I seems it's becoming my annual spring routine to check for progress on being able to get a US Sprinter 4x4. Well, unlike in previous years, it looks like something is finally moving. I'm writing down my findings and thoughts in the hope to get feedback and other points of view.
The point of the 4x4 for me is to travel around the western deserts on jeep roads. Nothing extreme, no boulder climbing stuff. But I also don't want to get stuck in a sand drift or in a muddy creek crossing. Well, 4x4 doesn't really guarantee that either, but it sure helps...
So it seems there's one system currently purchasable: Salem Kroger's conversion. The details have been listed in another thread. It uses a New Venture 271 transfer case, a Dana 60 front axle from a F350, and some more F350 components. Starting price around $18k incl new wheels and tires. What I like is that it's available now. I don't know what to think of replacing the front axle wrt driving behavior. While the 4x4 stuff is clearly not of MB origin, I'd bet that if I break down in the desert somewhere I can get someone to expertly fix the Dana 60 much faster and much more expertly than any MB approved, certified, manufactured or whatnot components. If something stock fails in the van, well, then the Dodge shop may give me some hassle over the warranty, and that's a concern. The major issue I have is what happens to the ESP. Salem Kroger reuses the ABS incl. sensors so, as Craig writes, the ESP thinks everything is stock, but clearly the drive geometry has changed. There doesn't seem to be enough info around to be able to tell whether or how much that matters in practice.
Next in line is Sportsvans hoping to be in production in july with the Oberaigner 4x4 kit. The big plus is that this is the system that is sold/approved by MB in Europe. It's also the system that modifies the Sprinter the least and integrates ESP with their 4ETS, which uses the ABS brakes to stop a spinning wheel instead of using lockable differentials. While the front suspension isn't modified, it is raised, the suspension reinforced, etc, so there must be some change in driving behavior I assume. I can't tell how strong the front ends up being and how it compares in that respect with a Dana 60.
From reading about the MB G wagens and the ML class, it seems clear to me that while 4ETS and no lockable differentials works great at speed on the road, it also seems clear that it's not good for boulder climbing, primarily because it requires too much wheel velocity before it kicks in. (Note that the G has diff locks in addition to 4ETS and the new ML now has them as option as well.) Not sure how my expected usage fares with 4ETS. (Note that the all-time Oberaigner 4wd does have the option to lock the center diff, but I'mmore interested in the part-time system for fuel economy.) Price is expected to be a bit taller than Salem Kroger's as far as I can tell.
Then comes Sportsmobile using a Dynatrac set-up. I haven't really found any technical details on this. A recent email from Sportsmobile said they're "9-12 months out". I expect the result to be similar in principle to the Salem Kroger conversion, but probably with somewhat higher-end components. From the sound of their email, they a trying to get better integration with ESP. It also sounds like they will be higher cost.
Finally, there's a post on the sprinter-source forum (http://sprinter-source.com/forum/showthread.php?t=2834
) of someone who claims to have gotten a quote for 2009 Dodge sprinter that includes "Four-wheel drive - Selectable 4x4 drive system with additional low ratio feature. $12,400". No idea what to make of that.
In the end timing, trust in 4ETS, and trust in sportsvans look like some of the big question marks. On a slow trail, predictable diff locks seem to win out over 4ETS. On the repair side, even if Salem Kroger went under tomorrow I have a guarantee for plenty of parts and expertise availability. Dunno what things would be like if sportsvans pulls out of the US again in a year or two; would I have to order spares from SA or Germany and find a soul who's capable of doing the work? Even if they're doing well, how fast do I get parts to California and who has any experience working on the components?
All in all the situation is still too confused for me to shell out $90k right now (and I'm too busy with some other things too). It seems like there's light at the end of the tunnel, but it's not 100% clear how long the tunnel still is...
Thoughts, corrections, additions?