Don't skip the backup camera. The reason should be obvious. The 2016 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Passenger 2500 is a big van. No, at nearly 10 feet tall, more than 19 feet long and nearly 8 feet wide, it's a HUGE van, and even with the help of blind-spot friendly convex side mirrors and a generous amount of glass, the absence of the $657 backup camera on our test van was noticeable, and regrettable.

Aside from that though, our week with the 12-passenger Mercedes-Benz Sprinter was mostly full of pleasant surprises. The full-size van market has shifted dramatically over the past couple of years, thanks in large part to the introduction of the Sprinter at the beginning of the 2000s. As it has spawned Euro-style competitors like the Ford Transit and Ram ProMaster, we figured it was worth checking in to see how this newest version of the Benz was fairing. To find out, we enlisted the Sprinter for Thanksgiving duties, including a 4-hour drive from Los Angeles to the Central Coast town of Santa Maria, and the subsequent schlepping of 11 people from place to place. 

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Spartan cabin

Any thoughts of opulence associated with the three-pointed star on the nose were quickly dashed by the Sprinter's sparse interior. Even with the $50,736 price tag, there was no carpeting on the floor, just a durable vinyl covering that looks like it could withstand a hose-down. The manually adjusted front seats were covered in cloth and vinyl, but were surprisingly comfortable, and even the pew-like rear benches drew no complaints. Hard plastics were abound, including the door armrests, and creature comforts were few: front and rear air conditioning; cruise control; an audio system with USB, Bluetooth and AUX inputs; and a generously sized bin atop the dash for sunglasses, wallet, phone, and an iPad. 

Yet on the road this big van's heritage is more obvious. It's no S-Class, of course, but the ride strikes an excellent balance between comfort and handling. While it's not ready for a local SCCA autocross event -- although how hilarious would that be -- the suspension does a great job soaking up bumps while keeping this tall van from feeling tippy. Only the occasional shudder of the rear axle over sharp bumps reminds you that this is a commercial-grade truck.

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Potent, efficient turbodiesel

From a visibility standpoint, the blind spot mirrors help tremendously when maneuvering through traffic. The steering felt spot-on, and the 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 engine puts out 325 lb-ft of torque, enough that there was never a time when I needed more. The 5-speed automatic shifted smoothly and quickly, although the dash-mounted shifter was on the fiddly side. Topping it off was the 18-mpg observed fuel economy, pretty darn good for nearly 6,000 pounds of heavy-duty commercial van. 

Put another way, the kids all slept on the ride back from grandma's, and I can't think of a better endorsement than that. Just don't skip the backup camera.

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