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April 17 2017
By Tim Deakin

Tim is the Senior Journalist at routeONE magazine is also the title’s chief test driver, with considerable vehicle knowledge

Evolution of Sprinter on show with EvoBus

Competition among convertors of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is keen, and wholly-owned Daimler subsidiary EvoBus (UK) has ramped up its efforts there recently. We take a closer look 

Coventry-based EvoBus (UK), a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler, is on a roll, and strong interest in its Sprinter minicoaches and minibuses – which are factory converted in Dortmund – is one of the reasons why.

The importer supplies a comprehensive range of Sprinters. Its line-up extends from the accessible Mobility 23, built on a 3,500kg GVW base vehicle, to cost-effective 22-seat people movers, high-end luxury minicoaches and the low-floor City 45 minibus, all on 5,000kg GVW models.

It’s a competitive market, so why eschew third-party bodybuilders and convertors and go with EvoBus?

“In our conversions we carry over as much from the Mercedes-Benz range of full-size coaches and buses as possible,” says Director Mercedes-Benz Sales Marcus Watts.

“The main benefit for buyers is that when they take a Sprinter from EvoBus, they purchase a complete vehicle from one source.  Parts – a window, an armrest or a brake pad – can be obtained via the operator’s nearest Mercedes-Benz commercial dealer and there are no doubts about availability.

“Mercedes-Benz is a huge organisation and that gives certainty. Dealers order parts by entering the chassis number into an online portal. Every vehicle and every component is on a central database.”

Additionally, the warranty process is simple thanks to EvoBus’s Sprinters being sold as complete vehicles. “Two years’ coverage is standard, with one or two additional years available at an extra cost. The warranty that we provide is bumper-to-bumper and with one point of contact.”

Mobility for all

EvoBus’s Sprinter conversion range is almost as extensive as can be imagined.

Accessible needs are covered by the Mobility range, beginning with the Mobility 23. It’s a niche high-floor minibus that, like its bigger brothers the Mobility 35 and the Mobility 45, comes with a tracked floor and a wheelchair lift. Buyers choose a plug-type or a powered sliding entry door.

The Mobility 23 lacks a flat floor. Seats by the wheel arches tip and fold against the side wall, and two wheelchair users can be carried. Importantly, in many cases the Mobility 23 may be driven on a category B licence.

The Mobility 35 and Mobility 45 do have flat floors. Both are on 5,000kg base vehicles; the Mobility 35 is a long-wheelbase model and the Mobility 45 is an extra-long-wheelbase (XLWB) example. They can carry up to five and six wheelchair users respectively.

“We find that the 45 is the most popular member of the Mobility range,” says Marcus. “For example, in community transport applications, it has more room for shopping bags and other items.”

As with all Sprinters, the Mobility range is available with engine ratings of 129, 163 and 191bhp. The 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic gearbox is the most popular choice across the board, but a six-speed manual option is available. The automatic gives slightly better fuel returns, however.

City 45 on the street

Attracting attention at the moment is the Sprinter City 45, a partially low-floor minibus that is PSVAR-compliant and is thus suitable for registered service work.

That’s exactly what 30 City 45s are being used on by Stagecoach in Ashford. Based on feedback from the operator, two updated demonstrators have recently arrived with EvoBus, and they include several improvements over the initial batch.

While these changes are driven by Stagecoach and its cab committee, any customer may order City 45s to the upgraded specification.

It includes USB charging points, twin powered roof hatches, a door interlock, a handbrake not applied warning, improved cash tray and ticket mounting points, a revised anti-assault screen, and an additional mirror to allow better monitoring of the wheelchair bay.

“The City 45 specification is evolving,” says Marcus. “We worked to understand what Stagecoach required. We made some changes to the earlier vehicles in the UK, but that’s no longer necessary; those improvements have been productionised.

“In the new demonstrators, all of the additional equipment has been fitted in Dortmund. We pushed the factory to expand what it can do with the City 45 and we are happy to see that it has taken that on-board.”

Present in the demonstrators are EvoBus’s own seats. They are more compact than those in the minibuses supplied to Stagecoach and are what EvoBus advises operators to specify. They are identical to those in the Citaro bus, have additional padding and are finished in artificial leather.

“The City 45 is an entirely different concept to the Mobility, Transfer and Travel ranges,” continues Marcus, who earlier this year outlined his belief that there is a significant and as yet largely untapped market for urban minibuses.

“It has to mesh with ‘big bus’ methodology, and with the latest alterations, I believe that it does exactly that.”

Minicoach choices

Two ranges of Sprinter minicoaches are offered by EvoBus: The cost-effective Transfer, and the more luxurious Travel.

Starting at the top, the Travel 45 is an XLWB conversion that seats up to 19 passengers. In that configuration a reasonably-sized drop boot is included, and Marcus says that EvoBus is the only supplier able to deliver drop boot-equipped Sprinters that can tow a trailer.

There is a further trick to increase luggage space, however. The penultimate row of three seats can be removed entirely, and the back four unbolted and moved forwards to take up the slack.

While doing so reduces capacity to 16, it opens up a cavernous space at the rear, and EvoBus can supply a luggage partition if required.

A wide variety of optional fittings are available on the Travel 45, including charging points, while seats are intended to mirror those in the full-size Tourismo. As an indication of what is possible, an order has been taken for a Travel 45 that will function as a mobile conference room.

Complementing the Travel 45 is the Transfer 45. It is the same shell, but it can carry 22 passengers in less luxurious seats, which are easily removed; a shorter Transfer 35 is also available.

“The Transfer 45 was popular among visitors to Euro Bus Expo last year, and 22 seats is a useful number on shorter distance work,” says Marcus. “We are also becoming more flexible than ever, with buyers challenging us. We then pass those challenges on to the factory, which is responding.”

The wildcard

One such interesting adaption of the Transfer 45 has seen it morph into a dedicated school minibus, with a host of additional safety kit. EvoBus currently has a demonstrator available, finished in high-visibility yellow.

“This project appeals to schools and operators of school minibuses that take safety very seriously,” says Marcus. “The vehicle has blind spot assistance, additional roll bars and headlight main beam assistance, and it also has a destination display and a powered passenger door.”

EvoBus accepts that the school minibus may prove beyond the reach of some educational establishments, but it represents good value at around £56,000 plus VAT. Buyers are also able to deselect elements as they see fit.

Fuel efficiency as standard

Like members of the City, Mobility, Transfer and Travel ranges, the school minibus promises excellent fuel consumption; the City 45 returns around 23mpg, while minicoaches used on higher-speed duties record up to 27mpg.

Additionally, says Marcus, those examples that are on low-speed urban work pose no concerns about diesel particulate filter (DPF) cleaning. The 2.2-litre four-cylinder engine naturally runs very hot, and so sufficient heat is transferred to the DPF to burn off particulate matter.

“We believe that the Sprinter is the most attractive option for minibus and minicoach applications, and at EvoBus we have a range of conversions that can meet all needs,” he adds. “In addition, there is a comprehensive layer of backup behind our products and that is one of the reasons that they are proving so popular.”

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