Mercedes-Benz has decided to change the second-generation Sprinter 4x4 into a third-generation Sprinter AWD, though the large van will hold onto its 4x4 moniker. The change will allow buyers to get the best of all worlds when it comes to traction and economy.
Visually, the Sprinter 4x4 sits 155 mm higher at the front and 135 mm at the rear, giving it a bit of an advantage off road from the rear-wheel drive Sprinter, though Mercedes is quick to point out the van is by no means an off-roader. Raising the floor height resulted in an increase in the angle of approach by 10 degrees (from 16 in the RWD Sprinter to 26) and angle of departure by eight degrees (from 17 to 25).
The all-wheel drive system still has to be selected through an instrument-panel switch, at speeds up to 10 km/h. It puts the van into a running mode with torque split 35:65 front-to-rear, giving it handling characteristics similar to the RWD model.
Electronic traction control (4ETS) is part of the drivetrain, integrated into the electronic stability program (Adaptive ESP) along with ABS, braking assist and brake force distribution, skid control (ASR) and start-off assist. The 4ETS automatically brakes a wheel that has lost traction (according to the ABS wheel sensors), redirecting more torque to the wheels that can use it, essentially performing the tasks of centre, rear and front differential locks.
Low speed traction can also be temporarily improved by disabling the ASR through a steering wheel button and allowing increased slip during acceleration (helpful on loose surfaces such as gravel or when driving with snow chains). The ASR reactivates itself after 10 seconds, if slip increases excessively or when speed reaches into the 40-60 km/h range.
The all-wheel drive van can also be fitted with a “Low-Range” reduction gear, selectable through an instrument-panel switch when the vehicle is stationary with the AWD switched on and the transmission in Neutral. The system lowers transmission ratio by 42%, changing the maximum speed programing in each gear, making it ideal for low-speed off-roading, extreme gradients or when hauling or towing a full load.
Selectable by an instrument-panel button and controlled by a steering-wheel rocker-switch, an optional descent mode (DSR) maintains a preset speed when the vehicle is heading down a hill. A hill holder features (also an option) helps acceleration from a standstill on an uphill (especially handy on slippery hills).
The all wheel drive components add just 140 kg to the weight of the rear-wheel drive Sprinter (1,990 kg), but the Sprinter 4x4 retains the payload rating of up to 2,855 kg and tow-rating up to 3,402 kg (depending on configuration).