When it comes to buying a light truck, are you feeling European in your tastes? Do the options available from the factories of Italy, France, Germany and Turkey tempt your tastebuds in the quest for comfort, practicality, fuel economy and safety, or would you be better off with Australia’s favourite light truck standby, the products of Japan?
Admittedly, there are options available from China, but Delivery Magazine is unable to recommend heading anywhere down that road until the Chinese manufacturers realise that to sell in Australia, you have to invest in Australia.
The European and Japanese manufacturers know what it means to support their products in the Australian market, with factory-backed representation and consequently a well invested customer service and support strategy, together with parts stocking and consequent availability. Not surprisingly, that investment relates to resale value, something that also doesn’t currently apply in any way, shape or form with the Chinese brands.
In this editorial feature we look solely to Europe, reserving our focus on Japan’s finest trio of Fuso, Hino and Isuzu for our next issue.
In the cab/chassis world of the Europeans, you can take your pick from single-cab and dual-cab versions. In the single-cab stakes we have competition from Ford with the Transit, Iveco with the Daily, Mercedes-Benz with the Sprinter, Renault with the Master and Volkswagen with the Transporter.
There are strong options in this highly competitive market segment with all of the brands offering a dual-cab alternative, usually with four seats across the second row and a choice of two or three in the front, including the driver.
VW appears to have discontinued its Crafter cab/ chassis option until the arrival of the new Crafter. Since the Dieselgate scandal hit the international press, Volkswagen, especially in Australia, has decided not to discuss plans and products with the specialist media, preferring to entertain the lifestyle media and avoid hard questioning about the company’s current public relations catastrophic behaviour. Meanwhile, Fiat Professional has withdrawn its chassis/cab version of the Ducato from its Australian line-up completely.
Forget the suggestion of buying petrol power in this section of the light truck market, as nearly everything comes with a four-cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled, Euro 5 emissions compliant diesel engine. The exception is the higher output option from Mercedes-Benz that is produced by its V6 diesel version.
Until now, the odd ones out of the group that didn’t offer an automatic transmission were Ford with the Transit and Volkswagen with the Crafter. By the time you read this, Ford will be preparing to launch an automatic transmission into the Transit model range, something that’s been long awaited by the dealers and customers loyal to the Blue Oval. Volkswagen, meanwhile, will be pinning its hopes on the next-generation Crafter, complete with the choice of an auto transmission, but probably not available until 2018 for our market.
Automatic transmissions do vary in the way they operate, with those on offer being either automated manual gearboxes (AMT) where the electronics effectively change the gears for you by selecting the different ratios in what is based on a standard manual gearbox, or a traditional fluid automatic, which has a torque converter.
Ford will offer a six-speed auto, Iveco an eight-speed auto, Mercedes-Benz a five-speed auto and Renault a six-speed auto it calls the Quick-Shift.
The Ford auto will be transaxle based for front-wheel-drive, and come with a torque converter, while both Iveco and Mercedes-Benz go for rear-wheel-drive and an in-line fluid automatic transmission with torque converter. In Iveco’s case it’s a ZF unit, and for Benz it’s the five-speed auto that precedes the 7G-TRONIC that’s available in the van range. Renault hops back into front-wheel-drive with a six-speed AMT. For Volkswagen in the Transporter, the move to an automatic transmission brings with it the dual-clutch DSG.
In terms of manual transmission options, all of the brands have six-speeds, returning the driver to the days of depressing the clutch to change the ratios.
POWER AND PERFORMANCE
When Ford introduces its upgrades mid-year, expect a change from the current 2.2-litre diesel to the newer EcoBlue 2.0-litre TDCI engine.
Available in Euro 6 emissions standard, it’s more fuel-efficient than the 2.2-litre it replaces and is available in Europe in three different power outputs – 77 kW and 360 Nm, 95 kW and 385 Nm, or 125 kW and 405 Nm.
Mercedes-Benz offers two choices of engine performance for the Sprinter cab/chassis, with its 2.1-litre diesel producing 120 kW at 3800 rpm and 360 Nm at 1400-2400 rpm, or its 3.0-litre with 140 kW at 3800 rpm and 440 Nm rated at 1600-2600 rpm. The higher output being from a V6 diesel rather than a four-cylinder in-line design.
Iveco standardises on 3.0-litre capacity, with a power output through the model range of 125 kW at 2900-3500 rpm and peak torque of 430 Nm rated at 1500-2600 rpm.
Back to France, and with the Renault Master you’ll be looking at a 2.3-litre, four-cylinder, transverse-mounted engine driving the front wheels and producing 120 kW at 3500 rpm and 360 Nm rated at 1500 rpm.
Volkswagen’s buyers in Australia currently only have one choice, that of the Transporter, but it comes in single-cab or dual-cab and with either a TDI340 four-cylinder diesel with 103 kW at 3500 rpm and 340 Nm at 1750-2500 rpm, or the TDI400 engine with 132 kW at 4000 rpm and a torque rating of 400 Nm rated at 1500-2000 rpm.
The temporary demise of the Crafter came about after co-habiting the same production lines in Germany, with Sprinter and Crafter emerging almost identical other than badging, engine and driveline. Mercedes-Benz wanted extra production capacity for its Sprinter and kicked Volkswagen out of bed.
The German management for Volkswagen then forged a Siamese-twin development for a new van with MAN, now an integral part of Volkswagen Heavy Commercial vehicle division. The result, as seen last year in September at the IAA Show in Hanover, is a stand-alone product that is now being built in a new VW factory near Poznan in Poland, close to the factory that produces the Caddy.
In hindsight, the resultant distancing between Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen was exceedingly timely for Mercedes-Benz, given the ensuing lies, cheating and misrepresentation of the facts relating to exhaust emissions compliance by Volkswagen on a global perspective. Although the fines and penalties are being applied now, identifying the senior management that approved the misrepresentation at the highest levels in the corporate bureaucracy is proving more difficult that catching a slippery fish.
CHASSIS AND WHEELBASE CONFIGURATION
Ford offers the single-cab or dual-cab/chassis with a GVM of 4490 kg, while Iveco Daily comes in eight different cab and chassis configurations, covering single and dual-cabs, with long wheelbases and extra-long wheelbases, and GVMs that range from 4495 kg, keeping things street legal for those with car drivers’ licences, and moving up to peak at 7000 kg.
Those with light rigid licences can have their Daily plated up from 4495 kg to 5000 kg or 5200 kg, dependent on the model selected. For those in a hurry with lots to carry, why not take a closer look at the Daily 70C17, which, in either single-cab or dual-cab comes in with a GVM of 6700 kg but boasts 140 kW and 440 Nm of torque.
It’s this Daily version that’s proving such a success with horsey types pulling fifth-wheeler horse floats, or with grey nomads that might like to haul something that resembles their previous bricks and mortar home around the nation. It’s also the only model to our knowledge that offers either airbag rear suspension or a locking rear differential, getting you along the road in greater comfort over the smooth bitumen, while being able to extract your vehicle and trailer from the rough and slippery bits.
The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter line-up offers medium wheelbases and long wheelbases, GVMs of 3550 kg ranging to 4490 kg, and, again, the option of uprating the GVM to 5000 kg.
With Mercedes-Benz you get access to a suite of safety features that needs to be considered by any purchaser. You will be driving a vehicle combination that has very different braking and roadholding performance from the family car, and in-built safety features can make you a lot safer.
Before buying your European piece of practicality, you have to make some serious informed decisions about the intended use. Having the right length of chassis means being able to choose the exact type of bodywork you need for the type of work you plan to do.
All of these models will take a flat-top, a drop-side, a pantech or a fridge body. You could even add a motorhome from one of the custom builders.
If you do want to tow a gooseneck fifth-wheeler you’ll have to pick one of the medium-wheelbase versions with the higher output engines, that’s if you don’t want to be a road block on the highway to everyone else’s future destination.
If you want a tray body, it’s for you to decide whether to have aluminium or steel or even wooden floors, if you want cargo tie-down points located in the tray, rope rails under the tray on each side, tool lockers on one or both sides, a water tank and washing facilities hanging under the tray or even a hydraulic tail lift.
If you are in landscaping or a local garden nursery type of business you can have the body designed as an end-over tipper, or get really clever and choose a three-way tipper body that, as its name suggests, tips over the end but also from either side on demand.
Currently only offered as a direct factory fitment by Iveco on the Daily, the three-way tipper saves time and effort for those dropping material in restricted spaces, such as parks and gardens where your access is along footpaths.
If you like painting tall buildings, or working on replacing guttering to such an extent that you want to carry a selection of ladders around, then remember to add a ladder rack, front and rear. If you don’t like lifting ladders up to the rail, take a look at the Milford ladder loading system that takes out all the strain and effort when loading up top.
If you need help in the bodywork area, or with load retention systems for pipework, ladders or cables, our best advice would be to talk with the techies at Triple M Truck Bodies.
These clever people are devoutly keen on providing solutions to your cargo problems, they also manufacture pretty much most of the trays supplied direct from the manufacturer with a body already fitted.
Bear in mind though that many of the standard bodies are price point sensitive, with the vehicle dealerships tending to offer options that start at the lower cost end of the spectrum.
If you want extra-length trays, deeper drop sides, additional lights, reverse cameras and proximity sensors, warning beacons, extra-strong rear window protection or a multitude of other options, Triple M Truck Bodies at Stapylton, on the QLD/NSW border, are the ones to ask.
If it’s a box body you are after, with a big tailgate and very shallow loading ramp into the rear, talk to Motexion of Arndell Park, in Sydney. Their City Box body makes use of every possible piece of available space and is ideal for light furniture deliveries, due to the low loading height.
Motexion is officially recommended by Renault for the supply of the City Box on the Renault Master cab/chassis. It’s another great product and typifies some of the options available for buyers of light trucks.
Make your decisions about whether you want automatic transmissions or manual, and whether out of that decision you understand the differences between an AMT and an auto with a torque converter. Also make sure that you have enough seats, and decide whether you need a bench front passenger seat or individual buckets.
If you want to option up your seating, most of the manufacturers offer fully-suspended driver and passenger seats that iron out the bumps on a long distance journey.
In terms of safety, check the number of SRS airbags on board, cruise control, auto stop/start, advanced traction control and stability control, whether you like the onboard sat/nav and how easy is it to pair your phone and use the touchscreen. In our experience, not all the voice-activated systems will actually speak your dialect or recognise your accent, even if you have been speaking English from birth.
When you buy a light truck you get to choose the additions and inclusions. That’s what makes all the difference, compared to walking in to a car dealership and selecting the colour. It’s all part of the ownership experience, but if you choose the right options it will make your day easier.
In Delivery Magazine’s June issue, you’ll be able to discover how most of these cab/chassis alternatives compared in our annual light commercial of the year test programme. Stay tuned, and we hope to bring you all the answers.