The lightweight among commercial vehicles: The history of the Mercedes-Benz vans
Stuttgart
Mar 31, 2010
The new Sprinter: jack-of-all-trades
  • Unparalleled model diversity
  • New super-high roof variant
  • Top-of-the-range engine with 135 kW
After eleven years and around 1.4 million units, the time had come in spring 2006 for the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Europe's market leader in the 3.5 tonne van class, to get a successor. An emotional but appropriate design uniting form and function, in visual terms the new Sprinter already heralded a new era. The headlamps and cooling air intake were designed in the way typical of the brand. The dynamic lateral lines, three-dimensionally shaped tail lights and the receding lower section of the rear end were also characteristic of the Mercedes-Benz brand. Self-assuredly the new Sprinter wore its trademark at the front on an almost sculpted base, and at the rear in a central position between the doors.
In discussing the new Sprinter, one actually has to consider a thousand Sprinters, since around 1000 basic models can be created simply from the permutations of different wheelbases, lengths, heights, weights, body, engine and transmission configurations. The Sprinter was available in three wheelbases, in four lengths for the closed-body variants, with standard roof, high roof or the new super-high roof. The precise coordination existing between individual models was remarkable. It wasn't simply restricted to modifications of the wheelbase: in the new Sprinter a suitably matched overhang complemented the particular wheelbase for each model. The result, apart from the visual advantages of harmonious proportions, was mainly advantages in terms of driving dynamics, plus the added advantage of balanced weight distribution in all versions.
The load capacity of the closed-body models began at 7.0 cubic metres in the shortest Sprinter with standard roof. The combination of maximum possible length with highest roof raised the volume of the load compartment to a peak value of 17 cubic metres. The new Sprinter was available in three gross vehicle weight classes of 3 tonnes, 3.5 tonnes and 5 tonnes (with twin tyres).
There were even two more GVW ratings: 3.88 tonnes as load-uprated variant of the 3.5-tonner and 4.6 tonnes (with super-single or twin tyres) as load-derated version of the 5-tonner.
Mercedes-Benz manufactured the standard and high roofs of the new Sprinter from sheet steel, while the new super-high roof was made of glass fibre-reinforced plastic. There were newly developed sliding doors and rear doors to match the numerous variants of the Sprinter. The maximum loading hatches these made possible had grown to record size compared with the previous model. The width between the wheel arches also reached record proportions.
Standard equipment package establishes a class benchmark
The Sprinter's standard equipment also made it the benchmark in its class. Along with many other details, power windows and central locking with radio remote control were now standard, as were driver airbag, six-speed transmission, wide-angle rear view mirror, ADAPTIVE ESP®. In addition, the Sprinter impressed with high-grade materials processed with painstaking workmanship. The Sprinter's steering wheel could now be adjusted for height and reach as an optional feature. Extended seat reach adjustment and greater headroom made for even more freedom of movement.
As the midpoint in the cockpit, the centre console caught the eye. It contained among other things three DIN drawers, a cup holder and a functional switch strip. Depending on the scope of equipment, the driver’s eye fell optimally on readable dial gauges with speedometer and rev counter. If the multifunction steering wheel was selected, much additional information was available on the large displays of the HighLine instrument cluster. An essential element of driver comfort was an entirely new stowage facility concept developed on the basis of a real-life basket of goods.
The new exterior mirrors with integral wide-angle auxiliary mirrors on both sides of the vehicles were conducive to good rear vision and thus good safety. Side indicator repeaters were installed in the mirror housings for a strong signalling effect. Other aids for the driver included special equipment such as a closing aid for the sliding door, electric sliding door operation and, particularly, the innovative Keyless Entry and Slide system. This assists mainly drivers of parcel services who often don't have a hand free to operate the doors. When the driver approaches the vehicle, depending on the direction he comes from the driver's door is unlocked or the sliding door is opened. When the driver moves away from his vehicle the systems locks the driver's door or closes the sliding door.
Engines set new standards
With its engines the Sprinter once again established a milestone in the van world. The unchanged basis was the OM 646 CDI turbodiesel engine with four cylinders and 2.15 litres displacement, now available in four output levels from 62 kW to 110 kW. Great pulling power at low revs along with high efficiency are advantages of these engines. Depending on version they even excel with two-stage turbocharging.
Top among the diesel engines was the new OM 642, a V6 with a displacement of 3.0 litres, an output of 135 kW and maximum torque 400 Nm. If the four-cylinders were well known for their advanced technology, the V6 with an aluminium crankcase, a balancer shaft and two overhead camshafts per cylinder bank enhanced the level even further. All diesel engines were low-pollution units complying with Euro 4 and EU 4/III and featured a particulate filter as standard.
The oil change interval of 40,000 kilometres was sufficient for a circumnavigation of the globe. Depending on the type of operation this could be extended further using the service computer ASSYST.
The V6 petrol engine M 272 in the Sprinter opened up a new performance dimension for vans: 190 kW from 3.5 litres piston displacement shattered all previous marks. The high-tech power plant offered convincingly superior power delivery combined with extraordinarily smooth operation. A five-speed automatic transmission transferred power to the rear axle. It was also available for the diesel engines as special equipment. As standard they were connected with a six-speed manual transmission with joystick-style gearshift on the dashboard. As many as three selectable final drive ratios per model allowed the Sprinter to be precisely adapted to the requirements in hand.
The suspension of the rear-wheel drive vehicle was perfectly adapted to the high engine outputs and the major differences between laden and unladen vehicle. A new transverse leaf spring made of glass fibre-reinforced plastic was used on the front axle, while new parabolic springs were used at the rear.
On all models, including the chassis, the latest-generation Electronic Stability Program ESP® – ADAPTIVE ESP® – was standard equipment. In addition to the usual parameters it now determined mass and centre of gravity. With this and other new functions, in critical situations ADAPTIVE ESP® could now respond more sensitively and selectively for control purposes. An optional extension of ADAPTIVE ESP® is the start-off assist AAS: this prevents a vehicle from unintentionally rolling backwards when the driver changes from brake pedal to accelerator pedal to move off on hills.
All Sprinter models rolled on wheels with a diameter of 40.64 centimetres as standard, this being the prerequisite for brake discs with larger diameters. A further innovation was optional super-single tyres on the rear axle for the 4.6-tonne variant. Compared with twin tyres these tyres, size 285/65 R 16 C, require less space, save weight and increase the loading width between the wheel arches in the panel van. They also reduce rolling resistance.
Further improved safety
The exemplary passive safety of the Sprinter was further enhanced with the introduction of the new model. Every seat was now fitted with three-point seat belts and height-adjustable head restraints as well as belt force limiters; additionally the driver's seat and the outer co-driver's seat featured belt tensioners. The driver airbag was a standard-fit feature; optionally available: co-driver airbag, thorax bags and windowbags.
Together with specialised partners, Mercedes-Benz today realises numerous body and equipment solutions for the Sprinter under the headword Van Solution. These vehicles, supplied from a single source, are offered by Mercedes-Benz in the Sprinter price list as one-invoice vehicles, and Mercedes-Benz also handles servicing.
Mercedes-Benz manufactures the Sprinter at the Düsseldorf plant (panel van and crewbus) and in Ludwigsfelde outside Berlin (pickups, chassis). Both factories set the greatest store by exemplary workmanship and long-term quality. Many elements of the frame and body are laser-welded, laser-soldered or bonded. The proportion of galvanised sheet metal has increased significantly compared with the previous model.
Completely new in this vehicle segment with rear-wheel drive as of 2007 is a low-frame chassis specially developed for camper vans in cooperation with the firm AL-KO. The lowering of the frame behind the cab by about 205 millimetres results in a low centre of gravity with advantages in terms of driving dynamics. This permits double floor concepts for camper vans, for instance, with stowage space in between the floors, while retaining a moderate overall height of the completely built-up vehicle.
This variant of the Sprinter features as rear axle a diagonal swing axle with coil springs, newly developed by Mercedes-Benz. Dynamic handling control systems like the anti-lock braking system or the Electronic Stability Program ESP® are incorporated into the design. Mercedes-Benz directly completes the low-frame chassis on the production line at the Ludwigsfelde plant, where the open versions and the chassis models of the Sprinter are built.
Sprinter 4x4 for maximum traction
At the 2006 IAA International Commercial Vehicle Show, for the first time Mercedes-Benz showed a Sprinter 4x4 with all-wheel drive. This gave high traction and handling stability even in unfavourable conditions. The permanent all-wheel drive transmitted the power to the front and rear axles in normal operation in a 35:65 split. Instead of using mechanical differential locks, the all-wheel drive worked together with the Electronic Traction System 4ETS. If one or more wheels lost traction on slippery ground, they were automatically braked at short intervals.
At the same time the drive torque was transferred to the wheel or wheels which still had adequate traction. The Sprinter 4x4 was to be available in all body, length and weight variants and powered by four- and six-cylinder CDI engines with 80, 110 and 135 kW. Customers could choose between the standard-fit six-speed manual transmission and the five-speed automatic transmission with torque converter.
Innovative alternative drive systems have a long tradition at Mercedes-Benz and especially in the Sprinter. So it is only logical that in 2008 the Sprinter range was extended by the Sprinter NGT, the Sprinter with natural gas drive. Depending on version and use, gas tanks with different capacities are available. The output of the turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 1.8 litre displacement is 115 kW, the maximum torque is 240 Nm. The Sprinter NGT with bivalent drive system operates economically, quietly and with low emissions. Its operating cost is as much as 30 percent less than that of a Sprinter with diesel engine. With natural gas the Sprinter can travel a distance of 300 to 450 km, which is definitely adequate for short-range distribution work in very ecologically sensitive conurbations.
Optional air springs on the rear axle
Another option available from 2008 was air suspension rather than standard coil springs on the rear axle. ADAPTIVE ESP® was further enhanced with adaptive brake lights, which functioned as a flashing emergency braking signal. Instead of remaining lit, the brake lights flashed for the period of critical braking. For manual transmission vehicles start-off assist AAS was also available as an option.
There was progress, too, with alternative drive systems: in mid 2008 the Competence Center for Emissions-free Vehicles (KEN) at the Mannheim plant was expanded to become the Mercedes-Benz Natural Gas Production Competence Center. Sixteen natural gas variants were available for the Sprinter alone.
In September the IAA Commercial Vehicles Show in Hanover offered a glimpse far into the future of Mercedes-Benz Vans. The outstanding exhibit was a Sprinter Plug-In Hybrid, with an electric motor placed between combustion engine and automatic transmission. This innovative design had a set of lithium-ion batteries stowed directly behind the rear axle. This battery technology weighed in at 175 kilograms, doubling the power-to-weight ratio of the previously used nickel-metal hydride batteries.
Detailed improvements for Vito and Viano
Meanwhile, the gross vehicle weight of the Vito and Viano grew to 3.2 tonnes and 3.05 tonnes respectively. Maximum payload was now 1400 kilogram. These two models also featured adaptive brake lights.
Both the individual seats and the optional seat benches in the rear of the Viano and the comfort seating in the passenger compartment of the Vito were reupholstered. The new design was ergonomically optimised, with an additional 25 millimetres of leg room. Lower seat boxes for the comfort seating of driver and front passenger made it possible to the lower seat position by 15 millimetres and thereby create a more favourable position.
Advent of brand-new engines for Euro 5
In 2009 the Sprinter appeared with a new generation of diesel engines with new manual transmissions and numerous other innovative features. It was now cleaner, more economical and more powerful than ever.
Euro 5 as standard, EEV optional
The core of the comprehensive advanced development of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter was the all-new drive train. At the heart of this were the completely new four-cylinder diesel engines bearing the internal designation OM 651 and the extensively revised V6 OM 642. The main focus of development work was on maximising environmental protection by meeting the Euro 5 emissions standard and optionally even EEV, further improved efficiency with reduced fuel consumption, enormous performance with high output and tractive power, spontaneous response and improved smooth operation.
In addition, of course, the units met all the usual requirements of an engine bearing the three-pointed star: a high degree of reliability and long service life, even under rigorous use as a commercial vehicle, and long periods between maintenance. All variants of the new engine already complied with Euro 5. This came into force for commercial vehicles over 3.5 tonnes GVW in the autumn and is prescribed for commercial vehicles under this threshold weight from 2011.
The new four-cylinder OM 651 was available in three power variants in the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. First, there was the 210 CDI/310 CDI/510 CDI: output 70 kW at 3800/min; maximum torque 250 Nm at 1400-2500/min. Second, the 213 CDI/313 CDI/413 CDI/513 CDI: output 95 kW at 3800/min; maximum torque 305 Nm at 1200-2400/min. And third, the 216 CDI/316 CDI/416 CDI/516 CDI: output 120 kW at 3800/min; maximum torque 360 Nm at 1400-2400/min.
Compared with the previous top-of-the-range variant, therefore, power output was increased by eight per cent and maximum torque by ten per cent.
V6 CDI: Top-of-the-range engine improved still further
The V6 OM 642 underwent extensive further development, although its 3-litre displacement remained unaltered. The only six-cylinder unit available in a van now also complied with the Euro 5 emissions standard. In addition to the slightly improved output, what impressed most of all perhaps was the maximum torque increase of ten per cent. As the top-of-the-range Sprinter engine, the six-cylinder unit was available in one output variant: 219 CDI/319 CDI/419 CDI/519 CDI: output 140 kW at 3800/min; maximum torque 440 Nm at
1400-2400/min.
The OM 651 four-cylinder diesel engine was an all-new design. The only similarity with the predecessor engine was its displacement of 2.15 litres. But at its root was a completely different geometry. Whereas previously bore and stroke had been almost equal, now the engine was undersquare in design, with a bore of 83 mm and stroke of 99 mm. This enabled a high ignition pressure of 200 bar and made for extra torque, which thus increased tractive power and performance potential. Compression was reduced from 17.5:1 to 16.2:1. One advantage of this was a quieter idle speed, even when cold, despite the undersquare design.
The basis of the engine was an extremely solid cast iron block. The cylinder head bolts were deep-mounted, thereby reducing friction and permitting a more cylindrical and even more precision-cut barrel – which again reduced friction further. The pistons were made of aluminium. On account of the undersquare geometry, an omega shape was chosen for the piston cavity. The broad, flat cavity was well suited to the high, free injection jet length of the undersquare design. The optimised combustion process within the engine significantly reduced raw emissions.
The long stroke layout of the engine meant the weight-optimised forged con rods could be shortened, giving an advantage in terms of strength and rigidity. The crankshaft, also forged, had eight counterweights and rotated in five bearings. It was extremely low in vibrations, which contributed significantly to the smooth running of the engine.
The two overhead camshafts operated 16 intake and exhaust valves in total via roller tip rocker arms with a hydraulic valve clearance adjustment. The camshaft was driven via a combination of toothed cogs and a short duplex chain. As a result of great attention to detail, much of the excessive noise generally associated with toothed wheel drives was reduced.
Direct fuel injection at a maximum 1800 bar
As previously, a common-rail system took care of fuel injection. This design guaranteed both high-precision and therefore economic fuel dosage for each individual cylinder and smooth engine operation. Maximum injection pressure for the new engine generation was increased to an impressive 1800 bar.
Advanced fourth-generation magnet injectors with improved adjustability and a seven-hole injection nozzle guaranteed up to four injections per combustion cycle. After a maximum of two pre-injections came the main injection followed by a post-injection if required. This resulted in a gentle increase in pressure and thus to smooth and quiet engine operation.
The new injectors operated without leakage. Consequently a leakage line to collect and return fuel was no longer necessary. This improved the heat management of the injection system and made fuel cooling redundant. A compact two-plunger high-pressure pump guaranteed the required pressure in the rail. Filling was regulated by a butterfly valve. The necessary drive output of the pump was significantly reduced – just one of many examples of fuel-saving measures.
High efficiency, rapid dynamic response
The developers paid great attention to turbocharging. This was critical not only in establishing nominal data for output and torque, but also for the dynamic power curve and thus the engine’s dynamic response. In the basis version with 70 kW the engine drew its air from a single-stage exhaust gas turbocharger with variable turbine geometry. Its characteristics were high efficiency and rapid dynamic response.
With the two other power variants of the four-cylinder unit, the turbocharger chosen was an advanced version of the two-stage unit from the predecessor engine – the first turbocharger to be used in a van. In this case the system combined a small high-pressure turbo and a large low-pressure turbo. The two turbines operated in series. At low engine speeds the compact high-pressure turbo took care of charging alone. This meant that even at very low revs it was possible to build high charge-air pressure. A wastegate valve prevented overload. From medium engine speeds upwards, the charge-air pressure control valve of the low-pressure turbocharger opened wide enough to enable this turbocharger to take over turbine operations. This, too, was fitted with a wastegate.
Thanks to consistent optimisation of all major assemblies, this combination achieved not only excellent dynamic response at low engine speeds, but also excellent operating characteristics at high revs and top performance across the entire engine speed range. Maximum torque was available at very low revs and continued over a wide engine speed range. The switch from single-stage to two-stage operation and vice versa was not apparent to the driver and the engine characteristics were those of a large-volume diesel engine.
Enlarged intercooler, maximum specific output
The enlarged intercooler improved cooling efficiency by 20 percent compared with the predecessor engine and laid the basis for a very high specific engine output. The lower temperature of the compressed and warmed charge air of around 140 degrees meant that a larger mass of air was able to enter the combustion chambers.
Consequently, with an output of 56 kW per litre of displacement, the most powerful version of the four-cylinder unit (120 kW) achieved the highest specific output of any van engine in this class. The same was true also for maximum torque – here, too, the new engine in the Sprinter proved best in its class, with up to 168 Nm per litre of displacement. This downsizing – high output and high torque from a relatively small displacement – was a prerequisite for low fuel consumption, concomitant low emissions and favourable weight. An electrically controlled butterfly valve positioned behind the intercooler ensured a precise mix of fresh air and recirculated exhaust gases. In order to optimise the volume of exhaust gas, it was cooled as required so as to increase the overall volume of exhaust gas available.
Balancer shafts create exceptionally smooth ride characteristics
The new four-cylinder engines were fitted with a Lanchester balancer: two counter-rotating shafts that gave this class of engine smoother ride characteristics than had ever been achieved to date. The shafts turned in a cassette beneath the crankcase and were driven by crown wheels. Friction was minimised by mounting them on two needle bearings and a deep-groove ball bearing. The balancer shafts were arranged in such a way as to accommodate the technical components required for the all-wheel drive of the Sprinter 4x4, such as front axle differential and drive shafts.
The Lanchester balancers were not only a premiere for the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, they were the first to be used in any van. The rear-mounted camshaft drive and a dual-mass flywheel also contributed to the exemplary smooth running characteristics of the new engine.
Mercedes-Benz has a long-standing commitment to the environment. With the presentation of the current Sprinter generation in 2006, for example, the company was the first manufacturer to equip all diesel engines with a particulate filter as standard. In line with tradition, therefore, Mercedes-Benz introduced the new OM 651 as the first van diesel engine to comply with the Euro 5 emissions standard. For the Sprinter, moreover, there was no such thing as first and second-class cleanliness: all output and weight variants complied with Euro 5 requirements.
In addition, an optional version has been announced to comply with EEV standards (Enhanced Environmentally-friendly Vehicle), currently the most stringent voluntary emissions level in Europe. Classification in line with EEV means even lower values for carbon monoxide (CO), hydrocarbons (HC) and particulate matter (PM).
Thanks to its highly efficient engine, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter achieved both Euro 5 and EEV with exhaust gas recirculation. The Sprinter was thus able to manage without the SCR technology and AdBlue® additive used in trucks. This was a significant advantage in vans for a number of reasons – not least, because unlike vehicle parks for heavy-duty trucks few companies had filling facilities equipped with a supply of AdBlue®.
The application profile also differed considerably. Because vans had a shorter range compared with trucks and buses, they required more frequent refuelling – and that often in areas where a supply of AdBlue® could not be guaranteed. In addition, the extra weight of SCR technology in a van in the 3.5-tonne weight category took a particularly heavy toll.
Sophisticated exhaust gas recirculation with two-stage cooling
The basis for the environmental-friendliness of the new generation of diesel engines is their low level of raw emissions. In addition to optimised combustion, this is achieved thanks to an increased rate of exhaust gas recirculation. Exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) in the new engines is water-cooled – a process in two stages as required. First, all exhaust gases are pre-cooled; then depending on the operating point of the engine a second cooling takes place in the main radiator.
When the engine is cold the EGR is used initially uncooled. This results in a more rapid increase in exhaust gas temperature and thus to prompt operation of the oxidising catalytic converter. In this way harmful emissions are further reduced. A useful side effect is also that the engine warms up more rapidly, reducing wear and tear as well as improving fuel consumption. In addition, the heating system can begin warming the interior more quickly.
Another noteworthy feature is that unlike with many other units, the new engine achieves a high rate of exhaust gas recirculation even at full throttle. For this reason, the Sprinter has deservedly earned its reputation for cleanliness under all operating conditions. Thanks to a new EGR valve, the EGR system can also be regulated more precisely than its predecessor. In addition, further reductions can be made in flow losses. All new engines are also equipped with particulate filters as standard.
Regulated auxiliary assemblies cut consumption
The development engineers also redesigned auxiliary assemblies with a view to reducing fuel consumption. The oil pump, for example, was a regulated vane pump with electric switch – an innovation in diesel engines. It regulated its supply volume independently and adaptively, thereby tangibly reducing engine output and thus fuel consumption. The oil pump was fully integrated into the crankcase. The pistons were cooled from below by oil injector nozzles. In order to reduce consumption, these were only activated as required. Two other assemblies that operated on a needs-only basis were the coolant pump – another premiere for diesel engines – and the alternator. Both helped cut fuel consumption.
Long service life under difficult conditions
Van engines are subject to widely varying yet extremely testing working conditions. Short-range journeys with frequent stops and starts for local parcel deliveries, low mileages and cold starts with high demands on output for trade professionals, and very high mileages of well over 200,000 kilometres per year for courier services reflect only a few elements of this broad spectrum.
The predecessor engines in the Sprinter enjoyed a reputation for their very great reliability. The new generation raised the load factor even further. Particular attention was paid to typical load spectrums with van use. The new engine generation was designed with a B10 value of 350,000 km – meaning that at least 90 per cent of the engines would pass this mileage without a general overhaul. The engines provided impressive proof of this not only on the test rig, but also during intensive long-distance trials in vehicles and under extreme conditions.
The exceptionally long maintenance and oil change intervals for the Sprinter remained unchanged with the launch of the new engines. As before, oil changes were necessary after 40,000 km and a maintenance service after 80,000 km. These intervals were flexible and were monitored by the standard-fit service computer ASSYST. Depending on use, the intervals could be extended up to 100,000 km. One of the major benefits in terms of reliability, service life and therefore running costs was the use of a duplex chain to drive the camshaft.
V6 OM 642: Outstanding technology made even better
With its outstanding engineering, the V6 OM 642 with three-litre displacement – the only six cylinder in use in a European van – was one of the showpieces of Mercedes-Benz engine design. The undersquare engine (bore x stroke 83 x 92 mm) was based on an aluminium crankcase canted at 72 degrees. Thanks to the offset crank pins on the crankshaft and a balancer shaft, the engine was quieter than any other diesel in its class. Technical highlights included altogether four overhead cams driven by duplex chain, as well as common rail direct injection using piezo injectors each with eight injection nozzles.
In its most recent version, the engine meets the Euro 5 emissions standard and has a slightly increased output of 140 kW and significantly increased peak torque of 440 Nm. At the same time, fuel consumption is noticeably less. Advanced developments of the V6 include a rail pressure of up to 1800 bar and an electronically controlled viscose fan. As before, a particulate filter is part of the standard specification.
The electronically-controlled viscose fan is used in combination with the air-conditioning system. It switches on automatically as required. Less frequent operation as a result of the new control system means lower fuel consumption and reduced noise emissions.
ECO Gear: New six-speed manual transmission for vans
The new high-traction engines in the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter are a perfect match for the new ECO Gear six-speed manual transmission. This makes a significant contribution to cutting fuel consumption and to even better handling and dynamics in the new Sprinter generation. The new transmission is an all-new development by Mercedes-Benz specifically for vans and is also manufactured in-house.
An outstanding feature of the new transmission is its particularly wide transmission-ratio spread with a low ratio for first gear and a high engine-sparing sixth gear ratio. This design is van-specific and takes into account typical van-type situations, such as setting off on hills with a trailer under difficult traction conditions and long-distance journeys on motorways.
In general, the new transmission significantly reduces engine speeds in favour of lower fuel consumption and higher efficiency. In addition, it also results in lower exhaust and noise emissions and increased ride comfort.
The transmission is available in the two ECO Gear 360 versions for four-cylinder engines (including petrol and natural gas variants) and in the more powerful ECO Gear 480 with broader meshing and a more rigid casing wall for the six-cylinder diesel and petrol engines. The ratios are identical in both transmissions, with a range of 5.08:1 (1st gear) and 0.68 (6th gear). In each case, fourth gear is designed as an engaged direct gear.
High sixth gear ratio reduces revs and cuts consumption
Apart from the slightly lower first gear ratio, the most noticeable feature compared with previous transmissions is the approximately 15 percent higher ratio of the top speed – a prerequisite for comfortable engine revs at higher speeds. On the other hand, the lower first gear ratio assists the driver when manoeuvring and facilitates slower driving without unnecessary clutch wear. It also makes setting off under difficult circumstances easier.
The casing of the new transmission is made of aluminium. Both dimensions and weights are almost identical with previous transmissions. Smoother operation also results in acoustic benefits.
Mercedes-Benz retained its preference for shift-by-wire transmission for the Sprinter, with an easy-to-reach joystick gearshift in the instrument panel. This is completely decoupled from the transmission. New operation with a transverse shaft concept results in high-precision shifting.
A choice of two final drive ratios
In general the Sprinter’s driven rear axles remain in the programme unmodified. The final drive ratios are also no different from previous models. But the shortest gear ratio in each case is no longer offered on account of the new generation of high-traction engines and the wide transmission-ratio spread. However, it is still available for special applications if specifically requested. For normal road use buyers have the choice of two final drive ratios. These, combined with the broad engine offer, enable the Sprinter to adapt perfectly to whatever circumstances it is required to operate in.
The new transmission with its broad spread, combined with the new high-torque yet agile engines, results in very relaxed driving. Much reduced engine speeds coupled with numerous technical innovations cut both emissions and fuel consumption significantly.
The powerful drive system of the Sprinter also establishes ideal conditions for trailer use. The permissible trailer weight for the Sprinter with a GVW of 3.5 tonnes has also been increased to 3.5 tonnes. Adding these together results in an impressive permissible towing weight of precisely seven tonnes. This additional towing weight is available for all Sprinter versions from 316 CDI as panel van, chassis with cab and double cab, excluding short wheelbase variants.
Further raising of safety level
During development Mercedes-Benz also raised the already exemplary safety level of the Sprinter a notch higher. Here the key concepts were ESP® trailer stabilisation, adaptive brake lights, heated wide-angle mirror, lower positioned fog lamps and an automatic transmission with start-off assist AAS.
If a customer orders the trailer coupling or pre-equipment for the trailer coupling ex factory, ESP® trailer stabilisation is included in the standard specification. This additional function to the standard ESP® electronic stability programme is already in use in the Mercedes-Benz Vito and Viano. ESP® trailer stabilisation uses the ESP® system’s yaw-rate sensor to detect rotary movements about the vehicle’s vertical axis and intervenes with active braking countermeasures. There are no additional sensors on the trailer or on the trailer coupling.
If swinging movements are detected, the ESP® trailer stabilisation brakes the front wheels and reduces engine torque. Should several interventions be necessary successively, the braking dosage is increased and speed reduced more severely. This gives a clear signal to the driver of the danger of the swinging trailer and warns him that the vehicle is operating too frequently at critical speed limits. The ESP® warning light in the instrument panel indicates the control intervention to the driver.
Thanks to its sensitive way of working, ESP® trailer stabilisation helps prevent critical pendulum swinging before it gets out of hand – and as such represents a major bonus in terms of safety and comfort. ESP® trailer stabilisation recognises the presence of a trailer as soon as the electric connection is made.
Proud record
With all these innovations the Sprinter is more fit-for-purpose than ever. But the Vito can also celebrate a unique success of its own. In February 2009, 21,000 London black cabs found themselves facing competition for the first time. Regulations demanded a turning circle of 7.62 metres between kerb stones and 8.35 metres between two parallel walls. In order for the Vito to meet these requirements, the British company One80 developed a rear-wheel steering specifically for the Vito. That made the Vito the only competitor on the streets of London to boast such attributes. And the number of Vito taxis in London has been rising rapidly – by the end of 2009 it is estimated there will be 500 Vito vehicles serving customers in the English capital.
The company chronicle has had cause to celebrate several significant anniversaries in recent times. In June 2008 the Düsseldorf plant produced the three millionth van in the shape of a Sprinter 315 CDI. And six months later, in December 2008, the 500,000th vehicle in the Vito/Viano series came off the production line at the Vitoria plant.
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