2016 Ford Transit 150 Power Stroke vs. 2016 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 BlueTec, 2016 Ram ProMaster 1500 EcoDiesel
When you think of diesel vehicles the first thing that comes to mind are semi-trucks and heavy haul equipment. However, we forget a big segment of the light/medium duty diesel market consists of commercial vans. Believe it or not the commercial van market has gone through some big changes in the past few years. This article from Car and Driver Magazine reviews the new diesel vans on the market today and showcases the best option for your needs.
The American van has never been sought after as sexy or powerful but none the less is a workhorse in its own right. Millions of pounds of good are shipped or transported every day in this country and the light duty commercial diesel van is a big part of that local transport. The standard American work van (Ford Econoline) has essentially been the same since the 1970s until recently. In fact the current Ford Econoline model hasn’t changed since 1992. However, we are in the midst of a “van revolution” so to speak. Recently there has been an influx of European designs to replace the outdated American designs. The trend is now a much more boxy sleek concept.
The van has such a following that enthusiasts even have their own convention. The guys over at Car and Driver Magazine decided to honor the van by roadtripping 430 miles to the 43rd Annual Van Nationals in three concept vans. The three new concepts Car and Driver reviewed are the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Ford Transit and the Dodge Ram ProMaster. All vans reviewed are turbo powered diesel which essentially knocked out a few other big players in the van market including Nissan NV2500 (only gas powered V-6 and V-8) as well as the Chevrolet which has recently dropped heavy duty production all together because it’s full line Express Van was dragging down the company’s fuel-economy average.
The criteria for the test was simple: windowless cargo versions, low profile roofs to diminish the commercial look as much as possible, no dulies, four wheel drives or super extended models. The idea behind the test was to review the diesel vans a much as possible for the modern day commercial van buyer.
Ah the RamPro Master… the name itself just conjures up power and strength right off the bat doesn’t it!? Too bad there is nothing to like about this vehicle. In fact this isn’t even really a “Dodge Ram” per se rather just using the logo. Quite the travesty. The RamPro Master is really a Fiat Ducato but adapted for the American market. The guys at Car and Driver really hated this stinker. It was the only van to receive a zero rating in all subjective tests by the readers of Car and Driver. The biggest hang up concerning the van is its single clutch automated-manual transmission. For example if you were to quickly accelerate while merging into oncoming traffic you would find that the vehicle comes to a near stop as the transmission pauses to find the next gear. It’s not simply annoying but rather a scary event and one that should be addressed immediately. The steering system is loose and unresponsive to minute corrections. Overall it is better than steering a military style Hummer H1 or Mercedes-Benz G-Class but worse than anything else on the road.
The diesel engine isn’t the smallest of the three vans reviewed but definitely the least efficient and most puny. The 3.0L inline-four turbo produces more power than the Mercedes Sprinter smaller displacement four, but the ProMaster came in 3rd in acceleration taking a whole 2 seconds longer to reach 60 mph. This slow acceleration is in spite of being the shortest and lightest of the vans tested. Subsequently, the ProMaster takes the longest distance to stop from 70 mph, was the loudest van, judged to be the least comfortable ride and handling properties were abysmal. This is not a comfortable commercial vehicle for plumbers, electricians or delivery drivers as the seat is in a contorted position. To be fair there is a longer-wheelbase ProMaster van which would bring it to the same length as the competitors however more of this terrible van is not necessarily a good thing whatsoever.
The time tested Sprinter has been around in some capacity since 2001 when it was first introduced to American shores, first in a Freightliner package then as Dodge in 2003, and finally as Mercedes beginning in 2009. It was something of a new revelation when it first hit the American market however in recent years the unique box like design has become the standard of diesel van industry. Car and Driver reviewed two models of the Mercedes Sprinter Van. The smaller of the two diesels available comes with an optional bulkhead for $252 between the cargo area and the cockpit. Of the three diesel vans reviewed it was the only vehicle fitted with one thus reducing interior sounds level readings significantly over its counter parts. Even without the bulkhead the comfort level of the ride was far superior than the ProMaster.
The Sprinter is the only van reviewed that doesn’t essentially force its driver to basically stand up while operating the vehicle. The seating position is high yet comfortable and the steering wheel is within easy reach. Heck even the stereo actually sounds halfway decent. The place where the Sprinter really shines is its steering capability. The guys at Car and Driver stated that the steering is more like a Mercedes Luxury Sedan than any van on the market. It is smooth and articulately responsive. For someone driving day in and out this makes a world of difference.
Just like many things in life, if it is too good to be true it probably is. The same thing goes with the Mercedes Sprinter. What the van has in comfort and steering it lacks in speed and overall torque. The engine is only a 2.1 liter which is the smallest of the three vans reviewed. The Sprinter did a respectable 11.4 seconds 0 to 60 mph which can be attributed to its smooth shifting automatic transmission. The top speed is only 83 miles an hour but what it lacks in speed it makes up for in overall performance. On the open highway the Sprinter does just fine however the one disappointment is the stiff ride while driving short stop and go distances. The Mercedes Sprinter is a great van but only good enough to take the number two spot in the review.
Ford Transit F150 Powerstroke
The numero uno spot in the Car and Driver review is the Ford Transit F150 Powerstroke Van. Ford offers both a gas powered and diesel powered version twin V-6 Turbo model. The gas powered version would have clobbered competition but alas the diesel engine version did just fine on its own. The 3.2 liter inline-five still produces more power and torque than the other two vehicles reviewed. The Transit offers the quickest acceleration times while returning near identical fuel economy for both city and highway driving (22 mpg).
Now we must take into consideration that the Transit is a whopping 408 pounds heavier than the next heaviest van, the Mercedes Sprinter, yet still cruises like none other. The Car and Driver guys deemed the installer-cargo-shuttle styling to be the favorite, as were its ride quality and handling. Other strong features of the Transit include easy step-in height, relative immunity to side winds, strong brakes for quick stops and generally a big car demeanor. Overall the Ford Transit feels like an extra large Ford Flex and less like a utility van. Now the Ford Transit won’t win any awards for becoming the next Hippie VW Van but it sure as hell drives a lot better and for an American workhorse it’s great to see an American Van back on top of the market.