We’re serious about the rigor we apply to testing and evaluating new cars, but every once in a while we skew a little toward the absurd. Take our flying to Kelowna, British Columbia, to drive the 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4x4 on roads that included miles of rugged, two-track logging paths. Mercedes was eager to show us that the four-wheel-drive Sprinter has serious off-road chops, sure, but we were generally curious to find out how a $40K-plus, lifted, four-by-four full-size van performs.
These two goals converged after a simple, 115-mile highway cruise from Kelowna to the semi-remote ski town of Revelstoke, where we were given a logistics and safety briefing. Among the instructions: Don’t stray too far from our van because local bears were exiting hibernation and could be “cranky.” Next came strict orders to not use the tree-lined, single-lane roads that shot uphill from our winding mountain route . . . because the loaded logging trucks descending them “can’t really stop.”
Off-Road Vannin’—Just Don’t Poke the Bears
To get an idea of where we were, pull up Google Maps, imagine a straight line from Vancouver to Calgary, and drop a pin somewhere in the middle. That’s Revelstoke. Our potentially perilous route would take us to a logging road in remote Mica Creek that promised to be more challenging than the man-made off-road course on which we sampled a Sprinter 4x4 prototype last year. As we ascended into the mountains, we noted our first on-road impressions of the Sprinter 4x4—the prototypes we drove last fall weren’t allowed on public roads—and, in that environment, it drives just like the regular, non-4x4 version.
Our off-road van caravan included models with a single-wheel rear axle, as well as some with a dually setup. There were high- and low-roof versions, plus long- and short-wheelbase variants. Each configuration made it up the logging road without issue. Some of the vans were equipped with optional low-range gearing (an extra $300 on top of the $6500 for the 4x4 setup), but we successfully climbed the ragged road using only high range, which features a fixed 35/65-percent front/rear torque split. In addition to crosswind mitigation, the stability- and traction-control system can also sense a spinning wheel and brake it individually to send torque to the wheels with traction; this ensured the Sprinter kept chugging along even when one or more tires lost contact with the particularly gnarly terrain.
Having proved itself a worthy off-roader, we couldn’t help but wonder who exactly might buy the Sprinter 4x4. Mercedes didn’t exactly answer the question, but it did tell us that the vehicle—which starts at $44, 475 for a short-wheelbase, low-roof cargo model—is already sold out through September of this year. And while we sort of feared an encounter with a pissed-off ursine or a huge truck full of dead trees headed for the lumber mill, we discovered that this van is a tool essentially without competition. If you have a large family and live in a remote area, or maybe you need huge, weather-tight cargo capability and often trudge through sludgy construction sites, the Sprinter 4x4 is the only way to go. Well, unless you have a taste for the absurd and an equally silly amount of cash—then Mercedes might happily build you a fleet of G500 4x4²s or 6x6s.