It's a gross understatement to say that the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter have been successful. The big van has been around for nearly two decades in the U.S. -- some of it labeled a Freightliner or Dodge -- and has even spawned imitators, the most significant of which is the new Ford Transit.

The success of the Sprinter has inspired Mercedes-Benz to further action. First, it introduced the Mercedes-Benz Metris, a smaller van for those who need a work truck, but don't want the bulk and expense of the bigger Sprinter. Second, Mercedes-Benz will be expanding its South Carolina assembly facility, which currently puts knock-down kits back together, into a proper manufacturing plant that assembles Sprinters from the ground up. Then there's the new Worker trim level, a more affordable way to get your company behind the wheel of a Sprinter or a Metris.

Fit for upfitters

Mercedes-Benz is expanding its footprint in the "upfitter" market. Upfitters are the ones who customize work vans and trucks for particular tasks by installing racks for tools, bins for small parts, carriers for pipes or get the idea. They also customize the vans for recreational purposes; Sportmobile and Airstream being two famous examples of upfitters for the RV market.

To do this, Mercedes-Benz has taken its certified upfitter program, MasterUpfitters, a step further with MasterSolutions. This program integrates the purchase of the van and the upgrades, allowing the entire vehicle, including upfitted components, to be financed on the same payment and eligible for the same 3 year/36,000 mile warranty as the base van. This isn't just a dealer-installed ladder rack we're talking about. Mercedes-Benz is working with top names, like Knapheide, Auto Truck, and SmartLiner. Don't know those names? Don't worry, we guarantee your plumber, electrician, mechanic, airport shuttle driver, or any number of other industrial-grade van users are very familiar with them.

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Mercedes-Benz invited us to its assembly plant in North Charleston, South Carolina, to check out a variety of upfitted Sprinter and Metris vans, and drive them around town. The sheer variety of what could be ordered through a Mercedes-Benz Vans dealership is astounding. Need a fully refrigerated Metris for your artisanal ice cream-delivery business? That'll add about $16,000 to the price of your Metris thanks to a Gruau package. But not everything adds that much; if your business involves keeping numerous small parts organized -- telecommunications contractors for example -- a Sortimo by Knapheide shelving unit adds $2,400 or so.

Smooth operator

So, what are they like to drive? Well, they pretty much drive like a Sprinter and Metris, which is to say, quite well. The Metris outfitted with the Gruau refrigerator package -- it wasn't running, but we wish it was in the Charleston summer heat -- drove pretty much like the last Metris we drove. Small, light and maneuverable, it's ideal for the narrow streets of a town like Charleston, or any city really, where frequent backups and direction reversals are the order of the day. On the other end of the MasterSolutions spectrum was the Knapheide KUV. Based on the Sprinter 3500 chassis cab, this hulking beast is what's known as an "enclosed utility," that is, it's a pre-made box that fits over the rear of the vehicle, already divvied up with doors, drawers, and all manner of storage. While it drove about as well as you'd hope for an enormous heavy truck, if there was one upgrade we'd recommend, it's a rearview camera, because otherwise you'll need a spotter to back out of narrow areas.

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Suffice it to say the MasterSolutions program is more than a gimmick for the commercial buyer. While the average consumer will likely have little reason to order a fully refrigerated Sprinter directly from the factory showroom, small and large business operators are sure to find good reason to check it out.


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