Mercedes eSprinter: First Impressions - Vanzone
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Mercedes eSprinter: First Impressions

With some impressive claims, Mercedes-Benz has announced details of the new eSprinter, a fully electric large van. Van Expert Tim Cattlin was invited to see the first examples in the metal, and to experience the van on the road…

Mercedes eSprinter

eSprinter – hasn’t that been around for a while?

Yes, it has. But, if I’m honest the original van left the customer wanting in more ways than one. First off, it was only available in a single body derivative, the smallest, L2H2 model. Even this weighed in quite heavily and the payload left for use was only 731kgs. But possibly the single factor that restricted the appeal to customers was the meagre range on a full charge – just 83 miles. And you can bet that you would have got nowhere near that figure in winter, carrying a full load. The van just wasn’t competitive or practical and as such dealers found convincing customers that the van could work for them almost impossible.

So, what has changed with the new version? Is it better?

Lots, and yes. In short, you can now get the van in L2 or L3 lengths. There’s a choice of two battery sizes and two power outputs from the electric motor. There are even two trim levels to choose from.

The battery packs available are rated at 81kWh and 113kWh. Although you’d probably want to opt for the larger one, offering more range, the extra weight brings down the available payload. More on this later. The electric motors provide either 100kW or 150kW of power, which is equivalent to 136PS and 204PS. The old eSprinter offered just a single 114PS option.

How far can the eSprinter travel on a single charge?

OK, so it depends on which battery pack you opt for. The data sheet from Mercedes-Benz shows the worst-performing configuration having an official WLTP Combined cycle range of 162 miles. Let’s be fair, whilst it’s not class-leading, it’s not bad at all and even if in the real world the operator could only manage just over 100 miles, providing a charging facility was available at the drivers home or the workplace, the majority of users could comfortably carry out a full days work without having to stop for a top-up.

If that’s not enough, the top performer has a massive 273-mile range (bear in mind the ‘real world’ caveat though). That’s way more than the majority of the competition and must surely dispel the range anxiety issue that puts many off from buying or leasing a new electric van.

Charging times from an 11kW AC wallbox charger are 8 and 11 hours respectively for the two battery sizes, and a 115kW DC public charger will get you from 10% to 80% in 32 or 42 minutes.

Mercedes eSprinter

Is there a catch? That range seems almost too good to be true.

Depending on how critical payload is to your operation, then quite possibly. If you want to stick to a van that has a maximum GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass) of 3500kgs which the vast majority of large vans have, then due to the weight of the batteries payload isn’t great, ranging from 414kg to 570kg. Bearing in mind some diesel vans at this weight can carry 1300kg+ you can see the issue. Given the size of the loading area, it’s going to be very easy indeed to accidentally overload these versions of the eSprinter. If this isn’t enough (and it probably isn’t) then you’ll need to opt for an eSprinter with a GVM of 4250kgs. Depending on the model, you’ll now have 920kg to 1148kg to play with. Still not the best but useable for the majority of operators.

This brings us to catch number 2. Although the government has granted a dispensation so that most drivers that would have been limited to driving a 3500kg van can drive an electric van up to 4250kg, it’s not quite that simple. Additional driver training is required (although it has been announced that this requirement is to be dropped) and the van will fall into the goods vehicle testing category, meaning an annual test from day 1 (instead of after 3 years). There may also be a requirement for a tachograph to be used and even restrictions as to how far the van is permitted to travel from base. Due to the fitment of a 56mph speed limiter, the van is even prohibited from using the outside lane of a motorway.

Whilst there is an argument that a laden van weighing 750kgs more than a vehicle the driver is accustomed to could handle differently on the road, these rules need tweaking to make a 4250kg electric van a more enticing prospect for the operator.

What’s the van like inside? Does it come with a decent amount of spec?

The dash is dominated by a high-resolution 10.25” touchscreen called the MBUX – the Mercedes-Benz User Experience Information system. This interface allows for easy access to the usual DAB radio and media inputs together with wireless Android and Apple smartphone integration but also provides an exceptionally clear view of the satellite navigation maps (when fitted). It also allows access to various system controls. The MBUX unit can be voice-controlled, and there’s a Wi-Fi hotspot facility. What’s great to see is that the manufacturer hasn’t been tempted to include heating and ventilation controls within the screen. It’s much easier for the driver to use easy to reach mechanical controls, in my opinion.

There’s a huge amount of safety tech included as standard, too much to list here but rest assured Mercedes-Benz has put driver, passenger and other road users’ safety very high on the priority list when designing the van.

Mercedes eSprinter

What’s it like to drive?

Like a dream. I found the van impossible to fault on the road. Performance from the electric drivetrain was impeccable, although the 56mph speed limiter is certainly frustrating on the open road, the outer lane restriction is not really being noticed as you’re rarely going to overtake anything at that speed. There are no squeaks, rattles or vibration, and although the test van was unladen the handling, even when pushed a little is drama-free. Despite having driven many electric vans in the last few years, the silence in operation is still quite a novelty and fair play to Mercedes-Benz for almost eradicating all other potential sources of sound, a relatively noisy diesel van being able to mask all sorts of other noises.

The cab is spacious, visibility is excellent and I found the driving position to be very comfortable.

So, what’s the verdict?

I can’t fault the van from a physical perspective in any way. It looks good, the cab environment is excellent, it drives very well and there’s a great level of safety tech. Its Achilles heel is undoubtedly the weight of the battery pack which provides that excellent range between charges. Realistically, this means that the van would need to be specified at 4250kg GVM which, through no fault of the manufacturer will give operators a headache or two. The key to this is the government removing some legacy restrictions which would open up this heavier sector, not just to Mercedes-Benz, but also to all other manufacturers.

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