2005 Dodge Sprinter 2500
Click image to enlarge

by Richard Russell

Dodge has a modern answer to an old question – how to transport a large number of people or volume of cargo in the most efficient manner? That answer is the Sprinter and it is a particularly appropriate vehicle for this age of rising fuel costs.

The 2005 Dodge Sprinter, especially in extended wheelbase, high-roof configuration, is huge. Yet the giant manoeuvres in spaces traditional large vans avoid, uses half as much fuel as the big old Detroit boats and yet has more cargo and/or people space. How’s that for a double-edged sword?

The vehicle the Sprint replaces, the full-size Dodge Ram, and like Dick Clarke and like the perennial TV mogul, looked a lot younger than a birth certificate would have you believe. Replacing the Ram van was to have been time-consuming and budget straining at a time DaimlerChrysler had higher priority issues.

Perhaps when somebody in the Dodge marketing department was scanning through the product portfolio of new parent company Mercedes, they noticed the Sprinter. The solution was obvious. After all, the market for big vans in this age of small families, is mostly commercial – customers in the tourist, package, and shuttle businesses with a need for big interiors and plenty of seats. These are high-mileage applications where efficiency and operating costs take precedence over glamour and space over style. In the remainder of the motorized world, fuel is much more expensive, roads smaller and traffic more congested. People and companies in these locations share the need to transport people and packages as efficiently as possible.

2005 Dodge Sprinter 2500
Click image to enlarge

In many of those countries or regions Mercedes has been selling a suitable commercial van called the Sprinter since 1995. This box on wheels even won European Van of the Year honours in 1998. More significantly if you work at Dodge, Freightliner, another Mercedes subsidiary, had been building and selling the Sprinter in America since 2001, making it easy to make it available for Dodge.

Approaching this vehicle for the first time, the overall impression is of size – especially length and height. You might well find it sharing lot space with similar cargo versions being prepped for international delivery companies like FedEx or UPS. First and subsequent opinions were that it is a bus. Parked in a suburban driveway or shopping mall lot it still looks like a bus – bigger even than a small school bus we managed to pull alongside. Our tester was the largest Sprinter – the longest of three wheelbases and the tallest of two roof heights, so tall anyone under 6’1″ can stand inside!

2005 Dodge Sprinter 2500
Click image to enlarge

The Sprinter can be ordered in an amazing variety of configurations including three wheelbases 2997, 3356 and 4013 mm, three lengths ranging from 5004 – 6680 mm and two roof heights standard and 235-mm higher. There are three configurations: cargo, crew and cab/chassis, payloads ranging from 1600 kg to 5,000 kg and a common tow rating of 2,268 kg. But interior volume is where this thing shines – up to 13,400 litres! Our tester had full-size seating for 10 people with more room behind the fourth row of seats than in a conventional full-size van with no seats!

But the size is misleading. The Sprinter drives much smaller than it looks, especially in tight spaces where the narrower body and much tighter turning circle become evident and appreciated.

I drove the beast over a 350-km loop that involved a great deal of 100-series highway. We had taken the identical route a few days previously in a big luxury SUV. It’s a familiar route, one in which I have come to measure fuel mileage fairly accurately by the size of the fill-up. A decent economy car will do the run on about 25 litres. The SUV took 60 litres and we’ve had occasion to use 75 litres with a fully-loaded pickup with a ton of stuff on back. The first hint the Sprinter was different came as we approached the regular fuel stop with the gauge showing less than half a tank had been used. Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t squeeze in more than 31 litres. Half that of the SUV, equal to an economy car and yet we had room inside for an economy car – or a dozen people and everything they owned!

2005 Dodge Sprinter 2.7-litre diesel
Click image to enlarge

The remarkable fuel mileage comes courtesy of a five-cylinder diesel engine. Diesels are common in commercial vehicles around the world where longevity and operating costs are the key factors. This 2.7 litre, turbocharged Mercedes unit produces only 154 horsepower, but more importantly 243 lb. ft. of torque peaking at only 1,600 rpm. Torque is the name of the game when it comes to lugging or towing instead of top speed, so the boosted diesel is in its element.

This is a mid-generation commercial diesel, not as high-tech as the new high-pressure passenger car units in vogue in Europe. But it’s not the old painfully noisy banger of yore either and has a proven track record and million mile durability. From behind the wheel it doesn’t take long to forget it’s a diesel – until it comes time to fill up. And while doing so, you can use the recessed steps in the front bumper to get up and clean the massive windshield.

The five speed automatic is a treat. It has a “manumatic” mode which allows you to shift for yourself. Normally we find these systems of little use, but in this application it works for two good reasons – the high compression diesel means downshifts result in significant retardation without using the brakes and the shifts are not only quicker, but you can get a bit more oomph by holding onto gears longer.

The big, tall boat goes around corners when you turn the wheel. That pretty much describes the handling. After all, it is a bus and drives like one. But it does boast a best-in-class turning circle which is far more important in terms of manoeuvrability.

2005 Dodge Sprinter 2500
Click image to enlarge

The controls are difficult as they are marked by international symbols, and without an owner’s manual, some trial and error was necessary. The beeping back-up alarm was a giggle at first when reversing out of the driveway, but much appreciated in less familiar and more crowded territory. You sit tall in a highly adjustable drivers seat and thanks to vertical sides and plenty of glass, visibility is excellent. The seats are upright and hard – typically European – but even after four hours at the wheel, there was no fatigue or sore spots. The steering wheel is permanently fixed in bus mode i.e. practically horizontal, but the ergonomics are otherwise quite acceptable, including the full and familiar array of Mercedes switchgear and column-mounted levers.

The standard equipment list is extensive – but equally impressive is the option list and possibilities as the base for a conversion. Our long wheelbase, tall roof, 2500 Sprinter passenger model started with a base price of $48,000 which grew to $60,000 with a full sheet of options including a massive roof mounted air conditioner and secondary heater to handle all that acreage, heated premium seats and a heated windshield among the more interesting items. It even had a little auxiliary heating unit that could be set to warm up both the engine fluids and interior via a 24-hour timer!

This big boy makes sense in a lot of ways.

Technical Data: 2005 Dodge Sprinter 2500 (w/158 inch wheelbase, tall roof)

Base price $48,475
Options $8,575
Freight $2,950
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $60,100
Type 3-door, 10 passenger van
Layout longitudinal front engine/rear-wheel-drive
Engine 2.7 litre inline 5 cylinder turbodiesel
Horsepower 154 @ 3800 rpm
Torque 243 ft-lb. @ 1600-2400 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic with Touch Shift
Tires 225/75R-16 inch all-season
Curb weight 2406 kg(5305 lb.)
Wheelbase 4013 mm (158.0 in.)
Length 5740 mm (226.0 in.)
Width 1933 mm (76.1 in.)
Height 2631 mm (103.6 in.)
Payload capacity 1576 kg (3474 lb.)
Towing capacity 2268 kg (5000 lb.)
Cargo capacity 3171 litres (112 cu. ft.) behind seats
Fuel consumption average 10.7 L/100 km (26 m.p.g.)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

Connect with Autos.ca