Mercedes-Benz Sprinter v Volkswagen Crafter: Twin Test

The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Volkswagen Crafter are two of the biggest names in the heavy van segment. They’re also two of the latest and most up-to-date vans in the segment, having been launched in 2018 and 2016 respectively, but which one comes out on top in our gruelling head-to-head?

Background

Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen have fought a fierce battle in Europe’s large van segment for decades, escalating in the 1980’s between the Mercedes-Benz TN and Volkswagen LT.

However, Volkswagen suffered financially in the early 1990’s and took the unusual step of partnering with its German rival in the development of the second-generation LT. The new LT was built by Mercedes-Benz and largely based on its new large van, and the TN’s successor, the Sprinter.

Both models were completely redesigned in 2006, with Volkswagen taking the opportunity to rename the model as the ‘Crafter’. They were manufactured alongside each other in Dusseldorf until 2016, when Volkswagen completed the construction of its brand-new dedicated factory in Poland.

Two years after the second-generation VW Crafter was launched, Mercedes-Benz released the third-generation Sprinter in 2018.

On the outside

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2018
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2018
Volkswagen Crafter 2018
Volkswagen Crafter 2018

Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen have taken different approaches to the exterior design; Merc preferring a sleek and curvy design while VW has opted for a much simpler and boxy approach. Like with most big vans, there is very little in the way of styling with both vehicles lacking chrome highlights and sporting just 16-inch steel wheels.

Winner: Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

Interior

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2019 interior
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2019 interior
Volkswagen Crafter interior
Volkswagen Crafter interior

Inside, the two also differ considerably. The Sprinter is more stylish, but lacks the storage spaces, while the Crafter’s cab is extremely practical buts it lacks flair. The two are similar in terms of comfort and visibility; both offering supportive seats and commanding views of the road ahead, although the Sprinter is slightly more spacious.

Winner: Volkswagen Crafter

Specification

While the Sprinter comes with just one trim level, there are three available on the Crafter; the Startline, Trendline and Highline. The Crafter Startline covers all the basics; there’s a reach and rake adjustable steering wheel, 12v socket, central locking, front assist with city emergency and a ‘Composition Audio’ radio with USB and Bluetooth.

Moving up to Trendline, customers also receive an 8-inch touchscreen display with App-Connect and voice controls, a driver’s ‘Comfort Seat’ with lumbar support and armest, cruise control with speed limiter and steering wheel-mounted controls. Top-of-the-rage Highline models also get adaptive cruise control, electric seats and front and rear parking sensors and fog lights.

The Sprinter is generously-specced and similar to the Trendline in equipment levels, with cruise control, keyless entry and keyless start, active brake assist, the ‘emergency call’ system and the MBUX infotainment system, with 7-inch touchscreen display, DAB radio, Bluetooth and steering wheel-mounted controls, as standard. However, air-conditioning is a £970 option and satellite navigation will set you back £670.

Winner: Volkswagen Crafter

Weights and dimensions

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2018 loading
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2018 loading
Volkswagen Crafter 2018 loading
Volkswagen Crafter 2018 loading

There are three load lengths and three roof heights on the Crafter, while there are also three roof heights – but an extra load length – on the Sprinter. Load volumes vary between 9.9 and 16.4 cubic metres on the Crafter and 7.8 and 15.5 on the Sprinter. The Crafter is a lot longer, with maximum load lengths of between 3,450mm and 4,855mm, compared with 2,607mm and 4,300mm on the Sprinter.

In terms of weights, gross weights vary between 3.0 and 5.0 tonnes on both models but, as the Sprinter is smaller and therefore weighs less, it can carry more weight. Payloads vary between 980 and 1,301kg on the 3.5t Crafter and 1,014 and 1,387kg on the 3.5 Sprinter.

Winner: Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

Engine and driveline

Merc’s veteran 2.1-litre (2,143cc) OM651 and 3.0-litre (2,987cc) V6 engines provide the power on the Sprinter, while the Crafter is propelled by a slightly smaller 2.0-litre (1,968cc) EA189 unit. There are six outputs on the Sprinter (ranging from 114hp/300Nm to 190hp/440Nm) and just three on the Crafter (101hp/300Nm to 175hp/410Nm).

The Sprinter engines are hooked to a six-speed manual transmission, with the option of a nine-speed (9G Tronic) automatic on the FWD models and 7G Tronic on the RWD models, while the Crafter also has a six-speed manual as standard with the option of an eight-speed DSG automatic.

Both vehicles are available in front and rear wheel drive, although the Crafter is also available as a four-wheel drive (4Motion). Mercedes-Benz has announced a Sprinter 4×4 will soon be available, but exact dates and prices have yet to be announced.

On the road

The Sprinter is the spritelier of the two with more powerful engines and offering more low-end torque (maximum torque cuts in 400rpm earlier on mid-level engines), although the DSG automatic from Volkswagen comes out on top for smoothness and refinement.

Both vehicles perform impeccably well on the road, with a comfortable ride and very little body roll into the corners but the Sprinter comes out on top for dealing with potholes. Speed-sensitive steering is standard on both models, although it is lighter on the Sprinter.

Winner: Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

Cost of ownership

Prices start at £24,350 plus VAT for the Sprinter (211CDi 3.0t) and £26,640 plus VAT (CR30 102 Startline) for the Crafter, and rise to £44,275 for the 519CDi 5.0t and £42,665 for the CR35 177 Highline 4Motion. Spec-for-spec, they work out fairly similar with the 3.5t 114CDi long, high roof costing £31,365 and the CR35 Trendline LWB, high roof 140PS priced at £31,515.

The Sprinter has stronger residual values thanks to its proven track record with reliability and its loyal customer base, but once news spreads about how great this new Crafter is – used values should rise accordingly.

The Crafter works out marginally better on fuel, with a combined figure of between 37.2mpg and 38.2mpg on the smallest variants. The Sprinter achieves around 10% less economy, returning 34.4 and 35.8mpg on the combined run.

Service intervals vary between 24,000 miles (FWD) and 37,000 miles (RWD) on the Sprinter, whereas it’s a standard 30,000 miles on the Crafter. The Sprinter comes with a three year, unlimited mileage warranty, while the Crafter is covered for the same amount of time, but is capped at 100,000 miles.

Winner: Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

Verdict

First of all, we need to point out that both of these vans performed exceptionally well and that, while we eventually determined the Sprinter to be the winner, there was very little in it. Both vans ride and handle well and come in a wide choice of body styles to suit various customers.

The Crafter came out on top for the practicality of the cab, the choice in trims and specification, and fuel economy but we weren’t impressed by the rather bland looks and lack of engine choice.

While the Sprinter’s interior and the cost of optional extras not included in the standard grade leave a lot to be desired, there’s fantastic residual values, an unlimited mileage warranty and a better payload.

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