Like anyone who does business in Los Angeles, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in traffic. During countless hours spent on the road throughout the years, I’ve observed what can be described as an invasion of sorts of high-roofed European vans with quite a unique look to them. Popular vans for businesses who want a practical, utilitarian means of delivering their services to customers, these vehicles are also often converted and customized to create a comfortable and classy ride for leisure and family outings.
It seems that the transition Lee Iacocca sent us on years ago when Chrysler introduced the minivan has come almost full circle, albeit on steroids. What was once the bastion of soccer moms before SUVs subsequently took center stage, has now become the practical domain of families on a mission. A mission of adventure, taking the family and their toys out of town in the comfort of a van you can stand-up in and watch videos or play games on large screen TVs, or empty nesters heading up the coast, along with seemingly at least half the comforts of home inside the vehicle.
I decided to investigate this new trend, stopping by the showroom of Silver Star Mercedes-Benz in the Thousand Oaks Auto Mall. There I discovered the local source of this growing European trend in travel, the Sprinter. Seems Mercedes-Benz has been making millions of these voluminous vans in Germany since 1977 and began importing them to the U.S. in 2001.
The Sprinter vans primarily come in three different base configurations: passenger (think a passenger capability that’s cheaper by the dozen), cargo (envision half an empty garage on wheels) and crew (room for five passengers and at least a quarter of an empty garage of space). Cab-chassis with no backs are also available for serious business and motorhome conversions. They each come in different lengths (one that fits in a regular parking space and one that doesn’t) and heights, the higher with enough space for someone 6’3” to stand up in.
All styles are powered by fuel-efficient, powerful twin turbo diesel engines known to deliver well over 20 miles per gallon with a hauling capacity of 7,500 pounds. Made to the legendary Mercedes-Benz vehicle standards, many Sprinters include more safety features, such as standard stability controls, than most of today’s cars. New for 2016 is the class-exclusive option of four-wheel drive (4×4), so the party doesn’t have to end just because the road does. Despite being a Mercedes-Benz, these versatile vehicles are imminently affordable, ranging from about $32,500 to typically nicely under $60,000 even when well-equipped.
The best part is that these tabula rasas become the blank slates of your land yacht visions with certified Sprinter sales consultants to help you finance and turn those dreams into realities in combination with Master Upfitters who outfit and customize the Sprinters to your heart’s desire. Vehicles often are built around various themes, such as “mini-RV” packed with the comforts of home (basically a bed, bath and beyond on wheels), “executive transport” transforming your commute into a productive mobile office, “family van” (think modern day prairie schooner) where you’ll be the envy of every carpool, and “adventure van” a hybrid half motorhome and half garage for the toys (surfboards, motorcycles, golf gear, quads, go-karts, bikes, etc.) you just can’t leave home without.
Upfits cost from a couple thousand dollars (less than most SUVs) to as much as the purchase price of the Sprinter they’re built on when you start getting into RV conversions with toilets, beds, appliances, a kitchen sink, and flat screen monitors and sound systems to enjoy your own mobile media room wherever you go. And it doesn’t have to stop there.
Fortunately, you can learn more about this great new trend at Silver Star by calling or stopping by and asking for a certified Sprinter consultant. Their Sprinter showcase evening exhibition event in conjunction with the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ventura County takes place on Dec. 1, from 5-8 p.m. and includes a look at their more modest-sized Metris vans. RSVP to be included in a free drawing and wine tasting that night.