I’m immediately struck by the sheer size of the Mercedes Sprinter 4×4. In high-roof guise the Sprinter is already nine feet tall; add the extra ground clearance the 4×4 package brings, plus a bit more for the knobbly off-road tyres and it stands more than ten feet tall.
Since I used to be a bus driver, the size doesn’t actually bother me. But you simply don’t expect something this big to be any good off-road. That expectation is soon proven wrong in quite spectacular fashion, as you can see in the video above.
Millbrook Proving Ground is home to one of the most tortuous off-road courses in the UK. So tortuous, in fact, that it’s used by makers of everything from UTVs to armoured personnel carriers to test their latest machinery to destruction.
Even in this environment, the Sprinter 4×4 is unstoppable. The relatively long wheelbase and low-ish wading depth prevent it tackling the most extreme obstacles, but there’s more than enough suspension travel and axle articulation to cross terrain that would break lesser machinery in half.
The mid-range 160bhp, 265lb/ft BlueTEC diesel engine tested here powers up ridiculously steep slopes without breaking sweat; the standard-fit seven-speed automatic gearbox makes life much easier and never gets caught out.
Electronic traction control works with the stability control to shuttle power to the wheels with most grip and there’s an electronic diff lock, as well. No doubt some traditionalists would rather have big bits of metal than computers doing the work, but it’s incredibly effective. As are the brakes, which easily handled a near-vertical descent without troubling the ABS. You can spec hill descent control, but it’s really only there for peace of mind. Or laziness.
On Tarmac, the driving experience is exactly the same as any other Sprinter. You sit higher, obviously, while the optional off-road tyres throw up some road roar and add a bit of heft to the steering. But otherwise, the handling is accurate – if lifeless – and stability is absolute. There’s loads of room in the cab, but not many places to put anything. Everything you need comes as standard, and you can spec it up to nearly the same levels as a Mercedes saloon.
The Sprinter 4×4 is pretty much idiot-proof on- and off-road. It has to be, as it’s mostly bought for ultility company fleets and any oaf could get behind the wheel – you don’t want to get stuck on the way to an emergency.
It occupies a very small niche and faces little competition, but it’s very far from a poor man’s choice. It’s an amazingly capable thing, almost saloon-like on-road and a force to be reckoned with off-road.
Mercedes Sprinter 316 BlueTEC 4×4
Engine: 2.1-litre 4-cylinder twin-turbo diesel
Transmission: 7-speed automatic; four-wheel-drive
Power/Torque: 160bhp; 265lb/ft
For more information click here
By Only Motors