Sprinter Van Handling
Are you considering purchasing a Sprinter, but wonder how it handles various road conditions? Well, we've been on the road for a bit more than a year now, have driven over 30,000 miles, and have experienced all sorts of fun driving conditions. Here are some of our thoughts!
As a reminder, we live in a 2008 short wheelbase Sprinter 2500 (meaning not a dually).
Wind can be pretty bad... but not terrible. You can feel pretty much any amount of cross-wind when driving on the highway, but it doesn't get really bad until gusts hit the 40-60 mph range. The worst we have experienced was driving through the flats of Wyoming at 80 mph with some serious looking storms on the horizon. The cross-winds got up to the 60+ mph range and we ended up needing to pull into a truck stop for the night to let the weather pass. Driving in those conditions required full attention.
The newer Sprinter vans boast cross-wind assist to help with controlling the van in strong wind conditions. You can check out this description of the feature here. The older Sprinters are perfectly safe in strong winds, but require more driver attention.
Many people warn against owning diesel vehicles in cold parts of the world due to the need of glow plugs to start the engine. The colder the outside temps, the more difficult it becomes to start the engine. We have not had any issues starting in the cold. The coldest temperature we started the vehicle in was about 7 F. As long as your glow plugs are fine, you shouldn't have any problem. For reference, we recently had to replace our glow plug controller, which without, our van was struggling below 55 F.
The coldest temperatures we experienced also came with tons of snow... Road conditions varied from white-outs, to icy patches, to slush, to full on packed snow. Our experience with snow was on the mostly flat plains of North Dakota, so take our opinions with that in mind. Icy patches on the highway gave us no trouble. Once you're cruising at speed on a straight road, there shouldn't be much trouble in any vehicle. Slushy/snow packed city streets were another story. Getting the vehicle going from a stop caused some slipping, but in general it was fine. Stopping required extra space, as the vehicle is quite heavy, so we never went very fast in town.
On some hilly snow packed roads out of town we had to use snow chains. Without chains we would have been totally stuck. Heavy vehicle with rear wheel drive on hilly snow pack is no good. Be prepared if you think you might encounter this! If we were driving in the mountains during active heavy snow fall, we would likely need to pull over and wait for conditions to clear.
Mountains are juuuuust fine in a Sprinter. The engine definitely goes into overdrive super-intense mode when climbing a steep grade at any speed, and downhill requires careful attention to recommended speed signs, but no problems other than that. We haven't had to deal with snow + mountains, but rain + mountains is no problem. Be careful to follow the road signs and your best judgment, and a Sprinter will take you with ease to the top of Rocky Mountain NP or Tahoe. There was one crazy steep road in Black Canyon of the Gunnison we chose not to go down...
Vehicle weight has a lot to do with how well a Sprinter handles big hills. Before we did the conversion the van was able to crush any hill. If you plan on doing a lot of mountain climbing in your van, a Pleasure-Way class B RV might struggle a bit more than a scrappy home-done conversion.
Oof. The 2008 stock Sprinter is not an off-road champion by any definition. The clearance and suspension does way better than many, if not most, cars intended for city driving. That's not saying all that much though. The van does just fine on most forest roads, and dirt access roads to campsites, but pretty much any vehicle should be able to do this. The stock suspension is intended to help the van carry serious loads on highways and city streets, not deal with rocks, deep holes, and water crossings. If you want to spend a lot of time off-road, you can either invest in a suspension upgrade, get one of the newer Sprinter 4x4 vans, or get a Tacoma/Jeep/etc. It all depends on your budget and intended amenities.
Living in a 2008 Sprinter is great! We can get to 90% of the stuff we want to with ease and comfort. If we wanted to do lots of back-country skiing or deep desert crack climbing, we would have gotten another vehicle (which we still might do). If you want to explore the National Park system and do some light dirt road travel, the Sprinter a great way to go. We can roll into any camp site or park on any city street and not have to worry about our vehicle being too big. This provides tons of flexibility on where we visit.
Let us know if you have any specific questions or opinions!