Mercedes-Benz is talking up the changes for 2014 for its redesigned Sprinter cargo van as other automakers ramp up to compete in the segment.
Mercedes-Benz says the new Sprint is slightly longer, with its radiator grill moved into a more upright and "self-assured" position, lending the new Sprinter "a more confident presence."
But the bigger changes are inside.
Claus Tritt, general manager of commercial vans for Mercedes-Benz USA, said in an interview that the most important difference, perhaps, was the new 2.1-liter in-line-four diesel engine.
Mercedes-Benz said it marks the first use of super-clean BlueTEC technology in the commercial van market.
Tritt said the new engine offers 161 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque at 1,400-2,400 rpm. and is 18% more efficient in terms of mpg than the old standard 3.0 liter V-6.
Tritt said the 188 hp V-6 will be available as an option.
"This the latest and greatest and best" part of the new Sprinter, Tritt said. "It will come with a seven-speed automatic transmission that is not only more efficient but also much smoother."
The Mercedes-Benz announcement comes a week after Ford Motor Co. said it would add 2,000 jobs at its Missouri plant to build its own new cargo van and meet surging demand for trucks.
Ford is ramping up to produce its new Transit full-size van in 2014, a model currently available in Europe.
Tritt says Mercedes-Benz is prepared for the competition.
"Other manufacturers are coming up with similar concepts in the near future. So, we wanted to get this product absolutely right," Tritt said.
Other changes for the Sprinter include a redesigned cockpit, which Tritt said will offer improved driver comfort and amenities, like a 5.8-inch monitor for navigation and as a rear view camera.
Four safety features have also been added, Tritt said, including blind spot assist, lane keeping assist, collision prevention assist, and high beam assist.
The Sprinter line was first brought to the U.S. in 2001 and sold through Freightliner Trucks. It has been offered under the Mercedes-Benz brand in the U.S. since 2010.
The automaker said it sold 8,500 Sprinters in 2010 and has improved ever since, up to 16,500 sold in 2011 and 21,000 sold last year.
The Sprinter in its most basic cargo and passenger versions costs $36,000 to $40,000. In its many other iterations, which even include a recreational vehicle, it can cost as much as $115,000.
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