February 8, 2013
After five days in the driver and passenger seats of a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, I can attest to their comfort. The seats are firm and supportive, and even though they lack lumbar adjustability, we had no issue at the end of each driving day. They could be heated, however. Ours weren’t.
Getting in and out of a Sprinter is something of a chore as there’s no convenient grab handle to assist. The step-up is high, so you’ll have to work on your core to help with ingress and egress.
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Arctic Drive, Part II. Click image to enlarge
The HVAC system was somewhat complicated to operate. Directing air to the desired location seemed more difficult than it should be, and getting heat to the foot wells proved challenging. The defroster was excellent, however, for both front and side windows.
The instruments are easy to read, and the trip computer gives a comprehensive account of fuel consumption, average speed, time in operation, etc. Our fuel consumption ranged from a low of 11.4 L/100 km to a high of 13.8 L/100 km. Our average speed for the entire trip was approximately 70 km/h. It did concern us that there’s no in-dash light to indicate that the cruise control is operational. It’s easy to unintentionally activate it, and not advised on slippery surfaces.
A related complaint is that deactivating the stability control system produces a generic yellow warning light that doesn’t specify the condition that caused it. Several of us drove for long distances with this light on, not realizing we had unintentionally pressed the ESP button instead of the four-way flasher button. They are next to each other, and easy to confuse.
We found the power of the diesel engine – 188 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque – to be perfectly adequate for accelerating, cruising and hill (mountain) climbing. It drove smoothly and quietly. The brakes, likewise, were effective and progressive. Visibility to the rear with the big side mirrors is very good. There is an optional rearview camera to assist when backing up, but it’s something of a jerry-built affair that sits on a pivoted support bolted into dashboard. It helps, but it doesn’t seem very “Mercedes.”
The Sprinter would be a great camper conversion. It’s tall, however, which has good and bad points. Good, in that you can stand up in it; bad, in that parking garages are not available to you.
In conclusion, though, it’s pretty clear that these vans have no issue at all handling long-distance, winter conditions. We had no accidents, did suffer some cracked windshields (completely expected in this terrain), one vehicle picked up a spike that blew the tire (the Tire Pressure Monitoring System immediately triggered), but otherwise, no mechanical or electrical issues.
The journey itself would be great to tackle if one had more time to enjoy the scenery. This is a trip for people who prefer the wild outdoors to a pampered vacation. Time, an appropriate vehicle, a willingness to explore and adapt would make it a most memorable drive. If you rush, as we did, you get only a suggestion of available activities and sights. Those planning a trip would be advised to get a copy of the annual Milepost. It’s a terrific resource that identifies everything you encounter on the highway, from parks to natural features, lodging, history and more. Yes, they have apps, too. Check it out at milepost.com.
The trip from Anchorage to Coldfoot and back promises to be more of a challenge, even though it’s a shorter overall distance. We were told much of the road is unsanded, and that there are many hills to climb and descend.
I could have done it, but I’ll leave it to my colleague, Mr. Schlee.