Mountain bike champ Brian Lopes takes his Dodge Sprinter just about everywhere. It hauls his bikes and provides a place to relax.
Meet mountain biking's answer to Lance Armstong. Brian Lopes has been the dominant force in the sport for the last 15 years, pulling in nine national titles, five World Cups and three World Championships. Basically, he's almost always the first down the mountain. And once he gets to the bottom, Lopes stows his bike in the garage of his customized Dodge Sprinter and then kicks back in the Dodge Sprinter's living space until the next race.
Why he loves to Ride: "The competition pays the bills — and yeah, I'm a competitive person. But getting out there and riding on
different terrain and discovering new places, it's why I can't wait to get back on my bike. And when you're going to a mountain or riding on a new trail, it's almost like a video game; it's all quick, instant reaction. You have to maneuver as fast as possible. It's just such a rush. I can't get enough of that."
Why he loves his Dodge Sprinter: "It's perfect for me. I've got my garage in the back for all my toys — my bikes and motorcycles and everything. And up front there's enough space to stay comfortably for a few days on the road or just a trip out to some nearby trails with friends. I've got a fridge to keep drinks cold. I've got beds to sleep. I've got a place to change after a race. And it's big enough that I can keep an extra set up whatever I need inside. There's even a spot for my dog."
Many motorhome enthusiasts find it hard to justify the expense of a full-size motorhome that's used only a few times a year, much less one that gets between 6 and 9 mpg. Sportsmobile may have the answer. Based on the Dodge 2500/Mercedes-Benz-built van used in Europe and now imported to the United States by Daimler Chrysler, Sportsmobile's Sprinter has a standard 2.7-liter, five-cylinder Mercedes-Benz diesel with a five-speed automatic transmission that averages more than 21 mpg.
The chassis features standard independent front suspension, rack-and-pinion steering, four-wheel disc brakes with BS/ASR (traction control), and driver/front-passenger air bags. With a turning radius of only 44.6 feet, it has the maneuverability of a passenger car (compare to a Ford Crown Victoria at 40.3 feet). A variety of floor plans are offered, or the buyer can design his or her own, so the price will vary from that of our test unit, with limited options.
On The Road
The first thing you'll notice when you climb behind the wheel of the Sprinter is its European genetics. If you've ever been inside a contemporary European car, you'll be instantly familiar with design cues that
could perplex owners of American products. For example, "universal" markings are used on almost all of the controls (you know, those little symbols that are supposed to tell you what the thing does), and the placement of the controls is comparatively unorthodox.The shifter is mounted on the dash, and instead of the power door-lock button being mounted
on the door handle, there is one button on the dash that controls the locking and unlocking of all doors.
But once you grow accustomed to those peculiarities, you start to notice the truly well-conceived aspects of the cockpit, like the analog speedometer, tachometer and gauges that are large and easily seen through the arc of the steering wheel. The cloth seats, though appearing rather austere, are almost infinitely adjustable and very comfortable. The cruise control, which consists of a small lever just behind and above the turn-signal stalk, makes it easy to adjust speed without looking at the controls. And there's another handy feature:
adjustable headlights. Owing to the van's commercial background, there's a switch at the driver's left side that allows the brilliant headlights to be aimed up or down several degrees in order to compensate for heavy or light loads.
We would not say that driving the Sprinter is like driving any full-size van, because it isn't - it's better. Stability is superb, and the coach is virtually unaffected by high winds and the bow wave of passing trucks. Steering input is similar to that of a European sedan, with excellent feedback and on-center feel. Likewise, the anti-lock-equipped brakes are strong and predictable and exhibit no signs of fade under hard braking.
The Mercedes-Benz five-cylinder engine clatters away contentedly at low speeds, and gearing is properly matched to provide adequate get-up-and-go from stoplights, freeway on ramps and the like. Don't expect to win any races: our Sportsmobile Sprinter averaged 20 seconds from zero to 60 mph. That's something we can live with however - especially when you consider we obtained an incredible 21.1 mpg combined city/highway driving. For drivers who prefer a compact motorhome for its fuel economy, the Sportsmobile Sprinter will set a new standard.
At highway speeds, the diesel's sound is barely audible as the Sportsmobile Sprinter's aerodynamic shape slices through the air. There is very little wind noise, and even though this was Sportsmobile's first prototype on this chassis, there were very few squeaks or rattles.
Overall, we had few complaints with the driver's compartment with a couple of exceptions. The sun visors, though large and effective when the sun is in front of you, don't swivel to the side as they do on most contemporary vehicles. And the entryway from the living area to the cockpit could use some padding; we banged our heads here a few times. Sportsmobile is addressing both areas. The vehicle has good load capacity for its size (1,514 pounds) and is designed to carry five adults.
Living in a Sportsmobile Sprinter is just as pleasurable as driving it. Our test motorhome was one of Sportsmobile's most popular floor plans, which features a streetside galley and a rear couch/storage area that folds into a comfortable double bed. The galley countertop features a two-burner stove and a sink, below which are a trash receptacle, an optional microwave oven, a 12-volt DC 3-cubic-foot refrigerator, a large storage drawer and a cabinet for the optional portable toilet.
Overhead storage cubbies allow room for small items like spices, while a large slide-out pantry to the left can easily accommodate canned goods, cereal and the like. Another storage cabinet is located curbside, just inside the sliding doorway. This is a good place to keep additional foodstuffs, plates, napkins and other supplies. It also serves as a nice staging area for plates of food that are to be taken outside for al fresco dining under the optional crank-out awning.
Moreover, the Sportsmobile Sprinter is loaded with thoughtful details that are the result of the company's 45 years in the Class B motor-home business. For example, a cabinet on the streetside of the sofa-bed arrangement houses an optional 9-inch color television with DVD player that slides out on a tray and can be swiveled toward the rear or the front of the coach. Aft of this cabinet is a roomy wardrobe, which is accessible either from the sofa-bed area or from behind the coach with the rear doors open. That is handy for those times when you don't want to track dirt indoors just to grab a jacket.
Above the sofa-bed area is another overhead storage compartment, which likewise can be accessed from the rear doors. Underneath the sofa is a large drawer that is perfect for storing sheets and blankets. And there's a pass-through underneath that allows the owner to push long items, such as skis, into the coach from the rear.
The Sportsmobile Sprinter can be used for dry camping, but is designed for campsites with at least partial hookups. With a portable toilet, no separate waste tank is needed, and gray-water capacity is limited. In this particular model, hookups are needed to operate an electric heater because a furnace is optional. A water heater is also optional.
The Sportsmobile Sprinter we tested lacked some typical self-contained amenities, but Sportsmobile offers options that can equip the coach with all the features wanted for individual tastes. If you find the idea of an affordable, economical coach that can double as a second car appealing, the Mercedes-powered Sportsmobile Sprinter is a very strong contender.