Here at Outside, we’re romantics when it comes to Syncros and Vanagons—possibly to the point of being delusional. Because to shell out $79,000 (one of many similar listings on Craigslist) for a 24-year-old Volkswagen with more than a quarter-million miles on it is, well, insanity.
There’s a better, wiser, safer answer to this adventure rig obsession: the new $42,795 Sprinter 4x4 with low range. Let’s count the ways it does and does not stack up against the vaunted competition that stopped being sold new (on these shores) in 1992.
The first thing you notice about the Sprinter 4x4 is that it has a nose. That’s good for safety (more about that in a bit). It’s also good because beneath the hood is a 3.0-liter diesel V-6 engine good for 700 miles on one tank of gas and 325 pound feet of torque. Testing the Sprinter in British Columbia’s Monashees, we rarely found the engine to struggle while passing or climbing. And that low-end grunt was especially useful for slow-speed ascents up rough fire roads.
The 2015 Sprinter 4x4 offers multiple configuration options. More than 75 percent of purchases are customized at the dealership—you don’t have to go aftermarket like you would with a vintage Westy. You can get the Sprinter with a front bench seat, a second row, and a divided cargo space. It’s also available with either long or short wheelbases, with or without side-panel glass, and in a range of roof heights up to seven feet.
Order your Sprinter 4x4 in a five-passenger, long-wheelbase version, and you get 277 cubic feet of interior storage. That’s nearly double the room you’d get in a Honda Odyssey with all the rear seats folded down. The long-wheelbase, tall-roof Sprinter has more space than most New York City studios (586 cubic feet). Paneling options (as shown) and many other finishes are also available.
Get yours with seating for eight, which, while not the most adventure-ready configuration, is good for large families. But this view does show how we’d order ours—with windows.
There are many anti-collision systems available to Sprinter customers, including standard features like stability control, traction control, and anti-rollover systems, which brake only some of the wheels to prevent putting your Sprinter shiny-side down. Not to mention standard front airbags and optional window airbags and thorax bags. It’s rare to find Eurovans with airbags; depending on the model year, they may not have been an option.
Don’t get too excited, because that shift lever you see controls an automatic gearbox, not a manual. You can shift through the seven- or five-speed automatic, which is useful for off-roading or passing, but you don’t get the finesse of clutch-throttle interplay that’s useful in low-traction circumstances. That said, the height-adjustable front seats are very comfortable over long hauls.
Auto-dimming high beams are an option on the Sprinter, as are very bright bi-xenon headlamps.
Our tester Sprinters came with a variety of tire options, including these Bridgestone Blizzak W965s, which apparently work better in the snow than in the mud.
The Sprinter 4x4 is lifted 4.3 inches in front and 3.1 inches in the rear, but the ground clearance remains fairly low at 7.9 inches because of its conventional-truck rear axle. While raising the body improves the approach and departure angles, we’d go for a taller, more aggressive tire for better off-roading prowess. Some buyers will still want a lift kit.
The Syncro Advantage
Buy the Sprinter with low range and you get a 40 percent lower crawl ratio (think granny gear on your mountain bike) than the standard model. Even so, torque is fixed in 4x4 mode (35 front/65 rear), and unfortunately there’s no option for locking differentials. Yep, Syncros still have that advantage.
Mercedes-Benz uses electronics instead of mechanical locking differentials to get power to the wheels with traction. This essentially cuts power to wheels that are off the ground and directs it to the ones that are still on terra firma.
Backing It Up
In addition to a backup camera, the Sprinter can be ordered with blind-spot detection technology. It comes standard with Crosswind Assist, which automatically detects when the vehicle is being forced to drift, and then counters the effect almost imperceptibly by applying the brakes on the side that’s sliding. We experienced this firsthand while driving in the wake of a trio of logging trucks and found that it greatly aided in keeping the Sprinter on course.