The last of the traditional American full-size vans are being phased out, but thanks to European-market influence, we have some awesome new options to choose from. We’ve had the chance to spend some serious time behind the wheel of Mercedes’ latest 4x4 Sprinter 2500 Crew and Ford’s Transit 350 HR DRW. Here's what we found out.
2015 Mercedes Sprinter 4x4
Okay, the most obvious bonus with the new-for-2015 Sprinter is the availability of the factory 4x4 drivetrain, which can only be ordered with the larger 3.0-liter BlueTEC turbo diesel. Our van also came equipped with the Low-and-High-Range package, which when added to the 4x4/six-cylinder package adds up to a whopping $7,785 option. A base model with the same 144-inch length wheelbase and low roof package starts at $38,270, but as optioned our test vehicle lists for $57,440 (!).
After spending a full week with the Sprinter, we were impressed. The engine is smooth, quiet, and provides excellent torque, but what really stood out was the wonderful automatic five-speed transmission—this is one of the nicest transmissions we’ve experienced in a “truck.” Off highway we were impressed with the additional ground clearance afforded by the upgraded suspension and found the 4x4 system quite effective despite not having locking differentials. Our only complaint is that the same suspension that makes this Sprinter so capable off road makes it terribly stiff on road. But if you live somewhere where 4x4 is a necessary feature, this Sprinter is clearly the choice for you. Seating comfort was great and interior sound levels were acceptable.
As a tool for hauling motorcycles and people, the Crew is our van of choice. There is ample room in the back for motorcycles, gear, and even the family (seating for five). Plenty of cargo tie-down points, a reasonable deck height, and the 270-degree opening rear doors make loading and unloading a snap. The 4x4 Sprinter has a max payload capacity of 3,237 pounds, with a maximum towing capacity of 5,000 pounds.
2015 Ford Transit 350 HR DRW
The Ford Transit has been around Europe for ages and replaces the Econoline. Our 2015 High Roof, Dual-Rear Wheel, 1-ton Transit equipped with the optional 3.2-liter, inline-five diesel and a six-speed transmission had a base price is $40,885; the diesel adds $4,130. Options increased our as-tested price to $50,295. As equipped, load capacity is 4,300 pounds, with a tow rating of 6,900 pounds with the 10,360-pound GVWR package and 3.73 limited-slip rear axle.
Editor-in-Chief Hoyer spent the most time in the Ford, so he’ll take it from here: “The biggest shock about this van was how easy it was to drive. It's not just a good-handling van; it's a good-handling vehicle. And with 350 pound-feet of torque it's probably faster in a straight line and through the slalom than an ’82 Mustang. It really drives well. But most of the time when bike people are loading a van to go riding, it means hours on the highway. We loaded a pair of sportbikes, tools, and lots of stuff you’d need for a trackday and the van was quick to 80 miles per hour, where it cruised nicely and delivered about 17 mpg. The Transit was impressive in gusty winds, tracking straight and requiring little steering correction. We arrived relaxed and comfy.
“Our high-roofer had lots of headroom for our tallest tester [6-foot-2], and there were loads of tie-down rings to secure bikes and gear,” Hoyer continued. “Throw in a couple of roll-in wheel chocks and there is all kinds of load-arrangement flexibility. Being a giant metal box, the Transit will never be as quiet as Dad’s ’79 Lincoln Town Car Cartier Edition, but noise suppression in the cab was better than most vans we’ve tried. Overall, impressive performance and utility from this very large van make it a great choice for serious hauling.”