Rejoice, influencers who live in a van by the river! Your hashtag-of-life just got a little easier because the 2023 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4×4 is all-wheel drive, rather than all-wheel drive. Which means that, when you’re headed for that Insta-friendly campsite atop a glacier, on the edge of a volcano, or in the middle of a rolling trout-filled river, you no longer need to click a button to press around the front axle. No, the Sprinter’s full-time transfer case will do the work for you, shifting torque to the front axle as needed. That leaves more time for you to try on different hats, dry your bamboo underwear next to your idyllic campfire, or pitch a camping toilet company to sponsor you so you can stop digging holes in the woods every day. Some of life is busy.
So it’s also nice that the 2023 Sprinter diesel is likely to be faster than the outgoing model. We say probably because we haven’t done any instrument testing yet, but it looks good on paper. The outgoing V-6 diesel offered 188 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque, while the new Sprinter diesel produces 211 horsepower at 3600 rpm and 332 pound-feet from 1600 to 2400 rpm. What’s more, that increased output comes from a much downsized engine, which is now a 2.0-liter four-cylinder rather than a 3.0-liter six. The buff four-knob is mated to a nine-speed automatic in place of the 2022 model’s seven-speed. Thanks to the nine-speed’s wider ratio spread, Benz says first gear is the same as in older Sprinter 4x4s that had a five-speed when their transfer case was in low range. That’s good since the 2023 Sprinter doesn’t have a low range.
Even so, the new system is actually more capable. For example, with four-wheel drive engaged, the previous Sprinter 4×4 sent just 35 percent of its torque to the front axle. The new one can send 100 percent to the front, or 100 percent to the rear, or split it anywhere in between, as needed. From launch it will aim for 50-50 front-to-rear, but during highway cruising it can disengage the front axle and run in rear-drive mode until conditions require some front-end assistance. It’s all completely transparent, and there are real benefits, especially on pavement. Say the road is wet or occasionally dry with icy patches—you don’t have to monitor the surface and engage four-wheel drive when things look slippery. The pull is always there.
And it’s useful now that there’s a little more power. It’s not like the Sprinter will whip you off the line, but the 2.0-liter feels admirably peppy, even with about 1,200 pounds of ballast strapped into the cargo hold. Really, it feels a lot like the outgoing V-6, but supposedly delivers better fuel economy. (The Sprinter, like heavy-duty pickups, is big enough to escape EPA fuel economy ratings.) Four-cylinder compression-ignition rattle and vibration are mostly absent, with little noise penetrating the cabin. The maximum towing rating of 7500 pounds matches the outgoing model, so there doesn’t really seem to be any downside to the Sprinter’s cylinder ectomy under the hood.
As for the off-road chops, Benz had big plans for us to evaluate the new four-wheel drive system on trails at a dirt bike track near Stuttgart, but heavy rain turned the terrain into a soupy mess, so the trail was much shortened. But we can say that the all-wheel-drive Sprinter handled some mud with aplomb, despite winter tires quickly packing their tread blocks with sticky Swabian clay. As before, this vehicle’s off-road ability is defined by its size more than its ground clearance or traction—you need a big trail to accommodate a machine that can be more than 24 feet long and nine feet tall, depending on configuration.
Despite the Mercedes star on the grille, the Sprinter remains a workhorse, with a spartan interior—manual seats, handbrake, lots of hard plastic. There’s still a value-leading petrol model that uses a 188-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder and costs $46,795 in truck form. The entry-level diesel is tuned for 170 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque and costs $49,295 as a cargo van or $54,905 as a passenger van. All-wheel drive is a $6400 option. That’s a significant discount from the outgoing all-wheel drive system, which was $8,500. Apparently you save a few bucks to throw away that low range. The minimum price for a high-roof all-wheel-drive truck with the high-output engine and a 170-inch wheelbase is $64,635.
When we initially heard that the top-of-the-line diesel Sprinter was losing two cylinders and a liter of displacement, it sounded like folly. But in practice, most people won’t notice the difference one way or the other, even though the 2023 model is modestly more powerful and has a nine-speed gearbox. So if you bought a diesel V-6 2022 Sprinter, you don’t have to indulge in any buyer’s remorse. And if you end up with a diesel 2023 Sprinter 4×4—which is already at dealers—don’t feel like you missed out on the last great Sprinter engine. The biggest difference is actually having four-wheel drive instead of part-time four-wheel drive, but that’s an evolution rather than a revolution. For the latter, we will have to wait for the electric Sprinter coming next year.
Meanwhile, we wish we could convince Mercedes to bring the super funky Sprinter crew cab 4×4 pickup to the US market. Influencers, get to work.
2023 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Truck
Vehicle type: front engine, rear or four-wheel drive, 2-passenger, 5-door pickup
2500 standard roof, 144-inch wheelbase, rear-drive gasoline, $46,795; 2500 High Roof, 170-inch Wheelbase, All-Wheel Drive High Output Diesel, $64,635
turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve 2.0-liter diesel inline-4, 170 hp, 295 lb-ft; DOHC 16-valve 2.0-liter inline-4, 188 hp, 258 lb-ft; turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve 2.0-liter diesel inline-4, 211 hp, 332 lb-ft
Wheelbase: 144.0 or 170.0 inches
Length: 234.0, 274.0 or 290.0 inches
Width: 80.0 inches
Height: 96.0-111.0 inches
Cargo volume: 533 ft3 max
Combat weight (C/D east): 5500-6000 lbs.
PERFORMANCE (C/D IS)
60 mph: 12.0-13.5 sec
1/4-mile: 18.0-20.0 sec
Top speed: 90 mph
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Exempt from EPA testing and labeling
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