Rejoice, influencers who live in a van down by the river! Your hashtag van life just got a little bit easier, because the 2023 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4×4 is all-wheel drive, rather than four-wheel drive. Which means that, when you’re heading to that Insta-friendly camping spot atop a glacier, on the rim of a volcano, or in the middle of a gurgling trout-filled river, you no longer have to push a button to engage the front axle. Nope, the Sprinter’s full-time transfer case will do the job for you, shuffling torque to the front axle as needed. This leaves more time for you to try on different hats, dry your bamboo underwear next to your idyllic campfire, or proposition a camp toilet company about sponsoring you so you can stop digging dang holes in the woods every day. Van life is busy.
So it’s also nice that the 2023 Sprinter diesel is probably faster than the outgoing model. We say probably because we haven’t yet done any instrumented testing, but it looks good on paper. The outgoing V-6 diesel offered 188 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque, while the new Sprinter diesel brings 211 horsepower at 3600 rpm and 332 pound-feet from 1600 to 2400 rpm. What’s more, that increased output comes from a much-downsized engine, which is now a 2.0-liter four-cylinder rather than a 3.0-liter six. The buff four-banger is hooked to a nine-speed automatic in place of the 2022 model’s seven-speed. Thanks to the nine-speed’s wider ratio spread, Benz says that first gear is the same as in older Sprinter 4x4s that had a five-speed when their shift case was in low range. That’s good since the 2023 Sprinter doesn’t have a low range.
Even so, the new system actually is more capable. For instance, with four-wheel drive engaged, the prior Sprinter 4×4 only sent 35 percent of its torque to the front axle. The new one can send 100 percent to the front, or 100 percent to the rear, or divvy it up anywhere in between, as needed. From launch, it’ll aim for 50-50 front-to-rear, but during highway cruising, it can dismiss the front axle and run in rear-drive mode until conditions call for some front-end assistance. It’s all completely transparent, and there are real-world advantages, especially on pavement. Say the road is wet or intermittently dry with icy patches—you don’t have to monitor the surface and engage four-wheel drive when things look slippery. Traction is always there.
And that’s helpful now that there’s a little bit more power. It’s not like the Sprinter will give you whiplash off the line, but the 2.0-liter feels admirably feisty, even with about 1200 pounds of ballast strapped into the cargo bay. Really, it feels quite a bit like the outgoing V-6 but presumably delivers better fuel economy. (The Sprinter, like heavy-duty pickups, is large enough to escape EPA fuel-economy ratings.) Four-cylinder compression-ignition rattle and vibration are mostly absent, with little noise making its way into the cabin. The max tow rating of 7,500 pounds matches the outgoing model, so there really doesn’t seem to be any downside to the Sprinter’s cylinder-ectomy under the hood.
As for the off-road chops, Benz had grand plans for us to evaluate the new all-wheel-drive system on trails at a dirt-bike track near Stuttgart, but heavy rain turned the terrain into a soupy mess, such that the route was much appreciated. But we can say that the all-wheel-drive Sprinter handled a bit of mud with aplomb, despite wearing winter tires that quickly packed their tread blocks with sticky Swabian clay. As before, this vehicle’s off-road abilities are defined by its size more than its ground clearance or traction—you need a big trail to accommodate a machine that can be more than 24 feet long and nine feet tall, depending on configuration.
Despite the Mercedes star on the grille, the Sprinter remains a workhorse, with a spartan interior—manual seats, manual handbrake, lots of hard plastics. There’s still a value-leader gasoline model that uses a 188-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder and costs $46,795. in cargo-van form. The entry-level diesel is tuned for 170 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque and costs $49,295 as a cargo van or $54,905 as a passenger van. All wheel drive is a $6400 option. That’s a significant discount from the outgoing four-wheel-drive system, which was $8,500. Evidently, ditching that low range really saves a few bucks. The minimum price for a high-roof all-wheel-drive cargo van with the high-output engine and a 170-inch wheelbase is $64,635.
When we initially heard that the top-of-the-range diesel Sprinter was losing two cylinders and a liter of displacement, that sounded like folly. But in practice, most people won’t notice the difference one way or the other, even though the 2023 model is modestly more powerful and has a nine-speed transmission. So if you bought a diesel V-6 2022 Sprinter, you needn’t indulge in any buyer’s remorse. And if you end up with a diesel 2023 Sprinter 4×4—which is at dealers already—you shouldn’t feel like you missed out on the last great Sprinter engine. The biggest difference, really, is having all-wheel drive instead of part-time four-wheel drive, but that’s an evolution rather than a revolution. For the latter, we’ll have to wait for the electric Sprinter coming next year.
In the meantime, we wish we could convince Mercedes to bring the super-funky Sprinter crew-cab 4×4 pickup truck to the US market. Influencers, get working.
2023 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Cargo Van
Vehicle Type: front-engine, rear-or all-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 5-door van
2500 standard-roof, 144-inch-wheelbase, rear-drive gasoline, $46,795; 2500 high-roof, 170-inch-wheelbase, all-wheel-drive high-output diesel, $64,635
turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve 2.0-liter inline-4 diesel, 170 hp, 295 lb-ft; DOHC 16-valve 2.0-liter inline-4, 188 hp, 258 lb-ft; turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve 2.0-liter diesel inline-4, 211 hp, 332 lb-ft
Wheelbase: 144.0 or 170.0 in
Length: 234.0, 274.0, or 290.0 in
Width: 80.0 in
Height: 96.0-111.0 in
Cargo Volume: 533 ft3 max
Curb Weight (C/D est): 5500-6000 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)
60 mph: 12.0-13.5 sec
1/4-mile: 18.0-20.0 sec
Top Speed: 90 mph
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Exempt from EPA testing and labeling
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