MTA 2019 - 0039

Andy Eccles (holding trophy), head of fleet for Mercedes-Benz Vans UK, accepts the award from Richard Gosling, sales director of sponsor Close Brothers Vehicle Hire (second right), accompanied by comedian Omid Djalili (far left) and MT editor Steve Hobson

It’s both an old benchmark and a new one: the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter topped the rankings yet again in the fleet van category at this year’s MT Awards, with the latest version providing an unrivalled set of features

If there’s a sense of déjà vu as the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter takes the award for Fleet Van of the Year at the Motor Transport Awards, it’s because this is exceptionally familiar territory for the large

German van. The Sprinter has now claimed the award for the 10th time, and continues to increase in popularity amongst our judging panel.

Despite missing out in the past two years to the Fiat Ducato (in 2017) and Peugeot Partner (in 2018), the Sprinter has remained a perennial nominee and has always come close to claiming the title even when it has lost. It is always the first model mentioned in any discussion during the judging and has become the benchmark by which all others invariably are measured. It’s far quicker to list the reasons why the Sprinter is not eligible to win Fleet Van of the Year than to discuss why it is. From the enormous breadth of the range down to the unwavering development and support provided by the manufacturer, the Sprinter and its back-up define what an operator needs from a van.

Order restored

Collecting the award this year, Mercedes-Benz Vans UK head of fleet Andy Eccles said: “Order is restored. We’ve missed it for a few years and with a new vehicle on the market last year we needed to get back where we belong.”

To understand why the Sprinter has won again, it’s necessary to look back at why it hadn’t won since 2016. The reason, though, is simple. The Sprinter has been in transition with a new model working its way onto fleets. That isn’t to say this award merely recognises a simple facelift, however. The Sprinter has undergone some fundamental changes. While Mercedes has been stubbornly rear-wheel-drive in its approach to the model until this latest generation – both literally and metaphorically – front-wheel-drive has been introduced for the first time, along with existing rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive, and despite the radical change fleets continue to back the marque. From its strong offerings of engines with a 2.1-litre and 3-litre option to its four body lengths, three roof heights and numerous body types including dropside and minibus, the Sprinter appeals to just about everyone.

Mercedes Benz Sprinter NEW fleet van op

The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is the most advanced van on the market

Our judges spoke highly of it for its leading technology, its consistently strong residual values, good reliability and excellent maintenance costs.

One judge summed it up by saying: “It’s the combination of the van and the network,” and few would argue with this. While the panel acknowledged the strength of the competition the Sprinter now faces, the Mercedes wins time and time again for its driver acceptance, back-up and innovation.

Not only are mechanical innovations constantly being introduced, including the latest 9G-Tronic automatic transmission, but the Sprinter is also a pioneer in safety and total cost of ownership. Newly introduced during the last update are Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Keeping Assist. While the latter, in our eyes, isn’t without its limitations, the added safety it affords a fleet is invaluable, ensuring that the driver, vehicle and contents remain safe.

In addition, features such as voice commands and the option of a large built-in screen to mirror devices to ensure drivers are not distracted from the road but can interact seamlessly with the vehicle to bring up navigation or scheduling information, as well as infotainment and telephone functions.

Rival products

There are instances of rival products performing individual functions better, but the Sprinter really is the complete package in bringing all these important features together in a way few others can match.

Unchanged and also of vital importance is, of course, the Sprinter’s faultless productivity. Choices have always been plentiful but, with the addition of front-wheel-drive, Mercedes has really levelled the playing field between it and the competition. Sprinter vans can transport up to 17cu m and a total payload of 3,175kg because the maximum GVW extends as far as 5.5-tonnes, while payload for a more conventional front-wheel-drive 3.5-tonne van exceeds 1,200kg thanks to a 50kg saving compared with the equivalent rear-wheel-drive model. For multi-drop uses, an area in which the Sprinter has already become an established (if not default) choice, front-wheel-drive also means the added benefit of an 80mm reduction in rear loading height. Has the best just got better? We think it has, and the panel agreed.

“The body is solid, there are loads of variations, they can do most things: parcels, civils, supermarkets. It’s high on reliability,” said the judges.

The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is, without doubt, the most advanced van on the market, but it’s also the

benchmark to which everyone aspires. If the world did not have the Sprinter van to look up to, fleets would be poorer as a result. Its phenomenal record as Fleet Van of the Year is rightly justified and no more so than now, when competition is tougher than ever before.