A new player in the luxury minicoach market is Donegal Commercial Vehicles. We put its first Sprinter to the test
The high-end minicoach market is demanding for both operators and vehicle suppliers. Hirers expect the best, and that filters down the chain. Donegal Commercial Vehicles (DCV) thinks it has what it takes in this sector with a conversion that is new to the UK market.
It is built on the extra-long wheelbase Mercedes-Benz Sprinter VS30, which is extended to a length of 7.93m or 8.07m with a large boot that allows a maximum of 19 seats, or 16 with two tables.
Conversion work is undertaken in Poland by BusConcept. Its annual capacity is 100 units and it is entirely focused on the top of the market. Many options are available and that is why DCV is working with the converter.
“When we decided to enter the minicoach market we did lots of due diligence,” says DCV Managing Director Brendan McDaid.
“That extended first to visiting converters, and then working with BusConcept for some time once its product was chosen.”
Two such minicoaches will be displayed on DCV’s stand at Coach & Bus UK at the NEC Birmingham next week. One will be a 16-seater with tables, and the other will be an 11-seater with captain’s chairs to a 1+1 layout.
On both, DCV has added a leaf to the rear springs. That allows the GVW to be increased to 5,700kg, mitigating concerns about weight and permitting a good amount of luggage to be carried. Work on the springs does not affect the chassis warranty.
Although DCV is based in Ireland, it is a Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles agent. It has access to the full network in both Eire and the UK. If that fails to deal with any problem, DCV will dispatch one of its own technicians to the vehicle.
DCV’s aspirations are modest in terms of initial volumes. General Manager Darragh Kelly says it will be happy with 20-25 Sprinter minicoaches per annum early on, but he does not rule out growing the range later.
BusConcept is onboard with DCV’s plans. Its CEO will be at Coach & Bus UK, and both Brendan and Darragh note that the converter has been proactive as it and DCV collaborated to customise the product to suit right-hand drive markets.
Last week, routeone was able to get an exclusive look at one of DCV’s two initial Sprinters. The 16-seater was put through its paces near Dublin.
High spec standard
A powered plug door is fitted and behind it is a three-stage step. Edges are marked in yellow and with LED downlighting. A courier seat is within the opening, but it can be deleted should the buyer required. Then, a vanity screen will be mounted in its place.
Boarding passengers are greeted with an overall air of quality. Laminate wood-effect flooring comes as standard, but the demonstrator has carpet to the same finish.
The dashboard is covered in stitched carbon fibre effect material, as is the handrail to the left of the door. The steering wheel is trimmed in leather. Leather is also present in the headlining and the walls, where in both locations it is padded and finished with diamond stitching.
Sege seats are fitted, and they are to the middle of three options. The material is a mix of synthetic and real leather and they have side flaps. The more basic seat lacks those flaps, while at the top of the range is the captain’s chair that will be fitted to the second Sprinter.
A roof mounted Webasto air-conditioning unit is fitted and the vehicle has perimeter radiators. The control unit allows the driver to set a desired temperature and leave the system to its own devices, or to tune the fan speed more finely.
Behind the rearmost row of seats, which are on a pedestal, is a bulkhead. It is angled to allow recline. Standard-sized double-glazing is fitted, but panoramic windows can be installed if the customer wishes. DCV is also looking at adding a glazed roof option.
Piece de resistance
One of the most noticeable aspects of the DCV Sprinter is its internal lighting system. It is formed mainly of LEDs.
Twin strips are mounted in the ceiling, as they are within the luggage rack edges, beneath the windowsills and – notably – in the tables. There, strips rise from the floor via the legs before levelling out to continue within the edges.
A remote-control unit is provided that allows an almost unlimited number of colours to be selected for the LEDs. It also has a cycle setting. Both tables also have flip-out reading lights, which are powered from the sidewall USB sockets.
Those charging points are fitted at every row. When an inverter is specified the factory can install 240v sockets. It also offers a shore supply plug-in.
Full-length luggage racks are fitted. They are built specifically for BusConcept and are installed complete. They include compact passenger service units. A quirk of this arrangement means that the driver gets an air-conditioning vent above their head, complementing the dash unit.
Much else is customisable. As fitted the gangway remains at the same height throughout, but it can be raised at the rear to match the flooring beneath the seats there. Alternatively, the entire floor can be lifted to give a universal height throughout.
The drop boot is finished with wood-effect flooring. It delivers over 3m3 of space. Shelving is fitted; the top one is fixed while the lower one can be folded away. Strip lights with a switch are within the boot and a fold-out edge protector is included.
On the outside
Polished wheel liners are fitted to the demonstration vehicle although alloys are available. Colour-coded side skirts and mirror backs are fitted, but the most noticeable external aspect is at the front.
There, the OEM grille and bumper are replaced with a single unit that is exclusive to DCV. While it retains the Sprinter’s general look, it is obviously different, and slightly aggressive in its appearance. That may appeal to buyers who wish to stand out from the pack.
Although standard-sized window openings are used, the converter fits panoramic-style glazing to the exterior.
The side skirts are smaller than those fitted by some other converters. That’s deliberate, says Darragh. It reduces the potential for damage.
For the driver
The VS30 Sprinter is a known quantity. Its driving experience is car-like, helped by Mercedes-Benz’s decision to relocate gear selection to the offside stalk.
What is noticeable is the lack of noise, even when in the driver’s seat. DCV has improved engine insulation and that is apparent when in motion. At the 62mph limited speed the dominant source of decibels is the wind, particularly from the mirrors.
The luggage rack extending into the cab compromises headroom there slightly. A panoramic windscreen can be fitted although the test vehicle does not have one. The seat is retrimmed to match those in the passenger area and DCV will offer an air-sprung option later this year.
The standard reversing camera feeds to the OEM dash screen and the overall appearance of the cab area is in-keeping with the rest of the vehicle, with its extensive use of leather and carbon fibre-effect trim.
As tested the Sprinter has the 2.1-litre OM 651 engine. It develops 163bhp and 360Nm of torque and is coupled to the 7G-Tronic automatic gearbox.
Again, this is a known combination. It offers more than adequate power, although the 3.0-litre OM 642 V6 can be specified. That delivers 191bhp and 440Nm, more than enough for any minicoach.
At 62mph, 2,250rpm is displayed on the tachometer. Because of the extensive soundproofing the Sprinter gives the impression of moving more slowly than it is, so its variable cruise control will come in useful for satisfying speed limits.
The breadth of options available, plus DCV’s focus on the top end of the market, both suggest that there will be a market for this vehicle and its sisters in the UK and Ireland.
In particular, the passenger area is fitted out very nicely. Touches like padded sidewalls and leather headlining, combined with an eye-catching table design, will attract buyers. The lack of rattles when on poor roads suggests that the conversion is done well.
To speed delivery times, DCV will hold stock vans at BusConcept’s plant near Gdansk. They will be converted once an order is placed. DCV currently has four chassis in Poland and two more in production in Germany.
Additionally, it will shortly establish a base in London to support buyers in the South East, and its mobile technicians will be available for the remainder of the country. One has already undergone training in Poland.
“We have experience selling mini and midicoaches in the Irish market on behalf of another importer,” says Brendan. “The DCV Sprinter is not about being cheap. We’re looking at the top of the market with excellent build quality and luxurious trim and options.”
The overall finish level is good, with many small touches that suggest much thought has gone into them. That’s apt, because DCV has also put lots of time and effort into bringing minicoaches here. See them for yourself at Coach & Bus UK on stand B50.