CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Mercedes-Benz, running true to form, is turning to safety and powertrain technology to keep the 2015 Sprinter van on fleet buyers' shopping lists as newly launched Ford and Ram entries heat up the full-size van segment.
The new Sprinter's options include the segment's only four-wheel-drive system, and the system can be ordered with a low range. Mercedes believes 4wd will appeal to fleets used on icy roads or in unpaved areas.
The 4wd system is offered only with the 3.0-liter V-6 turbodiesel engine and is scheduled to arrive early next year.
A new safety system, Crosswind Assist, automatically applies the brakes on individual wheels to keep the tall van steady in gusty winds.
During a demonstration here at the Daimler plant where Sprinters are reassembled from kits produced in Germany, the Sprinter remained steady and easy to control as the van drove past three airboats generating wind gusts of up to 90 mph.
Neither 4wd nor a system similar to Crosswind Assist is available on the Sprinter's main competitors, the Ford Transit and the Ram ProMaster.
The 2015 Sprinter is again offered with a diesel-only powertrain lineup; a 2.1-liter turbo four is the standard engine. Mercedes has given the 2015 van a light freshening with a new grille, hood and headlights. Prices start at $36,990, including shipping.
U.S. Sprinter sales this year through September are up 19 percent from the year-earlier period to 17,785 in a segment that has for years been dominated by the Ford E-series van. Ford has replaced the E series with the Transit.
Industry analyst George Peterson of AutoPacific says the Transit will probably slow the Sprinter's growth. Says Peterson: "Ford is the 1,000 pound gorilla in that market."