Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4×4 Crew Van – Race Organizer Review


Welcome back to the Race Organizer Review series, in which I evaluate vehicles for their suitability for life on the road as part of the 24 Hours of Lemons traveling circus. When it comes to hauling all the weird equipment and weirder personnel to one of my race-track gigs as Chief Justice of the Lemons Supreme Court, it’s hard to beat a van; the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid sipped gas while providing plenty of luxury at the Sears Pointless race in California. For the aptly-named B.F.E. GP race, which took place at High Plains Raceway in  eastern Colorado, I decided I needed a van that would both haul my motorcycle and give me a nice roomy place to camp in the event of typical crazy High Plains summer weather. The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter seemed like the correct choice.

This is the crew van with 144-inch wheelbase and low roof. That isn’t as big as the Sprinter gets, of course, but it’s still quite an imposing monster of a van for the narrow streets of my Denver neighborhood. Still, it turns out to be surprisingly easy to drive and park, with good visibility and not much sense of overwhelming bulk when you’re in the driver’s seat.

You won’t see many genuine cigarette lighters and ashtrays in new US-market motor vehicles in 2018 (in fact, this is a 2017 model-year Sprinter), but this van was ready for hard-smoking van drivers. Even though I don’t smoke, this hardware reminds me of the smoke-filled Chevy Beauville van of my childhood.

Once my fellow Race Organizers flew in from California, we got to work loading gear into the Sprinter. First thing inside was my 1980 Honda Super Cub motorcycle (known as the Passport C70 in the United States, because Piper got the Super Cub name first), one of the 100 million Super Cubs made since 1980.

I can’t imagine an easier pre-race packing experience than this.

High Plains Raceway has quite a bit of unpaved area for camping, so I drove to the edge of the property to set up camp where I wouldn’t have to listen to teams grinding welds all night long. I’d like to say that the Sprinter’s four-wheel-drive system made this possible, but I’ve done the very same drive in the past with a low-ground-clearance, front-wheel-drive 1992 Honda Civic. I set up a tent, with plans to dive into the Sprinter if hail, high winds, and/or thunderstorms hit.

The best pit parties in the 24 Hours of Lemons world take place at Carolina Motorsports Park and High Plains Raceway, and I did my part on Saturday night by bringing the Sprinter to the party and cooking up some rice noodles with peanut sauce on my trusty Coleman stove. There’s nothing like having the nearly unlimited cargo space of an industrial-grade van for this sort of thing.

The weather stayed calm, if hot, so I never needed to sleep in the van (though I’m sure it would have been excellent for this purpose). The Sprinter was just about the ideal vehicle to serve as my personal headquarters at a race, so I was willing to put up with quite a bit of Eastbound and Down-style driving unpleasantness for the 90-minute trips to and from Denver. It turns out that the Sprinter 4×4 is very comfortable on the highway, with sufficient power from its 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 engine to keep up with traffic. The 5-speed automatic transmission (sorry, no manual available in the US-market Crew Van Sprinter, so you can’t emulate the “Hang Onto Your Hardhats” TV commercial over here) waits a few more heartbeats than necessary before downshifting, but this can be lived with.

I managed close to 19 miles per gallon in mostly highway driving (18.7 mpg, to be exact), which I think is excellent for a tall four-wheel-drive brute with automatic transmission. Overall Race Organizer verdict: one of the best all-around vehicles I have used for the purpose of putting on a road race.

POWERTRAIN3.0-liter diesel V6, all-wheel-drive, 5-speed automatic transmission
OUTPUT188 hp at 3,800 rpm, 325 lb-ft at 1400-2400 rpm
PROSIncredible space, good fuel economy, civilized driving experience for a big van
CONSWeak air conditioning, transmission slow to downshift

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