Delivery compares the European single-cab/chassis options and finds solid reasons to include light trucks on your shopping list
Ask any ute buyer what’s on offer at replacement time and they’ll come back with HiLux, Navara, Triton, D-MAX or any of the major Japanese-style one-tonners. Some might add VW’s Amarok and others ask about whether the Chinese and Indian manufacturers are worth taking a look at.
If that’s where the thought processes stop in your world, then it’s time to broaden horizons and think European rather than confining your selection criteria solely to Japanese design and Thailand manufacturing.
Now is the time to look a little higher up in the weight range and consider the possible benefits of options available in the light-truck category, and, in particular, the products from Europe.
Fiat Ducato, Ford Transit, IVECO Daily, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Renault Master and Volkswagen Crafter and Transporter are all now available to order, configured as a single-cab fitted with a factory tray in either aluminium or steel.
Forget the concept of payloads around one tonne, these are higher rated with GVMs up to 5,000 kg, although once you head over the 4,500 kg GVM level your driver will need a light rigid driver’s licence.
For courier work, a two-tonne payload adds carrying capacity, but also flexibility in the type of work than can be tackled. There’s more deck length and width available for slotting in multiple pallet loads, and with drop-sides and rope rails it’s easier to add safety and security to the load through whatever tie-down choice you might make.
The driver will find a major difference when climbing into a Euro light truck rather than a traditional one-tonner. For starters, access is a step up rather than a slide in, and the driving position is consequently a lot higher. The benefit here is a superior driving position that gives a better view of the traffic movement ahead. Planning your position for gaining the best advantage of traffic flow is therefore easier.
Comfort levels are also higher, thanks to seat makers such as ISRI that produce seats more akin to those fitted in larger line-haul and intrastate trucks. Ergonomics, or the art of making sure the driver can see all instruments and reach all controls, while maintaining good posture, are also created to a much higher level.
For the majority of Euro contenders we are looking at 2WD rather than 4WD, although there are some options of all-wheel-drive available that don’t necessarily include a low ratio derivative. Think here of VW and the 4MOTION Transporter, or Mercedes-Benz and the Sprinter, as they are available with an all-wheel-drive system that will provide surer-footed safety, especially for those delivering in the ski season to snowbound resorts.
With a particular lack of manufacturer focus in promoting single cab, tray back, light trucks, VW’s Transporter may only be available to special order and is the smallest of the larger models in this category. The next step up the ladder, with Ford’s Transit, Renault’s Master, VW’s Crafter, the MB Sprinter and IVECO Daily, are all roughly the same size as far as cab dimensions are concerned.
With a new Ford Transit on the verge of being launched into the Australian market, there’s little point including the current model, and, at the time of writing, its manufacturer was not quite sure of the final spec for the new arrival.
Mercedes-Benz doesn’t offer a single-cab version of the Vito to rival the Transporter, so this product level is left solely to VW. Sprinter, on the other hand, is available as a single cab, but until the engine emissions requirements trigger the shift to Euro 6, buyers of the cab/chassis will have to accept only a six-speed manual or five-speed auto and not the 7G-TRONIC auto that’s available already in the vans.
Volkswagen loses its Crafter in 2016, only to find a stated replacement under a joint venture with fellow German manufacturer, MAN. Until then, it’s a six-speed manual gearbox that’s available, with no auto alternative.
Fiat, Renault and IVECO each offer six-speed manual and six-speed auto options, but the auto is actually an automated manual rather than a fluid automatic. In heavy traffic Delivery far prefers the full-fluid option for its additional smoothness. If you spend your day on freeways you will be fine with the AMT alternative.
Buyers in this segment will need to have a greater involvement in the overall purchase than they would when buying a ute. There’s a choice of wheelbase lengths, and this dictates the available cargo-deck length. Higher weight carrying potential adds dual wheels to the rear axle rather than singles.
From a power and torque perspective, all the contenders have diesel engines, with turbocharging and intercooling. With capacities around 2.3 litres, the power output is in the region of 96 kW at 3,600 rpm, and offering a torque rating of 320 Nm at 1,800 rpm for the Fiat, increasing to 3.0 litres and 125 KW with 400 Nm for the IVECO. Capacities are 2.3 litres for Renault with 110 kW and 350 Nm, 2.0 litres and 80-120 kW with 300-400 Nm for VW, or 120-140 kW with 360-440 Nm for Sprinter.
Safety levels are generally comparable, and with these models you can expect to find airbags for the driver and passenger, traction control, stability control, electronic brake force distribution, and trailer sway control. Three-point lap/sash seat belts are the norm for all seats, and there genuinely is enough room across the cab for a full-sized passenger dual seat. If you really tick all the options boxes you might come home with auto headlamps, auto windscreen wipers, Xenon high intensity headlamps, and even cornering lamps that shine into the depth of the bends. Try ticking the suspension seat box for the driver if you value the ultimate ride comfort. Also available is integral Sat/Nav and higher-level audio systems.
The other big benefit in these larger cabins is that of storage. There’s usually plenty of it, in door pockets, across the top of the windscreen and in dashboard lockers. Renault is currently the cleverest, with a swivel table in the rear panel of the centre passenger seat on which to pivot a laptop. Ford has similarly clever interiors in next-generation Transit, details of which will appear in our April issue.
Pricing comes in from a start base of $45,000 and elevates to $60,000, and, while this might sound on the high side, you need to look at the current pricing structure of one-tonners before you start complaining too loudly.
This year it will be interesting to see if this segment grows against the one-tonners, and if safety and comfort becomes a higher priority. Remember to do the maths comparing deck space and payload before complaining about purchase price, as the increased versatility and improved productivity might swing you in favour of a European dream.