, I’m being just a little facetious. Yes, I know that no one would actually lust after a Sprinter more than they might fancy a shiny Mercedes-Benz S-Class. But wait – that Sprinter actually has more in common with that vaunted luxury car than you might think.
Mercedes-Benz_2009_Sprinter_exterior.jpgYes, it’s got a Dodge crosshair grille on the front, but it’s actually built by Mercedes-Benz in Germany (and is called a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter everywhere else but here). Mercedes-Benz has a massive presence in the commercial vehicle universe worldwide. Why not here? Because Mercedes-Benz is a premium luxury brand in North America; associating it with Plebian work vehicles might hurt its image here. So instead, you’ll find Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicle technology in Freightliner trucks, and in this case, the “Dodge” Sprinter. Of course, the future of this vehicle in North America is somewhat in question now that Daimler AG, Mercedes-Benz’s parent company, is no longer associated with Chrysler.
Poke around at this massive box on wheels and you’ll find plenty of Mercedes-Benz touches. The instrumentation and switches are straight out of various Mercedes-Benz cars, and the overall level of fit and finish far exceed what you’d find in a Chevrolet Express. It even steers like a Mercedes-Benz, for crying out loud, in that the steering is very accurate but has a fairly slow steering ratio just off center, increasing straightline stability at high speeds.
The van has a few really neat party tricks. First, the high roof versions are tall enough that a six-footer can stand upright inside without stooping. Second, the Mercedes-quality seats in all rows are incredible supportive and comfortable and feature integrated 3-point belts. Third, it boasts incredible fuel economy.
Mercedes-Benz_2009_Sprinter_interior.jpgFuel economy? In something this big? This massive vehicle (ours was the long wheelbase, high-roof version) takes up two tandem parking spaces in shopping centers, yet I averaged over 22 mpg over the weekend. This included plenty of city driving, getting mistaken for rock stars, and even shuttling 11 family members to lunch (yes, we all fit in supreme comfort). What’s the secret? It’s a diesel. The very quiet and refined 3.0L V6 diesel sips fuel in a way that belies the van’s size.
Very cool, then. Cool enough, in my book, for a real three-pointed star in the grille. Judging by all of the Mercedes grille conversions I see on Sprinters around here, it seems I’m not the only one that sees just how cool a Sprinter is supposed to be!

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