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2017 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Metris: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Mark Elias August 2016

With all that's happening at Daimler's Mercedes-Benz Vans division and the introduction of the 2017 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Metris Worker Van series, it's clear the company is getting serious about the worker van segment. On the heels of its Chicago Auto Show announcement of a value-priced Sprinter Worker Van, the marque has expanded the line to include additional chassis, engines and body configurations. They even stretched the product portfolio to include a new 2017 Mercedes-Benz Metris Worker lineup.

The move makes a persuasive argument for fleet buyers to reconsider what was once thought of as a luxury buy and instead think of the pair as everyday bread-and-butter vehicles to serve as mobile workshops, delivery vans, ambulances or people movers. This segment is so important to Mercedes, the firm is building a new factory outside Charleston, South Carolina, where they'll build the vans from the ground up. So what, you ask? Read on for more information.

Swiss Army Knife

The Sprinter Van first appeared in 1995. Since then, Sprinters have evolved into a virtual Swiss Army knife of trucks ranging from basic cab and chassis affairs for refrigeration, ambulances, wholesale and retail clients to panel vans for construction, delivery and passenger-transport trades.

If the Sprinter is the big daddy of the lineup, the new Spain-sourced Metris Worker Van is the mid- or right-sized offering that includes cargo and passenger configurations which, at 202.4 inches long, actually fit inside a standard home garage. Along the way, a new Mercedes-approved upfitters program called MasterUpfitters offers turnkey, in-stock upfits, including racks, refrigerators and workbenches. Specialized needs can also be accommodated with all-wheel-drive, dualie, raised and extreme off-roading modifications, not to mention specialized all-of-the-above combinations.

Sprinters: Chicken Little or a Lot

Currently built in Dusseldorf, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinters wind a circuitous route on their way to the U.S., thanks to the so-called chicken tax of 1963, a retaliation against France and West Germany for the taxing of U.S. grown chickens. The 25-percent tariff also covered imported items, such as potato starch, dextrin, brandy and light trucks.

The taxes on the other commodities eventually went away but continued with light trucks, exempting passenger vans. More than 50 years later, it still lingers. Getting creative to avoid the tariffs, Mercedes builds the Sprinters in their Dusseldorf factory, testing and driving them off the assembly line. They're then knocked down (partially disassembled), with the powertrain and other parts on one ship and the bodies on another. Apparently, the U.S. government thought if all parts were on the same ship, the temptation would be too great to build them while at sea.

Long story short, Mercedes-Benz Vans figured out a way to build the cars overseas, break them down and ship, receive and reassemble the parts at their facility in Ladson, South Carolina, and still make a profit.

With the Sprinter Worker manufacturer's suggested base price of $32,495, it may not seem there's much of a profit left, but the new price point puts it within striking distance of its Ford Transit Connect LWB and RAM ProMaster City competition.

Built for the World

Providing additional chassis, engine and body configurations, the new Sprinter Worker lineup arrives in late 2016. Two engines are now available, including the standard 4-cylinder turbocharged 2.1-liter BlueTEC diesel engine with 161-horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque, mated to the class-exclusive 7G-Tronic 7-speed automatic transmission. New this year is the available 3.0-liter BlueTEC V6 turbodiesel making 188 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. It mates to a tried-and-true 5-speed automatic transmission.

While the larger Sprinter receives diesel motivation, the Metris Worker is exclusively powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. A petrol burner, its direct-injected architecture produces 208 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque between 1,250 revolutions per minute and 4,000 rpm. It's mated to a 7G-Tronic 7-speed automatic transmission with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shift levers and auto start/stop functionality.

The Metris Worker goes head-to-head with Ford's Transit Connect, RAM C/V Tradesman and Nissan's NV200 SV series of work vans. Still, it manages a best-in-class cargo capacity of 2,500 pounds and a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds.

Speaking of class-leading, according to Mercedes both the Sprinter and Metris have best-in-class service intervals of 20,000 and 15,000 miles, respectively.

Have It Your Way

Popular as a people mover, work truck, van or cab-chassis vehicle, the Sprinter Worker is available in 144- and 170-inch wheelbase versions. Roof heights include standard and high roof models, which allow workers to stand upright, as long as they're not taller than 6.5 feet.

The Worker and standard Sprinter 2500 Cargo vans can carry a payload of 3,512 pounds and tow up to 5,000 pounds, while the heavy-duty Sprinter 3500 HD tops out with cargo capacity of 5,507 pounds and a max tow rate of 7,500 pounds.

The basic Sprinter Worker is standard with equipment that includes a 4-speaker AM-FM radio with AUX input, USB and Bluetooth audio streaming, cabin partition prep, six standard airbags, crosswind assist and load-adaptive traction control.

With more business-van customers opting to wrap their vehicles these days, the Worker series of Sprinter and Metris are available only in white as a blank canvas for signage and logos. Mercedes-Benz MasterUpfitters offer various roof racks able to carry everything from ladders to surfboards.

During our time at the Mercedes-Benz Vans facility in South Carolina, we observed upfitters demonstrating Sprinter and Metris Worker models equipped with refrigerator and work boxes, ambulance interiors, tool compartments, pet-grooming vehicles and people movers able to accommodate up to 12 passengers.

For simplicity's sake, three packages are available that bring the Sprinter Workers closer to the needs of their customers. A Convenience package ($1,499) includes basics, such as heated mirrors, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, a multifunction steering wheel and pre-wiring for a trailer hitch.

The Utility package ($2,999) includes all of the above and adds a wood cargo floor, a rear step, LED lights in the cargo area, glass in the rear doors and rear grab handles.

Finally, the Overtime package ($4,499) includes all of the above, plus an upgraded audio system, high beam assist, blind spot assist, a rearview camera and a first aid kit.

Separate Convenience ($1,999) and Overtime ($3,999) packages tailored for the Worker Passenger Vans are available and include items, such as extra lighting and leatherette seating, for enhanced passenger capabilities.

For the Metris Worker series of vans, Mercedes-Benz offers packages ranging from the following:

The Metris Worker Cargo starts at $25,995. Packages that expand the palate are available and include the $1,999 Convenience package with a rearview camera and electric rearview mirrors, LED cargo lights, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers and an upgraded audio system. The $3,999 Utility package includes all the above and blind spot assist, heated rear windows, cargo straps and d-rings and a wood floor option.

You can also order the Metris Worker Passenger Van with Convenience ($1,999), Appearance ($3,999) and Comfort ($5,999) packages featuring everything from rearview cameras to blind spot assist and electric sliding doors.

Pricing does not include a destination fee of $995.

Drive Time

Despite its height and new lower price point, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter should not be considered a stripped-down model. We were impressed with the overall ride quality that admittedly started with a rather high tip-in when moving away from a stoplight. Once the dual stage turbocharger on our 2.1-liter-equipped Diesel wound up, it seemed as though we were off to the races. Not really, but still, this torquey little four banger had no trouble getting out of its own way.

The gas-turbo Metris Worker felt more agile under way, if a tiny bit claustrophobic due to the partition separating the front seats from the refrigerator compartment that extended from just over our shoulders all the way to the rear door. Still, the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine was no slouch off the line, but we reminded ourselves there was no payload on the other side of the partition, like a couple thousand pounds of beef or 50 satellite TV installation kits.

Sure, these worker vans might offer a groan or stutter while getting under way, but they manage to simmer down nicely once at speed, as we saw on some South Carolina interstates. Throughout our day, we experienced upfitted passenger vans, supply trucks and reefer boxes, which displayed civilized manners in almost all situations, but the bottom line was with Mercedes-Benz's MasterUpfitters upfitting program, in which Mercedes-Benz Vans show how care and design from their aftermarket partners make these specialized vehicles seem as though they came from a dedicated Mercedes-Benz factory. Through this program, buyers can have their Sprinter and Metris Worker Vans upfitted shortly after rolling off the reassembly line in South Carolina.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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2017 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Metris: First Drive Review - Autotrader