Mercedes-Benz is on a roll at the moment.
The Sprinter was voted best heavy panel van at the 2008 Fleet News Awards and LCV sales are currently up 21% over the previous year.
Look around you on any motorway in the UK and it seems that every other van is a Merc Sprinter.
But there’s a catch – they are nearly all long wheelbase high roof versions.
Where are the short wheelbasers and where are the dropside trucks?
At present, some 26% of all 3.5-tonne gvw vehicles sold in the UK are chassis-cabs, while only 24% of Sprinters sold are this variant.
It’s a figure the Germans aren’t happy about so in 2008 there will be a year of intense activity in which they are pulling out the stops to extol the virtues of the Sprinter as a truck as well as a van.
While I’ve driven this worthy van in several guises I had yet to try the dropside crew-cab version until the lads from the Mercedes-Benz press office called and offered me a test drive.
A wide range of dropsides are on offer from the German firm – single cabs, crew cabs and short, medium and long wheelbases – and all are factory-fit.
Mercedes simply won’t trust the services of outside bodybuilders who may go out of business.
It guarantees to keep all its body parts for at least 10 years.
Gross vehicle weights range from 3.0-tonnes to 5.0-tonnes and engine power ranges from 88bhp to 184bhp.
Our test model is the medium wheelbase 3.5-tonne crew-cab offering seating for seven people and a load length of 2,700mm.
Payload is a reasonable 1,253kg but be warned that the weight of the driver and passengers must be included – you can’t load up this truck with a tonne of gravel and then expect to carry seven burly workmen.
The 2.2-litre engine has a power output of 150bhp and torque of 243lb-ft. CO2 emissions are 225g/km and fuel economy on the combined cycle is 33.2mpg. Ex-VAT price is £25,415.
In the front
It was a rather curious vehicle that turned up at the Fleet Van offices – but only curious because we are so used to seeing those long wheelbase high roof van versions.
This a monster, which will dwarf most of the opposition with its sheer bulk.
Climbing aboard the cab is quite a step up but once inside the seating area is light, airy and comfortable.
The driver’s seat is huge and should fit any size of driver. As a skinny six footer, I still felt dwarfed.
There is certainly no shortage of storage places for paperwork and the like.
There’s a generous place for A4 sheets on top of the dash, two more areas on each side and two more above the sun visors.
As if that wasn’t enough, the back of the middle seat pulls down to reveal a handy desk.
As for coffee cup and drink can holders, the Sprinter must hold the record.