First Drive: 2007 Dodge Sprinter first drives dodge
2007 Dodge Sprinter. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Laurance Yap

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Los Angeles, California – It’s hard to remember a time in my automotive career when I was more surprised – and impressed – by a vehicle as I was by the first Dodge Sprinter I drove. The venue was the Canadian Car of the Year competition, held at Shannonville Motorsports Park just outside of Belleville. It was a cold fall morning and there it was, the medium-blue Sprinter, sticking out like a sore thumb, its huge square roof towering above all the other entries parked in the paddock around the racetrack.

Well, hell. Why not?

First surprise, upon climbing up into the tall, vertically-oriented cabin, was how nice it was. The seat was up high, but comfortable and nicely-bolstered. The dash was crafted of high-quality plastics and logically laid-out – nothing like the messy, poorly-made panels still proffered by Ford and GM models. Well-crafted details spoke to the Sprinter’s Mercedes-Benz heritage (indeed, it’s sold with a three-pointed star everywhere but North America): a chunky four-spoke steering wheel and single thick column stalk with all the necessary controls; a gated shifter sprouting out of the dash’s horizontal plane; a fine stereo system with logical controls and good sound quality.

First Drive: 2007 Dodge Sprinter first drives dodge
2007 Dodge Sprinter. Click image to enlarge

Second surprise was the engine: even from cold, the old five-cylinder diesel was smooth and refined. It also pulled a lot harder than its power ratings had led me to expect, hauling the huge van out onto Shannonville’s front straightaway – oh yes – on a wave of torque and with the eagerness of a sports car. No wonder FedEx and UPS drivers love the Sprinter so much; even though most other domestic vans are V8-powered, none of them have the responsive feel of the larger, heavier Dodge. Neither did they have the Sprinter’s slick-shifting five-speed automatic, which always kept the diesel on the boil. The darn thing handled, too; stable around the corners with surprisingly little body roll and fine steering feel. No, it was not fast around the track, but it always felt manoeuvrable and responsive, a major achievement for such a big box.

First Drive: 2007 Dodge Sprinter first drives dodge
2007 Dodge Sprinter; photo courtesy DaimlerChrysler. Click image to enlarge

Now there’s a new Sprinter – and thank heavens, it’s a lot more – and a lot better – of the same.

For one thing, it looks the same – a huge, functionally-shaped box available in several lengths and even three heights depending on your needs. The side glass is still angled like the old Sprinter’s, the better to see the huge side-view mirrors with; the windshield is a bit more curved than before and offers a better view out thanks to its larger size. Inside, things are better than ever: the dashboard is beautifully made, even friendlier to use and comes packed with the latest features; indeed, the radio controls are straight out of a Mercedes-Benz E-class.

First Drive: 2007 Dodge Sprinter first drives dodge
2007 Dodge Sprinter. Click image to enlarge

The seats in the passenger-van version are upholstered in tough-wearing cloth that wouldn’t be out of place on a nice family car and all seats – a first in the commercial van industry – have three-point seatbelts and adjustable head restraints.

Indeed, safety is a major part of the story with the new Sprinter. Unlike many other commercial vehicles, it comes with a full load of DaimlerChrysler’s safety gear – everything from ABS brakes with brake force distribution and brake assist to an amazing adaptive Electronic Stability Program. The system is actually able to read how much stuff is loaded into the Sprinter and where it’s positioned and uses that information to optimize the operation of the stability control in tough situations. It’s amazing stuff.

First Drive: 2007 Dodge Sprinter first drives dodge
2007 Dodge Sprinter. Click image to enlarge

Other notable features include the option of bi-xenon headlamps, a cargo-protecting lashing rail system which makes it easier to tie things down in the back and advanced multi-stage airbags. On a more pragmatic note, a park sensor system makes it easier to manoeuvre the huge Sprinter into even the tightest of parking spots with ease (something abetted by light, quick steering).

You get more cylinders in the new Sprinter. Power now comes from a 3.0-litre turbodiesel engine that’s similar to the one used in the latest Mercedes-Benz models. While the engine’s 154-hp power output may look low, it’s the 280 lb-ft of torque the engine produces from 1,200 to 2,400 rpm that tells the real story. No matter which body style and configuration you choose, the Sprinter is quick and much lighter on its feet than you would expect. Coupled with a smooth-shifting five-speed automatic transmission, the diesel contributes to running costs that are significantly lower than the gasoline drivetrains in large domestic vans. Not only does the Sprinter offer superior fuel economy, but it also has longer service intervals – 16,000 km for oil changes and 48,000 km for routine maintenance.

First Drive: 2007 Dodge Sprinter first drives dodge
First Drive: 2007 Dodge Sprinter first drives dodge
2007 Dodge Sprinter; photos courtesy DaimlerChrysler. Click image to enlarge

More choice comes in the form of an extra body style this year: in addition to the cargo and passenger vans we’ve become used to, you can now also order a Sprinter in a cab chassis configuration to which you can attach all kinds of boxes and platforms – an interesting and fine-driving alternative to other commercial choices. As before, there’s a choice of three lengths, three roof heights and two wheelbases so you get exactly the configuration you need. The vans’ rear doors hinge open at a class-leading 270 degrees, making full access to the rear a breeze; the side sliding doors (you can order the cargo van with one on each side) open wide enough to allow you to forklift an entire palette directly into the cargo hold.

The cargo area is particularly well-designed, too. You have a choice of materials for the floor and walls and a rail system makes it easy to tie down large loads. There’s a selection of partitions available, from a solid unit that runs from floor to ceiling as well as ones with sliding doors, storage above the cab and units with fixed and sliding windows to give a view out the back.

First Drive: 2007 Dodge Sprinter first drives dodge
First Drive: 2007 Dodge Sprinter first drives dodge
2007 Dodge Sprinter. Click image to enlarge

The roof can be configured with translucent or glass skylights and the tallest configuration gives you seven feet from floor to ceiling – enough to stand up in the rear, whose square footage is large enough to serve as a mobile workshop or an office on the road. Total cargo capacity is 17,000 litres in the largest Sprinter, and it’ll take a payload of 5,500 pounds; order the passenger van and seating for 10 comes standard with lots of space in back for luggage. I spend a lot of time riding around in airport shuttles and can say from experience that riding in a Sprinter is far superior to any other vehicle serving the same purpose: easier to get in and out of and more comfortable on the move.

Given the variety of configurations offered – did I mention there are 20 paint colours to choose from, or the option of double rear wheels? – I could just go on and on about this vehicle. But I won’t. What I will say is that I was hugely impressed with the way the original one went about its business and that the new one is better in every way. Sure, the Sprinter is expensive – thousands more expensive than the Ford E-series vans and GMC Savanas with which it’s most likely to be compared – but you get more for your money as well. You get more space, more payload capacity, more quality and more importantly, more intelligence in the way the vehicle has been designed – and the way it drives.

For commercial vehicle buyers, the Sprinter is a logical long-term investment, like one would make in a high-quality tool. It’s more expensive in the short run, but its durability, reliability, capability and low cost of ownership (hey, can UPS, FedEx and other companies that own thousands of the things be wrong?) make it a winner in the long run.


At a glance: 2007 Dodge Sprinter

  • Price (chassis cab/cargo van/passenger van): $41,415/$43,620/$46,700
  • Engine: 3.0-litre turbodiesel V6
  • Power: 154 hp
  • Torque: 280 lb-ft
  • Fuel consumption (city/highway): NA


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