Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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2005 Dodge Sprinter
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Being an old-car enthusiast, I make a trek to the world’s largest automotive flea market in Hershey, Pennsylvania each fall. I need room for two other passengers, our luggage, a Radio Flyer wagon, and all the stuff we buy. Since the trip is about seven hours one way, we also want a comfortable ride, and so we usually end up taking a minivan. This year, though, I approached DaimlerChrysler and requested a Sprinter.

Built in Germany by Mercedes-Benz, the Sprinter replaces the old Dodge Ram Van. With different badging, it’s also sold under the Mercedes brand, and as a Freightliner. Intended mostly for commercial use, it comes in three wheelbase lengths and two roof heights. I hadn’t specified anything, and expected I would get the short wheelbase/standard roof model.

When I arrived to pick it up, I discovered they’d outfitted me with the longest wheelbase and highest roof, and topped by an auxiliary reefer unit. Never mind being able to find it in the mall parking lot, this truck is visible from Space.

Built on the 2500 three-quarter-ton platform (a 3500 one-ton is also available), my tester measured an overall 6680 mm (263 inches) in length and 2631 mm (103.6 inches) in height. Since my idea of a vacation always includes a hotel, I’ve never driven a camper or RV, and this Sprinter was the largest vehicle I’d ever piloted. But I love a challenge, and so I climbed up the steps into the seat.

2005 Dodge Sprinter
Click image to enlarge

Because it’s intended primarily as a work truck, the Sprinter starts in very base form, and you have to pile on the options if you want it to resemble a consumer vehicle. All models use a 2.7-litre inline five-cylinder turbo diesel, and a five-speed automatic transmission with “Tip Shift” manual mode.

My tester started at $48,715 with such standard features as dual front airbags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic stability control, heavy-duty stabilizer bars, air conditioning with automatic temperature control, AM/FM/cassette stereo with two speakers, right-side sliding door (a driver’s side sliding door is available) and rubber floor covering.

2005 Dodge Sprinter
Click image to enlarge

With options, the truck came to $62,850 before freight and taxes, including luxury front heated bucket seats, trailer tow package, power windows, power locks with keyless entry, heated windshield with rain sensors, additional power parabolic (convex) mirrors, fog lamps, cruise control, CD player with four speakers, aluminum wheels and rear backup alarm. Passenger comfort was handled by a $655 front auxiliary heater that could be set on a timer to warm up the truck while were still snug in our beds; a roof-mounted heavy-duty air conditioning unit was an additional $3,755 and offered several vents in the ceiling to cool the ten passengers the truck could hold. The ceiling-mounted ventilation system stole a bit of the six-foot-one interior, but there was still plenty of room to stand up inside.

2005 Dodge Sprinter
Click image to enlarge

That stand-up ability made the Sprinter a standout: we removed one row of three-passenger seats (they latch into the floor and are easy to operate, although very heavy to lift out) and were able to walk from the front seats to the rear bench alongside the remaining two-passenger units. That made it perfect for putting on rain gear or moving cargo inside the vehicle, and adds to the Sprinter’s appeal as a camper conversion.

2005 Dodge Sprinter
Click image to enlarge

The Sprinter’s stubby nose and upright seats make for good visibility; the steering wheel does not tilt from its bus-like position, but that’s easy to overcome by adjusting the seating position, via large tabs on the seat side. The seats weren’t quite as comfortable as some, but they were still tolerable over the long-haul, and naturally there’s plenty of room to stretch out.

Most of the controls are quite simple: the cluster is uncluttered, and the cruise control operates via a stalk that you push up or down. Alas, the heater and air conditioning systems are another matter; the controls are overly complicated, and the sparse owner’s manual provides surprisingly little help.

2005 Dodge Sprinter
Click image to enlarge

No doubt because of the optional systems added to my Sprinter, there were several unlabelled toggle switches and dials that weren’t anywhere in the manual. We eventually figured out most of them, but a pushbutton in the middle of the vent mode dial remained a mystery, and we never quite remembered the sequence for rear heating and used trial-and-error each time. As well, the console-mounted gearshift lever sticks out when the vehicle’s in Drive, and the cupholders are set down near the floor; there was a learning curve in remembering to pick up the travel mug and lift it out in a wide arc, because if I lifted it straight up as I would with most other vehicles, I’d whack it on the shifter and spill my coffee. (Yes, I know, but it was only when I was stopped at the light.)

2005 Dodge Sprinter
Click image to enlarge

The Sprinter’s great advantage is that, for all its size, it’s surprisingly easy to drive. It’s not all that wide � 1933 mm (76.1 inches) � and it fits between the lines of most parking lots, although it does require two spots lengthwise. Handling is light and direct, and it feels much smaller than it really is when in motion. The Sprinter uses a transverse monoleaf front suspension with power rack-and-pinion steering; the standard 3.72 axle had been optioned to 4.11 on mine. Rear suspension is leaf spring, and there are stabilizer bars front and back; Dodge claims the thicker-than-normal parabolic spring’s design resembles the performance of a coil spring. The ride is very smooth for a big truck. Despite its height, the Sprinter doesn’t feel overly tippy, although it does lurch a little around corners at slower speeds. It’s confident on the highway, and while it feels the effect of crosswinds or drafts from tractor-trailers, it doesn’t become unwieldy. (Because of its size, some of the big rigs flashed their lights when I made lane changes. Ten-four, good buddy.)

2005 Dodge Sprinter
The author, cleaning up. Click image to enlarge

The optional electric parabolic mirrors are a must, as a lot of traffic can hide along those long body panels. The five-cylinder diesel proved quieter than expected, with just a pleasant growl. Acceleration naturally isn’t in sports-sedan category, but the engine is more than up to the task of moving the Sprinter, and on a couple of steep hills I used the manual mode for extra revs to get up the incline, or to slow down a bit on the way back down. I will admit to driving mostly at “I-wanna-get-there-soon” speeds, but the truck still returned 13.6 L/100 km (21 mpg Imperial), which was much better than I expected given its size. Savings were much higher in Canada; in the U.S. stations where we stopped, diesel was the same price as premium gasoline, and at one pump, a few cents more. The tank holds 98 litres, or 21 Imperial gallons.

Packing the Sprinter is simple: the twin rear doors open in two positions. They first stop at 90 degrees; pull off the restraining arm, and both doors fold back flat against the truck’s sides, held in place with magnets. The restraining arm automatically latches back on the hinge when you pull the doors shut.

Of course, not many people are going to buy an eight-foot-tall, 22-foot-long ten-seater vehicle for a daily driver. The Sprinter’s consumer appeal is naturally limited, although the smallest models will work well for those who used to buy a Ram Van to get the family and the boat to the cottage; properly equipped, it will tow up to 2268 kg (5000 lbs). The Sprinter can also be turned into an easy-to-drive camper unit. And if you’re like me, it fits just fine in the parking lot at the Holiday Inn.

Technical Data: 2005 Dodge Sprinter

Base price $48,715
Options $14,135 (Red metallic paint $1,255; premium cloth bucket seats $535; preferred package $380; accessory group $80; maintenance group $235; trailer tow $365; power convenience group $1,010; auxiliary front heater $655; heavy duty rear air unit $3,755; auxiliary battery $350; heated front seats $420; front armrests $230; 4.11 axle $65; heated windshield with rain sensor $710; front left sliding window $450; front right sliding window $480; two additional keys $105; rear auxiliary heater $625; front insulation $210; additional parabolic mirrors $80; fog lamps $205; front chrome trim $210; cruise control $280; AM/FM/CD $400; four speakers $120; aluminum wheels $835; rear backup alarm $90)
Freight $2,950
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $65,900
Type 4-door, 10-passenger full-size van
Layout Longitudinal front engine/rear-wheel-drive
Engine 2.7-litre inline 5, DOHC, 20 valves, turbo diesel
Horsepower 154 @ 3800 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 243 @ 1600 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Tires 225/75R16
Curb weight N/A
Wheelbase 4013 mm (158.0 in.)
Length 6680 mm (263.0 in.)
Width 1933 mm (76.1 in.)
Height 2631 mm (103.6 in.)
Ground clearance 231 mm (9.1 in.)
Cargo capacity 13,400 litres (473.2 cu. ft.)
Payload capacity 1576 kg (3474 lbs)
Fuel consumption City: 9.0 litres/100 km (31 mpg Imp)*
  Hwy: 7.9 litres/100 km (36 mpg Imp)*
Warranty 3 yrs/ 60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km
* Official Energuide figures are for short wheelbase/standard roof; heavy-duty vehicle figures not available

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