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2007 Dodge Sprinter Review

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A College Reunion on the Road
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

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The view out our south-facing window is spectacular. The hills of south central Kentucky glow with fall color. The Cumberland River winds around and through these wild and scenic hills just as do some of the best driving roads anywhere. We’re perched on a cliff about a hundred feet above the river at the classic DuPont Lodge, a wonderful old structure built from native logs and stone by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. An odd place for an MSU (Michigan State University) college reunion, you say? You’re right. But here we are.

My pretty blonde and her college pals, four other couples of them, have been planning this getaway weekend for more than six months. Seven of these 10 folks roomed together at MSU throughout college in various combinations and some dated one another. I’m still sorting out some of the relationships. Two other fellows and I married into the group. I guess we’re sort of in-laws.

Just after the plans for the trip were finalized last summer I attended the Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep all-product preview at the Chelsea, MI proving grounds where this big, but sleek, freshly redesigned for ’07, 10-passenger Dodge Sprinter van caught my eye. There’s room enough in that thing for us all to travel together, I thought. Wouldn’t that be a hoot? Our benefactors at the New Chrysler thought it would be a good way for me to road test the Sprinter, so they assented to the plan.

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Essentially a Mercedes (Freightliner) -ton unibody platform and badged as a Dodge, the Sprinter is a versatile cargo, chassis-cab or passenger van used most often as a delivery van, work truck, airport shuttle, hauler of anything and, in this case, a nice bus for ten. Assembled in Mannheim, Germany the cargo vans feature three heights with the highest ceilings being 6-foot 3-inches. The cargo versions are shipped in ‘kit’ form to South Carolina for final assembly. Our passenger van features two seats up front for driver and passenger, then three rows for crew – configured three, two, three - with plenty of cargo area behind the third row -the ideal reunion transport. Our 144-inch wheelbase version is the middle of three sizes available for the Sprinter.

We picked up our passengers and their gear early on a warm November Thursday morning and we headed south for this easy 300-mile drive. An unscheduled stop at Gary and Tonya’s house to pick up a special bottle of bourbon delayed us only a little. We brought a very special, commemorative bottle of wine so a special bottle of bourbon would compliment the bar nicely.

The noise inside the Sprinter for the first couple-hundred miles was astounding, with the guys trading jokes in the front and the girls laughing (probably at us) in the rear. In case it wasn’t noisy enough someone bought a best-of Roy Orbison tape when we stopped for brunch at the Cracker Barrel and stuck it in the in-dash, 6-CD changer. The speakers are quite good. Our live sing-alongers get good marks for enthusiasm, but not for carrying a tune.

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Luggage for this motley crew barely filled a third of the cargo area behind the third seat. A few things were stowed under the seats. Without seats the tallest and longest Sprinter, by the way, can hold an amazing 600 cubic-feet of stuff. Gross vehicle weight goes up to over 11,000 pounds and maximum payload is up to 5,649 pounds. In spite of my girth we did not tax the capacity. Towing capacity is a modest 5,000 pounds.

The seven-hour drive was easy in the Sprinter, for both driver and passengers, with stops only for the aforementioned leisurely brunch and one for fuel. I think we’re getting over 20-mpg but we’ll try to calculate later. This 3.0-liter V6 turbo-diesel is not rated for fuel mileage by the EPA because it is essentially a commercial vehicle. It makes only 154 horsepower but generates 280 pound-feet of torque. It feels like plenty with the five speed automatic with manual mode, though we’re not nearly fully loaded.

The insulation inside the Sprinter was equal to the task of softening the initial roar of laughter and roar of off-key singing. Little road noise intruded on the occasionally quiet conversation that followed along this nice freeway cruise – a civilized vehicle, indeed.

The air-suspended driver’s seat is high, vertical and generous with a manual lumbar support and enough adjustments to accommodate my tush. Competition for the identical front passenger seat, or “shotgun” position was intense. Hours of driving did not fatigue me in the least. I just engaged the smooth-acting cruise control with the stalk that seems identical to my pretty blonde’s SLK roadster, rested my feet flat on the floor and felt like I was in a nice, firm living room chair. The tilt steering wheel is rather bus-like in its position but comfortable and easy to manage.

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The Cumberland Falls (KY) State Resort Park encompasses thousands of acres of wilderness with white water rafting, hiking and all the traditional outdoor activities. The falls’ claim to fame, other than being the second largest east of the Mississippi (next only to Niagara) is as the only place in the Western Hemisphere where we can experience a “moon bow,” – literally a rainbow cast by the light of a full moon. My pretty blonde and I have been here many times but never at the right time for the moon bow.

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The next day we left the Sprinter in the parking lot of the DuPont Lodge while we all hiked down the hill to explore the falls and take a big hike. Some of this group are in better physical condition than others. Across the river a trail to Eagle Falls passes high above Cumberland Falls for spectacular views in spite of the minimal fall water flow. A few opted to sit on a woodland bench while some hiked farther down to Eagle Falls. By the time we got back up to the resting place I wished I had stayed behind as well. Then, hiking back we realized that we had to hike all the way back up the hill to the lodge. Well, three of us made that final trek up the winding pavement to the lodge where we fired up the Sprinter and drove back down the hill to gather up the lazy ones.

Before piling back into the Sprinter to head to town for dinner we broke out our special wine for a toast. A domestic pink, we considered it particularly reflective of our college days. You guessed it. We toasted this reunion with a lovely Boones Farm Strawberry Hill.

Dinner at O’Mally’s in Corbin, KY was just the ticket for this motley bunch. We parked the good lookin’ Sprinter on the grass in the theater’s overflow lot so we wouldn’t clog up the busy O’Mally’s lot. I’m amazed at how many looks this thing garners. Getting in and out of the Sprinter was often a challenge for driver and passengers. The huge step from inside to outside make some of us middle-agers groan. The grab handles for the front seats are so high above the door that John, our tall, lanky retired hoops coach who now referees high school ball, could barely reach it. There needs to be a grab handle on the A-pillar about half way up. Additionally, the sliding side door seemed to take an inordinate amount of slam to close – not bad from outside, but rather difficult from the inside.

The din of Karaoke and smells of big food – ribs, catfish, burgers – filled O’Mally’s and we were loud enough to fit in just fine, though we seemed to be the only folks without a southern accent and the only folks not smoking. Walter, a wrinkly old character with scruffy white beard, cowboy hat and shiny-tipped boots, led the singers with his unique style. He was followed by some young folks with fine voices who could manage the tunes beautifully but related not at all with the audience. The bar was packed with a bunch of National Guard folks having a good time before heading for Afghanistan. They received a resounding, and richly deserved, round of applause when introduced.

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Our second day hike needed to be accomplished around the Saturday college football schedule so we took off after breakfast at the lodge, overlooking the scenic river valley, to hike the trail on the far side of the river. This time we drove down the hill so the van would be ready to take us back up. Trail number 10 was reasonably well marked and had no appreciable elevation change as it followed the river. According to the maps we could hike along this trail for 52 miles to a park a couple counties away if we wanted to.

Michigan got whooped by Ohio State and MSU (our Alma matter) beat Purdue. Not a bad way to spend the day. The lodge has satellite service so college football goes on into evening as did the toasting, story telling, eating and laughing.

We tested the Sprinter’s handling and ride characteristics that evening with a drive to a classic small town eatery I had discovered on a previous trip to the area, the Stearns Restaurant in lovely downtown (that’s a semantic stretch) Stearns. Southwest from Cumberland Falls, Highway 90 winds generally toward US 27 the major north/south route through this part of Kentucky. Not far past the Cumberland River, narrow, smooth Highway 700 branches off to the southwest giving us a shortcut to our destination. The complete lack of any shoulder combined with sharp drop offs at pavement’s edge make for no margin of error. The Sprinter swung and swayed through this 15 miles scenic (even after dark) two-lane admirably with surprisingly precise steering and less than expected lean. At the wheel I was impressed. Those in the back however were getting a bit queasy by the time we reached our destination. Since we were driving after dark there was no horizon for anyone to focus on in spite of the intense high-beam, bi-xenon headlights that lit up the country scenes and forests at the road’s edge, so most back there were a tad sea sick. All Sprinters come standard with ABS, traction control, tire pressure monitors, electronic brake force distribution, electronic roll mitigation and dual-stage air bags up front – as much safety and handling control systems as most high-tech automobiles.

I heard no complaints during dinner as I think everyone enjoyed the simple country cooking. Perhaps the sign above the cash register and a take-no-nonsense waitress had something to do with that. The sign read, “There will be a $5 charge for whining!” Before we had all finished ordering the waitress insisted Gary was already $20 in the hole having noted – not really complained - that they were out of corn bread and had no horseradish for the pot roast.

Our 2007 Sprinter 2500 Passenger Van shows a base sticker price of $34,350. Nearly $12,000 worth of options brings the bottom line up to $46,105. A bit pricier than the large Ford and GM competitors the Sprinter has dozens of options to make it useful to anyone. Options on our tester include: a silver metallic paint job for nearly a grand; an in-dash 6-CD changer with good sound system for $515; an accessory group with Bi-xenon headlamps, fog lamps, headlight washers, and a light and rain sensor for $1,705; driver and passenger suspension seats for $285; trailer towing package worth $280; a Security Group including first-aid kit, security alarm auxiliary air bags and air compressor for $1,295; a heavy duty, roof-mounted AC unit listed at $2,450; the Customer Preferred Package with about 15 luxury features at $1,375.

Upgraded a bit for 2008 Sprinter comes standard with 12-passenger seating (2-3-3-4), electronic sliding doors, higher payload, front swivel bucket seats and five roof lamps. It comes in three lengths, three configurations (passenger wagon, cargo van and chassis cab), two engines (gas and diesel) and an amazing variety of options.

Warranty coverage is a minimal 3-year/30,000-mile limited and an admirable 5-year/100,000-miles on the diesel engine components.

For our purposes the Sprinter was a near-perfect ride. Big enough for everyone to move around inside at will, lots and lots of cargo capacity, easy to drive long distances, excellent fuel mileage for such a big vehicle (20-mpg and better), so nice to look at that we kept getting looks of curiosity and a fine sound system even at pumped up volumes.

I’m not sure how readily available the Sprinter passenger van is to rent but we would certainly recommend it for this kind of communal trip use. In fact, it would be ideal for any situation where you need to transport lots of folks at once, even for long distances.

Great ride! Thanks New Chrysler.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved