2015 Ford Transit 150 Power Stroke vs. 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 BlueTec, 2014 Ram ProMaster 1500 EcoDiesel

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We didn’t drive three full-size modern vans 430 miles just to gain admittance to the 43rd annual Van Nationals. We also drove them there (with a dorm room’s worth of furniture from IKEA) so we’d have a place to sleep away our drunkenness.

Oh, right, and also to perform a comparison test of the newest big boys. After what seemed like a century of incremental improvements to the old-school American vans, our market is now awash with new European-derived big boxes, as well as little-sibling versions. We chose three of the new plus-size van-guard: the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter (now in its second generation here in the U.S.), the new-to-America Ford Transit, and a curious-looking thing called the Ram ProMaster. For the sake of intensified Euro-ness, we chose turbo-diesel engines as the exclusive power source.

Vans for the 98-percenters.

This choice effectively knocked Nissan’s NV2500 out of our test, since the company offers only gasoline V-6s and V-8s in its big hauler. Chevrolet has dropped its light-duty full-size Express van because it was dragging down the company’s fuel-economy average. Heavy-duty versions are still available, but the Express was deemed too out of step with the modern vans to include anyway.

We specified windowless cargo versions of each entrant because they seemed somehow more in step with the custom vans we expected to encounter at the Nationals. Also, we weren’t running a shuttle service, and we didn’t want people looking through the windows at us as we snored. And then the Ford showed up with windows anyway. We chose low-roof models to diminish the commercial-van look (fat chance!), and no dualies or four-wheel-drive or super-extended models were allowed. The idea was to make them, as much as possible, candidates for modern van customizers. Not that any of the vanners seemed to differentiate much between them. But we did.

2014 Ram ProMaster 1500 EcoDiesel

2015 Ford Transit 150 Power Stroke vs. 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 BlueTec, 2014 Ram ProMaster 1500 EcoDiesel

The Ram ProMaster, a Fiat Ducato with ram-head logos, is a detestable, shovel-faced thing that appears to have been cobbled together from spare parts. Too harsh? No, not really. The ProMaster itself is an insult. It is the only vehicle in any comparison test in memory to receive zero points in a subjective category from one of our ­voters. That would be for its dreadful single-clutch automated-manual transmission. The other voters each gave it one mercy point. Pull out onto a busy road and the vehicle comes to a near stop as the transmission pauses to find the next gear. It’s not just annoying, causing your head to bob fore and aft with every shift, it’s scary. The steering system is loose and numb and connected to a steering wheel that feels only a few degrees from a horizontal orientation. It’s better than the steering in an ex-military Hummer H1 or a Mercedes-Benz G-class, but worse than everything else.

Its 3.0-liter inline-four turbo-diesel makes more power than the Mercedes’ smaller-displacement four, but the ProMaster returns the slowest acceleration in the test by two seconds to 60 mph. This despite being the shortest and lightest of the vans. It also takes the longest distance to stop from 70 mph. It was the loudest van, it was judged to have the worst ride, and its handling properties were bottom rung.

Oh, and judging by the contorted position that Fiat/Ram forces the ProMaster’s driver into, the company must really hate plumbers and delivery drivers. Why? We don’t know.

We probably should have specified the longer-wheelbase version, which would have brought it closer to other competitors in terms of length. But the problems that ail the ProMaster will not be solved by more ProMaster.

2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 BlueTec

2015 Ford Transit 150 Power Stroke vs. 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 BlueTec, 2014 Ram ProMaster 1500 EcoDiesel

Despite a substantial rework for the 2014 model year, the Sprinter comes into this comparison test as the grand old man. It was the Sprinter that introduced the new crop of European vans to America, first as a Freightliner-badged model in 2001, then as a Dodge in ’03, and finally as a Mercedes in ’09. It was something of a revelation when it first came here and remains an excellent vehicle today. Our example, with the smaller of the two available diesel engines, came with an optional bulkhead ($252) between the cavernous cargo area and the cockpit. It was the only vehicle here fitted with one, so take the interior sound-level readings with a grain of salt. Even without the bulkhead, the Sprinter’s seats are a far better place to pass the time than the ProMaster’s.

For one, the Sprinter doesn’t force its driver and passenger to basically stand up while driving. Its seating position is high, of course, but it’s comfortable and the steering wheel is within easy reach. The ergonomics are not nearly as haphazard as those of the Ram, either. And the stereo actually sounds surprisingly decent. It’s the steering, though, that really shocks.

Gustav Klimt would have been a helluva van muralist.

Somehow, Mercedes must have accidentally bolted in the steering from a nicely tuned sedan. Strike that—the steering in the Sprinter is actuallybetter and offers more feel than virtually any current Mercedes sedan. Does that matter in a cargo van? Yes it does, if you’re the one who has to drive it all day.

The 2.1-liter four-cylinder turbo-diesel makes the least amount of power and torque in this test, but with the help of a smooth-shifting seven-speed automatic, the Benz posted a reasonable 11.4-second zero-to-60-mph time. The Sprinter’s governed top speed of 83 mph seems like a prudent limit for such a big thing, even if it’s lower than the others. But on the open expressway, the Sprinter is stable and comfortable enough to justify more speed. The only real disappointment in the Mercedes is an overly stiff ride, but it doesn’t win because it has finally met a tougher competitor.

2015 Ford Transit 150 Power Stroke

2015 Ford Transit 150 Power Stroke vs. 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 BlueTec, 2014 Ram ProMaster 1500 EcoDiesel

We had to talk Ford into providing a diesel-powered Transit. The company preferred to send one with a gas-swilling twin-turbo V-6, which would have clobbered the other vans with power. Alas, Ford had nothing to worry about. Its 3.2-liter inline-five still produces more power and torque than the others, motivating the Transit to the quickest acceleration times while returning near-identical fuel economy (22 mpg, in mostly highway driving).

And that’s for a beast that carries an additional 408 pounds compared with the next-heaviest van, the Sprinter. We deemed its interstellar-cargo-shuttle styling to be our favorite, as were its ride quality and handling. With its easy step-in height, relative immunity to side winds, strong brakes, and generally big-car demeanor, the Transit feels like an extra-large Ford Flex. That’s a good thing in our book. We’d still make our sweet custom van out of a ’60s Dodge A100, but the Transit surely drives a hell of a lot better. And it certainly carries more beer.

Final Scoring, Performance Data, and Complete Specs

VEHICLE 2015 Ford Transit 150 Power Stroke 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 BlueTec 2014 Ram ProMaster 1500 EcoDiesel
BASE PRICE $37,925 $36,990 $34,960
PRICE AS TESTED $42,180 $40,571 $37,590
DIMENSIONS
LENGTH 237.6 inches 233.3 inches 195.0 inches
WIDTH 81.3 inches 79.7 inches 82.7 inches
HEIGHT 83.2 inches 94.5 inches 90.0 inches
WHEELBASE 147.6 inches 144.3 inches 118.0 inches
FRONT TRACK 68.2 inches 68.0 inches 71.3 inches
REAR TRACK 68.6 inches 68.2 inches 77.6 inches
GROUND CLEARANCE 6.0 inches 7.9 inches 6.9 inches
PASSENGER VOLUME 66 cubic feet 72 cubic feet 70 cubic feet*
CARGO VOLUME 278 cubic feet 319 cubic feet 283 cubic feet
CARGO DIMENSIONS
DEPTH 139.6 inches 132.3 inches 105.0 inches
MINIMUM WIDTH 54.8 inches 53.1 inches 56.0 inches
LOADING HEIGHT 28.3 inches 28.5 inches 25.6 inches
PAYLOAD
MAX 3150 pounds 3512 pounds 3740 pounds
AS TESTED 3150 pounds 3512 pounds 3740 pounds
DIMENSIONS
MAX 7500 pounds 5000 pounds 5100 pounds
AS TESTED 4600 pounds 5000 pounds 5100 pounds

POWERTRAIN
ENGINE turbocharged DOHC 20-valve diesel inline-5
195 cu in (3198 cc)
sequentially turbocharged DOHC 16-valve diesel inline-4
131 cu in (2143 cc)
turbocharged DOHC 16-valve diesel inline-4
183 cu in (2998 cc)
POWER HP @ RPM 185 @ 3000 161 @ 3800 174 @ 3600
TORQUE LB-FT @ RPM 350 @ 1500 265 @ 1400 295 @ 1400
REDLINE / FUEL CUTOFF 4500/4200 rpm 4200/4200 rpm N/A / 4200 rpm
LB PER HP 29.8 31.7 28.2
DRIVELINE
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic 7-speed automatic 6-speed automated manual
DRIVEN WHEELS rear rear front
GEAR RATIO:1/
MPH PER 1000 RPM/
MAX MPH
1 4.17/5.9/25
2 2.34/10.4/44
3 1.52/16.1/68
4 1.14/21.3/90
5 0.86/28.3/98
6 0.69/33.6/98
1 4.38/5.2/22
2 2.86/8.0/33
3 1.92/11.6/49
4 1.37/16.1/67
5 1.00/22.3/83
6 0.82/26.9/83
7 0.73/30.4/83
1 4.17/4.5/19
2 2.35/7.9/33
3 1.46/12.7/53
4 0.96/19.4/79
5 0.70/26.6/101
6 0.55/33.5/101
AXLE RATIO:1 3.31, limited slip 3.92 4.56

CHASSIS
SUSPENSION F: struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
R: rigid axle, leaf springs
F: struts, leaf spring, anti-roll bar
R: rigid axle, leaf springs, anti-roll bar
F: struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
R: rigid axle, leaf springs
BRAKES F: 12.1-inch vented disc
R: 12.1-inch disc
F: 11.8-inch vented disc
R: 11.7-inch disc
F: 11.8-inch vented disc
R: 11.0-inch disc
STABILITY CONTROL traction off partially defeatable partially defeatable
TIRES Hankook Dynapro HT
LT235/65R-16C
121/119R M+S
Kumho Road Venture APT/M
LT245/75R-16
120/116S M+S
Continental VancoFourSeason
225/75R-16C 121/120R
M+S

C/D TEST RESULTS
ACCELERATION
0–30 MPH 3.1 sec 3.4 sec 4.6 sec
0–60 MPH 10.6 sec 11.4 sec 13.4 sec
0–100 MPH 61.1 sec
¼-MILE @ MPH 17.9 sec @ 76 18.4 sec @ 73 19.7 sec @ 74
ROLLING START, 5–60 MPH 11.2 sec 12.5 sec 14.6 sec
TOP GEAR, 30–50 MPH 5.0 sec 6.1 sec 6.4 sec
TOP GEAR, 50–70 MPH 7.9 sec 9.0 sec 8.8 sec
TOP SPEED 98 mph (gov ltd) 83 mph (gov ltd) 101 mph (gov ltd)
CHASSIS
BRAKING 70–0 MPH 184 feet 193 feet 201 feet
ROADHOLDING,
300-FT-DIA SKIDPAD
0.60 g† 0.61 g 0.60 g†
WEIGHT
CURB 5510 pounds 5102 pounds 4902 pounds
%FRONT/%REAR 59.6/40.4 58.1/41.9 65.1/34.9
GVWR 8600 pounds 8550 pounds 8550 pounds
GCWR 10,600 pounds 13,550 pounds 12,500 pounds
FUEL
TANK 25.0 gallons 26.4 gallons 24.0 gallons
RATING ULSD ULSD ULSD
C/D 900-MILE TRIP 22 mpg 22 mpg 23 mpg
PRACTICAL STOWAGE
NO. OF 9 X 11 X 16-IN BOXES 235 295 241
LENGTH OF PIPE 191.0 inches 144.0 inches 153.0 inches
LARGEST FLAT PANEL, LENGTH X WIDTH 138.5 x 53.5 inches 131.5 x 53.0 inches 103.5 x 55.8 inches
SOUND LEVEL
IDLE 49 dBA 48 dBA 52 dBA
FULL THROTTLE 73 dBA 74 dBA 80 dBA
70-MPH CRUISE 72 dBA 72 dBA 76 dBA

*C/D estimate. † stability-control inhibited

Final Results
VEHICLE
RANK

Max Pts. Available

1

2015 Ford Transit 150 Power Stroke

2

2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 BlueTec

3

2014 Ram ProMaster 1500 EcoDiesel

DRIVER COMFORT 10 8 8 4
ERGONOMICS 10 9 8 6
CARGO SPACE* 5 3 5 3
TOWING CAPACITY* 5 4 5 5
FEATURES/AMENITIES* 10 10 10 10
FIT AND FINISH 10 8 8 4
INTERIOR STYLING 10 8 7 5
EXTERIOR STYLING 10 7 6 4
REBATES/EXTRAS* 5 0 0 1
AS-TESTED PRICE* 20 18 18 20
SUBTOTAL 95 75 75 62

POWERTRAIN
1/4-MILE ACCELERATION* 20 20 18 11
FLEXIBILITY* 5 4 2 2
FUEL ECONOMY* 10 9 9 10
ENGINE NVH 10 8 8 5
TRANSMISSION 10 8 8 1
SUBTOTAL 55 49 45 29

CHASSIS
PERFORMANCE* 20 20 19 18
STEERING FEEL 10 7 9 4
BRAKE FEEL 10 8 8 5
HANDLING 10 8 7 5
RIDE 10 8 6 5
SUBTOTAL 60 51 49 37

EXPERIENCE
FUN TO DRIVE 25 13 11 7

GRAND TOTAL 235 188 180 135

* These objective scores are calculated from the vehicle’s dimensions, capacities, rebates and extras, and/or test results.

(caranddriver.com)

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