12 March 2009

bikefix Exclusive Review: Freightliner Sprinter van, from Ryder

The Sprinter is a Euro-style urban cargo van that's been built and sold by Mercedes-Benz since the mid-1990s overseas and under the Freightliner (and later Dodge) marques in the US since 2001. New for 2007 was the second generation Freightliner/Dodge Sprinter, which uses either a 3.5L gasoline or 3.0L turbodiesel engine. Amazingly, US Sprinters are assembled and disassembled in Germany, shipped to North Carolina where they are reassembled for delivery- which could account for (at least part of) the $47K selling price.

Where is this all going? As the owner of a small-ish station wagon, packing for big weekends has always been a challenge. Its easy to get a couple of riders and their gear for 4 days or so inside and bikes on the rack, but more people or bigger events tend to stretch my carrying capacity. As friends and I were discussing our plans for 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo last winter, we realized that we had some pretty cool stuff (10x20' tent, fire pit, etc) that we'd love to have along- if we had the space.

After a bit of online research, I headed to our local Ryder location to check out their inventory. Fellow mountain biker and manager Dave was very accommodating and showed me what would ultimately be our ride to Tucson- a Freightliner Sprinter with 14' of cargo space behind the front seats and enough headroom for me to walk in. The company advertises Metro Van (the Ryder category into which the Sprinter falls) rentals at $60 per day. Book online, though, and that's cut to $45 per day. Pay for an entire 5-day work week and the 6th and 7th days are free. That's $225/week (plus tax), folks- a screaming deal.

Despite its size (and the fact it wouldn't fit in my driveway), the diesel Sprinter was easy to drive around town. As a car owner, it was a novelty to look down into F-350s and the arroyos that make up some of Albuquerque's highway medians. Back at home, the Sprinter readily swallowed a couple of bikes, big tents and several riders worth of gear, bedding and firewood. And a bed. As can be seen from the photos, we didn't begin to take advantage of the Sprinter's cargo capacity. A three-outlet Bell (yes, the helmet company) power adapter from Target provided us with juice for music, phones and a radar detector.

On the (long) road to Tucson, the Sprinter had plenty of get up and go for highway and mountain driving. The radar detector proved redundant given our van's 75mph speed limiter, but the payoff was no doubt improved fuel economy. While the Sprinter could be a handfull in a strong crosswind, it was otherwise easy to drive. The seats were actually more comfortable for long days than passenger cars I've owned recently. Sure, the interior was a bit plastic-y, but there were storage cubbies everywhere- perfect for road tripping.

The road to the venue can be a bit rough in places and the Sprinter had plenty of ground clearance for soft-roading. With the bikes unloaded and tent set up, the bed (full size, with frame and box spring) was laid flat and made with about five feet in front for clothing storage and changing and three feet at the rear for more storage. Entirely uninsulated, the Sprinter stayed only 5 degrees or so warmer than the night outside, but the ability to stand and change and use the interior lights to read trumped anything this side of a full-blown RV. The lack of cargo area windows and the sliding door behind the seats was a bonus, keeping the cargo area dark come morning despite an East-facing windshield.

Over the course of 1000 miles (included in the base rate), the Sprinter proved very easy to live with and Ryder very accommodating. The 3.0L turbodiesel returned 19mpg overall- shocking given the vehicle's size and the speed at which it traveled. Given that pop-up travel trailers are renting for $125/day in these parts and RVs even more (with far fewer allowed miles), the Sprinter Metro Van is a fantastic deal- even a small U-Haul trailer will cost more. We (and everyone who saw our setup) loved the Sprinter- providing the finest car camping I've ever experienced, its a bikefix Pick, hands down.




Cacodaemonia said...

Hi there. I came across your blog post while looking up information on rental vans, and I was wondering if the Sprinter's cargo area and cab are connected, or if the cargo area can only be accessed from the back doors. Thanks!

bikefix said...


In the van that we used, the cargo area was accessible from both the cab (through a closing door) and the side slider...