Ah space. It is in human nature to constantly want more space. In the plan for our legs, in the car for our head, in the house for the family. It is this incessant need for more space that explains the purpose of the commercial van segment and three of its models, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Ford Transit and Ram Promaster.

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Journalist
Published on 2014/08/21

We had the opportunity to drive these three models in different situations in order to evaluate their ability to provide a comfortable and agile ride, as well as their safety. Obviously, interior space and overall versatility were also considered, but ultimately we're dealing with three vehicles among the largest on the road. Any bigger and one would need a different driver's license to drive them.

The comparison took place during a "Battle of the Vans" event held by Mercedes-Benz. The event is an opportunity for potential buyers to come and compare the commercial vans segment’s main models and quickly compare different alternatives.

Far from being a commercial van expert, I did not know exactly on what criteria I would base my evaluation. Although there are small differences between each model in terms of cargo space, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, the Ford Transit, and the Ram Promaster will all be able to meet the needs of business customers with their ability to swallow a huge amount of packages or furniture or any other items you need to deliver or transport.

Their main differences are found in how they behave on the road, as well as what is found underneath the hood. In addition, Mercedes-Benz was kind enough to create a slalom course where we could evaluate the agility of the Sprinter and that of its two rivals. Whether one is driving a sport coupe or a behemoth weighing more than two tons, a slalom is always appreciated, and I had a lot of fun negotiating the course behind the wheel of vehicles that were in no way designed for this particular exercise. Another test allowing drivers to evaluate the brakes was also planned.

These exercises proved very useful for the simple reason that to actually decide between the Sprinter, Transit and Promaster, we must ultimately look at handling, comfort, and the mechanical configuration of each van. In doing so, we note that each of these three vehicles has a personality all its own. Find the personality that best suits your needs and requirements, and you will find your next commercial van.

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is definitely the preferred option if one is looking for a commercial van with a certain refinement and above all, a comfortable ride. This is undoubtedly the most luxurious model of the three we drove. Inside, several elements, such as the lever of the gearbox, are found on other models in the Mercedes-Benz range.

Powered by a 2.1-liter turbodiesel engine developing only 161 horsepower, I expected very average performance. However, the engine also offers 265 lb-ft delivered at low rpm which allows the Sprinter to keep pace with the other two more powerful models. It is not as fast as the Promaster or Transit, but its power will be sufficient even when the vehicle is filled to its maximum capacity.

Listing all the configurations and versions of the Sprinter would be a particularly grueling exercise, so let’s summarize by saying that the lineup offers three wheelbases that go up to 432.5 cm, three roof heights with the highest reaching 214.1 cm, a maximum payload of 2,488 kg, and a maximum cargo volume of 16.6 cubic meters (586.1 cubic feet).

In summary, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter stands out with its soft ride and refined behavior. Also, one should not overlook the impact of the Mercedes-Benz emblem on the grille which adds a bit of class to a vehicle whose purpose is purely practical. If I owned a transport company and the image of my company was important to me, I would turn to the Sprinter.

Equally equipped and configured, however, the Sprinter is more expensive than the Promaster and Transit. Available from $ 39,900, it justifies the price difference, but if one must equip his or her business with several vans, the price can quickly become a negative point to consider.

Ford Transit

The Ford Transit was the most powerful of the three models offered to participants of the event. Powered by a 3.5-liter Ecoboost V6 engine developing 310 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, one of the three engines offered in the Transit range, the Transit that we had in our hands could stand up to a lot of cars on the road in terms of performance despite its size and weight.

For my part, from a purely emotional standpoint, I enjoyed driving the Transit because of its powerful engine. However, some potential buyers at the event indicated that power was unnecessary and could even harm the primary purpose of the model. After all, powerful accelerations are always appreciated by the automotive journalist that I am, but then again you do not want an engine that accelerates so quickly it sends all of your cargo barreling towards the back of the cargo area.

We did not have an opportunity to evaluate the other engines in the Transit range, a 3.7-liter V6 and a 3.2 liter diesel, but there is no doubt that their more reasonable power numbers are probably better suited to the needs of consumers in this segment.

The interior of the Transit is certainly its strong suit, and is somewhat reminiscent of certain newly redesigned Ford models. Being behind the wheel of the Transit is like driving a Focus, a feature that adds to the driving experience.

Like the Sprinter, there are a lot of versions of the Transit. Compared to its German rival, the Transit is more affordable. It also has three roof heights peaking at 279.4 cm and two wheelbase options, the longest measuring 376 cm. Cargo capacity can in turn reach 438 cubic feet.

Ram Promaster

The Ram Promaster is certainly the least refined option, either in style or interior. Dull plastic everywhere, a steeply raked steering wheel and pedals that sink instead of moving in a forward motion as we are accustomed to in a car made ​​the van novice that I am a little uncomfortable.

The large front bumper is particularly ugly, but the owner of a Ram Promaster will not get too upset should the front of the vehicle be damaged since everything will be easily repaired.

Our test model was powered by a 3.6-liter V6 Pentastar that offers 280 horsepower, the power sweet spot for this type of vehicle. A diesel engine is also available. Be aware that unlike the other two models tested in this comparison, the Pentastar engine’s power is sent to the front wheels and not to the rear wheels. When the vehicle is filled to its maximum capacity, the disadvantages of a FWD setup should in theory become evident.  

The advantage of having a front wheel drive vehicle, on the other hand, is that there are fewer mechanical components under the cargo area, which in turn reduces the height of the load floor, for example. The Promaster’s engineers are certainly intelligent and educated people, and they would have quickly chosen to go with a rear wheel drive configuration if they believed the Promaster’s FWD reality created a distinct disadvantage compared to the competition.

In terms of price and capacities, the Promaster is comparable to the Ford Transit. Its lack of sophistication compared to the Ford and the Sprinter, however, certainly needs to be taken into consideration, just like the fact that we are dealing here with a FWD commercial van. That said, the Promaster warrants a test drive if you are shopping in this segment.

Conclusion

The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is in my eyes the most complete model of the vans we tested while also being generally more versatile. However, it is also more expensive. From a purely pragmatic point of view, the Mercedes-Benz model is at a disadvantage. On the other hand, its refinement and smoothness may very well seal the deal for the buyer. 

Let the battle of the commercial vans begin

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