Sprinter Fashioned for Extended Uses
To some, like the politically correct police, an eight-passenger Chevy Suburban or Ford Expedition SUV is too big.
But to others, like cable TV's Jon and Kate, even a Suburban or Expedition is too small to hold their brood of eight.
That's where the Dodge Sprinter comes in, a full-size van only slightly smaller than a motor home that has four rows of seats that provide room and comfort -- OK, at least room -- for 12.
Of course, Sprinter isn't for everyone. But for those with a large family, or a church group or athletic team, it's ideal. Sprinter is supplied by Mercedes-Benz. Though Chrysler and Mercedes' parent have split, Chrysler was awarded joint custody, ensuring a continued supply of Sprinters from Germany.
There's a commercial version, but we spent a week in the passenger one, a week forgoing fast-food restaurants because this 7-footer is not good in the lane -- the drive-thru lane, that is.
Being at least 2 inches longer than any full-size pickup and wide enough to hold four adults across the rear seat, parking lots were a scary venture. Be prepared to settle for a space at least one ZIP code away from the store or restaurant.
And while cars have a blind spot, Sprinter's is more along both sides. Small, wide-angle mirrors below the regular, narrow sideview mirrors help locate the 18-wheelers lurking in the blind spots, but they take some getting used to.
Despite all this, Sprinter is a kick.
To ensure optimum mileage in a bus posing as a van, Sprinter relies on a 3-liter, 154-horsepower turbodiesel V-6. The vehicle is so large the government doesn't mandate a fuel-economy rating, so there's only a company estimate of a little more than 19 m.p.g. combined. A guesstimate based on how far we got in the time the full tank reached the halfway mark suggested more than 20 m.p.g. city/highway, or about the same as a hybrid Tahoe.
The diesel V-6 is considerably noisier than a gas V-6, but you can talk without shouting. In the cabin, there's no diesel racket and rattle or foul diesel odor. The V-6 isn't real potent, even with the turbo boost, but it gets the van and up to 12 people on their way without stumbling.
The test vehicle came with optional ($420) front bucket seats and a suspension system to minimize bouncing and provide a cushion over bumps. Granddaughters Ashley, Haylie and Taylor positioned themselves in rows two through four to determine impact levels there.
They howled with laughter as they were launched a few inches off their seats when traveling over speed bumps in a parking lot. Can't imagine church groups enjoying that flight, however.
Sprinter is so long and wide that turns and corners are best taken at reduced speeds.
Nice touches include large stowage racks above the sun visors over the windshield, a huge covered stowage compartment in the top of the dash and stowage holds in the front doors. But the cupholders in the top of the dash on the driver and passenger sides are too far away for an easy reach.
Another annoyance is the single step for entry/exit on both the driver and passenger sides. The steps are flush with the body and make for tricky footing. Extended steps are needed.
In an emergency, the side window behind the driver pops out as an escape hatch.
A pair of swing-open rear doors expose a small but wide cargo hold. If 12 people are onboard, there's enough room under the three rows of rear seats for suitcases.
Sprinter starts at $42,150 with stability and traction control, vital to such a big brute; antilock brakes; power locks/windows/mirrors; manual seats; rear window washers/wipers/defrosters; and an AM/FM/CD player.
Side-curtain air bags are part of a $1,530 security group option. Rear seat heating and air conditioning are in packages at $2,735 and $3,265, respectively.
Chrysler says it sells 25,000 copies annually and would sell more if it got them -- Congress, the Obama administration and Fiat willing.
2009 DODGE SPRINTER FACTS
Wheelbase: 144 inches
Length: 232.5 inches
Engine: 3-liter, 154-h.p., turbocharged V-6
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
M.P.G.: 19.2 city / highway (estimate)Price as tested: $57,605
Add $980 for freight.
$3,265 Rear-seat air conditioning
$2,735 Rear-seat heater with added insulation
$2,055 Accessory group with BiXenon headlamps, fog lamps and headlamp washers
$1,530 Security group with first-aid kit, side-impact air bags upfront and side-curtains in back
$1,475 Preferred package with overhead console; reading lamps; power, heated mirrors; 12-volt power outlet; luxury front seats; rear-window washers/wipers; and locking glove box
$1,185 Silver metallic paint
$1,025 Power sunroof
$730 Cold-climate group with heated front seats
$455 AM/FM/CD player and phone connection
$420 Front-seat suspension system
$335 Trailer-towing package
$245 Roof rack
Holds 12 when a "mini" SUV for eight just won't do
Diesel for extended range
Each row of seats can serve as a bed
Long on room, but short on comfort in back
So many options at such high prices