Mercedes-Benz sure does have a lot of confidence in their product. To bring out the two major competitors for a head-to-head battle in a customer event is one thing, to bring journalists along for the ride quite another.

That’s precisely what they did in Toronto last month when they invited a few of us out to join their “Battle of the Vans”. The tour has been all over Canada, pitting three big vans head-to-head in an effort to win the hearts and minds of journalists, and the cheque signatures of customers.

The event would see us drive the three vans first in a mild slalom and braking test, then on the street in a back-to-back driving loop.

Why a slalom? Good question. I still don’t know. But it did highlight some of the handling differences in the trucks more starkly – maybe that was the goal.

Mercedes-Benz didn’t quite have apples-to-apples lined up for us, even they are subject to fleet availability it seems. The three rigs before us were;

  • Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500, 170” wheelbase, high roof, 2.1L four-cylinder Bluetec turbodiesel
  • Ford Transit 1500, 148” wheelbase, medium roof, 3.5L V6 gasoline engine
  • Ram Promaster 2500, 136” wheelbase, high roof, 3.6L V6

Clearly, Mercedes-Benz wanted to highlight their dominance over the two relative newcomers, but would this battle really end the way they expected?

Size and Capacity

The three vans before us were not equal size, so the exercise where we ran around with tape measures and a notepad is null and void for a real comparison. Regardless, Mercedes-Benz holds an advantage in terms of overall size, with the highest available roof at 3,055 mm versus the Transit (2,800) and Ram (2,565). It also has the longest available body at 7,361 mm versus the Transit’s 6,758 and Ram’s 6,350.

Width-wise I discovered that the Ram was the widest between the rear wheel wells by an inch, but the difference in models throws a shadow of doubt over that finding.

For the sake of argument, we’ve decided to take on only maximum available values for this test, and so the Sprinter wins the payload war too, with an available 2,488 kg to the Transit’s 2,109 and the Ram’s 2,004. Towing capacity for the Transit and Sprinter is dead-even at 3,400 kg with the ProMaster trailing behind.

If it’s big you want then, the Sprinter is the best bet.

Battle of the Vans2014 Ford Transit cargo area2014 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter cargo area2014 Ram ProMaster cargo area
Battle of the Vans, Ford Transit, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Ram ProMaster. Click image to enlarge

Engines and Transmissions

But what if you want to go quick? The engine line ups for these can be broken down as follows;

  • Sprinter: 2.1L I4 turbodiesel (161 hp/265 lb-ft), or, 3.0L V6 turbodiesel (188 hp/325 lb-ft)
  • Transit: 3.7L V6 gas (275 hp/260 lb-ft), or, 3.5L V6 turbo gas (310 hp/400 lb-ft), or, 3.2L I5 diesel (185 hp/350 lb-ft)
  • Promaster: 3.6L V6 gas (280 hp/258 lb-ft), or, 3.0L I4 turbodiesel (174 hp/295 lb-ft)

Phew. Long story short? The most-available power/torque comes from the Transit’s 3.5L EcoBoost V6. Conveniently, that’s the powerplant we had to test, as well as the I4 turbodiesel Sprinter and the V6 gas Promaster. Out on the road, (and in the slalom) the Transit gave the best engine response, the most grunt and the smoothest feel through the drivetrain.

The automatic in the Transit was not as smooth as the Sprinter though, so the Mercedes clawed back points there. The Ram was on par with the Transit in terms of overall stiffness.

All three have a manual shift mode, but the Transit’s is a horrible push-button on the gear lever. The Promaster hilariously has a race-style sequential shift, move the lever to the side then forward for down, back for up. This is doubly funny given that Chrysler’s other shifters in their racier cars shift the wrong way. The Sprinter has the most useful manual mode though, knock it left for down, right for up, and otherwise leave the lever in the middle for regular drive mode. My only concern was hitting it accidentally – it would be easy to do.

Fuel economy is not provided by the EPA or Energuide, but Mercedes-Benz claims their 7.7 L/100 km highway rating is best in class. Frankly I’d believe it, but the diesel engine has to work a lot harder than the Ford Transit’s. If I had to drive something day in, day out, I’d want the engine that did its job the best – this one goes to the Transit.

2014 Ford Transit dashboard2014 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter shfter2014 Ram ProMaster shifter
Ford Transit dashboard, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter shfter, Ram ProMaster shifter. Click image to enlarge
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