Medium well-done

An impressive field of mainly-Euro mid-sized load carriers gave the Delivery Magazine Medium Van of the Year judges plenty to think about.

 

Judgment Day

Stuart Martin delivers his adjudication

Mercedes-Benz Vito 114 – Second

It’s the most expensive here – although the IVECO gets close – but given the standard safety features and its composure on the road there’s an argument for the extra cash being worth considering. The four-cylinder puts 100 kW and 330 Nm and that’s by no means the best here, but, when putting it through the (admittedly optional) seven-speed auto to the rear wheels (there are front-drive models as well), it is an effective load-lugger.

A safety-features list that includes crosswind and driver attention systems, as well as the option of a collision warning system, puts the price in perspective. The
liftgate rear door can be optioned to barn doors but it does have sliding doors on both sides as standard. The cabin space is good and the dashboard is inherited from superseded Mercedes-Benz passenger vehicles, but it is still one of the better LCV interiors around.

 

Renault Trafic – My First Choice

This French workhorse in L1H1 dCi 140 guise needs an auto option, but, that said, the manual is a nice gearbox to use. The ride is typically Euro-firm, like the VW and Benz, but has a compliant attitude that makes the Renault less prone to crash through larger bumps than the others, as well as being quieter and less fussy over the smaller imperfections.

Its clever cabin space is functional and easy enough to use, with a features list worth mentioning – auto headlights, auto wipers, rear camera, rear sensors and climate control are just a few of the things absent from some of its key opposition here. With 103 kW and 340 Nm from the small twin-turbo, the gearbox will need to be worked if the one-tonne payload (loaded through vertically-split rear doors or the kerbside-only sliding door) is being utilised, but it does what is asked of it in comfortable style.

 

Hyundai iLoad – My Third Choice

The Korean vehicle maker has come forward in leaps and bounds, and the iLoad is further evidence of that. It has an easy-access cabin, easy to read dash and functionality, as well as an honest drivetrain. It’s not got as many ratios as the IVECO, but it has almost as much grunt.

With 125 kW/441 Nm working through a five-speed auto, it is deceptively flexible, but on the noisy side. Road noise is a little intrusive through the rear cargo area, which claims a genuine one-tonne payload loaded through rear lift gate (vertical split barn doors are optional) or dual sliding side doors.

It’s generally a decent ride, although the mid-corner ‘yump’ on the test loop unsettled the rear enough to have the stability control waking up, which suggests the commercial side of Hyundai’s range would benefit from time in the hands of the chassis gurus looking after the passenger vehicles.

 

Ford Transit

The Transit name has been a staple part of the van brigade, and there’s plenty about it to like – ride and handling manners are up there with the top of the segment, taking the bumps on the freeway section and the mid-corner dip with reasonable grace. It does push the nose wide when pushed too hard, but is car-like to drive during general duties.

With no automatic options available, the pleasant shifting manual is a blessing from the momentum point of view, as the gearbox gets a workout to keep the Transit on the go. A one-tonne payload within the 6.0-cubic-metre loadspace (which is around the mark) is accessed by a kerbside sliding and barn rear doors, but gets only 92 kW and 350 Nm to push it along.

 

Volkswagen Transporter

Volkswagen’s updated T6 was expected to perform, and it did – the 103 kW/340 Nm diesel is a hard worker, and the gearbox does (in Sport mode at least) change down for braking, but the coarse noise intrusion and rough ride didn’t do the German any favours.

The twin-clutch automated manual makes the robotised manuals look even more ridiculous, such is its pace and smoothness in changes on the move, but it still can be tough to use in slow-speed manoeuvres.

Visibility forward is good, as is the in-door storage and comfort in the somewhat bland cabin, but a rear lift gate and a sliding side door only on the kerbside limits its loading capability. xThe VW’s still Spartan in terms of cabin design and aesthetics, but it’s functional and easy to navigate.

 

Fiat Ducato

The Italians have their own way of doing things, and the Fiat (as well as the IVECO) reflected that. The Ducato is a little more realistically priced than its cousin and puts out similar outputs (130 kW and 400 Nm), but loses out in dash layout (which is tough to decipher), and it’s immediately behind the eight ball once you go to engage a gear.

The driver gets a leather-wrapped wheel, but the optional six-speed robotised manual is ponderously slow, both in intelligence and in shift action, to the point where a steep uphill grade had it change up so slowly that any momentum previously built evaporated in the gearshift.

Otherwise, it is a useful load lugger – split rear doors for forklift access to the 8.0-cubic-metre load bay with a 1526 kg payload but only one LH side sliding door – and it rode the bumps on the test loop better than some, but not well enough to get it near the podium.

 

Second Thoughts

Rob Randazzo finds the competition hotter than expected in the medium segment

There were six vans in the medium-van category presented for evaluation. Most were worthy of note, but some more than others for their fit-for-purpose characteristics as commercial vehicles, as opposed to domestic runabouts.

The Hyundai iLoad Series II was certainly a willing performer and reasonable value at $45,456 (drive away), but even the updated Series II model is showing its age and did not give the ride quality or features of other contenders, resulting in it slipping to my third choice.

The Mercedes-Benz Vito 114 LWB, at a drive-away price (as tested) of $64, 665, was the most expensive medium-van aspirant. However, the long-wheelbase Vito was loaded with safety features and jumped to second place of my evaluation.

Vito’s 2.1-litre turbo-diesel engine performed well beyond most engines of this lower capacity. Engine braking is always a problem with smaller engines, but, with cruise control engaged, the Vito’s onboard computer ensured it did not let its speed increase on over-run.

Power output of 100 kW at 3800 rpm is equal to many, but Vito’s 330 Nm of torque from as low as 1200 rpm means this van works beautifully with its seven-speed fluid automatic that Mercedes-Benz calls the 7GTronic. Payload is 1130 kg, cargo volume is 6900 litres, it will accept a standard Australian pallet between the wheel arches, and its height of 1910 mm allows access to underground carparks.

With all the hype surrounding the release of the next-generation Volkswagen Transporter, the T6, and with the manufacturer looking for any opportunity to shine after events elsewhere, I was excited. However, I soon stopped dancing after running the T6 around our test route. It lacked everything I expected and was very hard to distinguish from the previous model.

As an owner of two registered VW Transporters (T2 and T4), I was disappointed by Volkswagen’s lack of commitment to our market. Little things, like not converting the auto gear-lever mode indicator panel (PRND) to suit right-hand-drive positioning so that the driver could see what mode had been selected, combined with poor performance and a noisy cabin to put the T6 at the bottom of my list.

The Ford Transit Custom at $42,700 (drive away with City Pack) also failed to excite. It’s 2.2-litre 92 kW/350 Nm seemed underpowered, and there were no special features to make the Transit stand out from the pack.

On paper, the Fiat Ducato appears to be serious competition in the medium-van category. It looks great, has a powerful and torquey (130 kW/400 Nm) 3.0-litre diesel engine, and comes with an impressive collection of standard features. Sadly, the Fiat six-speed auto transmission on our test van lagged seriously between gear changes to the point where it felt like it was going to stall. This is where Delivery’s real-life comparisons in real-world conditions separate the lookers from the doers – Ducato is a looker!

My choice for best-of-the-best medium van goes to the Renault Trafic. This exceptional van at $43,665 (drive away) is more than $20,000 cheaper than the Benz van in this segment, yet it’s 1.6-litre, twin-turbo, diesel engine outperforms the larger Vito engine in both power and torque (103 kW/340 Nm).

It seats two passengers beside the driver and has a swag of standard features, including reversing camera, alloys, centre fold-down seat to make a work desk, full bulkhead with window, plus multiple cargo area tie-down anchors and lights, just to list a few. Safety is also high on Trafic’s agenda, which makes it a perfect fleet vehicle where duty of care and OH&S are so important.

The Renault Trafic oozes quality and is a pleasure to drive. It will keep its roof if you venture into underground carparks, will carry 1200 kg, has a load area volume of 5200 litres, and only needs servicing every 12 months or 30,000 km.

After driving the Renault Trafic around Delivery’s test route, I was very tempted to just keep going and take this awesome little load carrier home.

 

Counterpoint 

Chris Gable finds there were some class acts in this year’s Medium Van of the Year field.

Apart from the iLoad Series II, this year’s contenders all wore European badges, and most of those have long scored runs on the board, especially in Europe.

Alphabetically, this year’s strong Delivery Magazine Medium Van of the Year line-up comprised: Fiat Ducato short-wheelbase/low roof; Ford Transit Custom; Hyundai iLoad Series II; Mercedes-Benz Vito; and, last year’s category winner, Renault Trafic.

So, the stylish Ducato first.

Our test vehicle came with some options, foremost among them Comfort-Matic automated manual transmission ($2900), alloy wheels ($1000), LED Daylight running lights ($500) and metallic paint ($950). All of which brought its before-on-roads MSRP to $43,850.

Underway, its 3.0-litre Multijet Turbo-diesel four felt strong enough and understressed (100 km/h in top is just 1650 rpm). But, like its stablemate Fiat’s Small Van of the Year contender, Doblo, a worthy engine is mismatched to the slurry Comfort-Matic auto. (Ironically, the auto was an option and universally disliked by the judges, who might have been kinder to the five-speed manual version.)

Also like its smaller stablemate Doblo, the Ducato was mostly praised by Delivery’s judges. However, a slurry transmission marred the driving experience for most and just doesn’t cut it in this company.

An iconic ‘Blue Oval’ nameplate both in Europe and here, our test Ford Transit came in Transit Custom form with 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder motivation and optional good-value $500 City Pack comprising front and rear parking sensors, electro chromatic rear-view mirror-mounted reversing camera, and front fog lights.

The Transit promised much but, for some, failed to deliver in several key areas. Its 92 kW/350 Nm turbo-diesel hardly sparkled round Delivery’s test loop but, equally, like the Transit’s chassis and suspension, didn’t do a whole lot wrong.

Hyundai’s Series II iLoad garnered a lot of praise among Delivery’s judges. Importantly, our fleet-managing guest judges both described it as “honest”, and a hands-down fleet pick for fleets on a budget. Highlights of the three-time Delivery Medium VOTY’s Series II update included cruise control and arguably the best-in-class rear-view camera.

Mercedes-Benz’s stylish Vito is easily a desirable choice in this Medium Van of the Year category. Underway, it’s very car-like, competent and easy to drive. And, of course, it’s packed with benchmark Mercedes-Benz safety technology.

The 2.2-litre BlueTEC diesel 114 Vito LWB was impressive over Delivery’s test loop, but it impresses at a price. And that’s where the budget-vs-desirability equation gets interesting in this category.

Interestingly on seemingly uncharacteristic Hankook tyres, the 114 Vito came in at an estimated MSRP $64,665. Even in the eyes of fleet buyers with access to more attractive fleet prices for multiple units, the admirably high-tech Vito is considered relatively expensive. Hence our fleet-manager judges’ comments about the budget-pleasing – and admirably appointed – iLoad Series II alternative, carrying a $37,990 MSRP in CRDi-engined form.

Renault re-fronted this year’s awards with its 2016 version of last year’s category winning Trafic. And, at the risk of flogging a tired cliché, we’d have to say the Trafic’s still ’triffic. Its easy-load cargo area is capacious – at 5.2 cubic metres and 6.0 cubic metres spread across the three available L1H1 and L2H21 Trafic equipment levels – and its drivability remains a highlight.

On the road, the Trafic’s twin-turbo 1.6-litre diesel feels responsive despite modest on-paper power and torque figures. And, like its Renault stablemate Small Van OTY star, the ultra-versatile Kangoo Maxi Crew, again offers a well-rounded Medium Van OTY contender.

Even a year on, the Trafic impresses, with small but clever features such as twin wipers on its rear barn doors.

 

And the much-anticipated T6 Volkswagen Transporter? In its light-commercial spec, the TDi BlueMotion T6 was a surprisingly disappointing 2016 Delivery Medium VOTY contender.

Noisy and boomy beyond expectation, the T6 in many regards proved an unexpected letdown. Bumps were telegraphed through the Transporter’s fairly vague steering and it seemed the rattling induced down the testing Bendooley Hill seemed out of character with VW’s claims for the mid-sized van said to update the big-selling T5.

Indeed, more than one Delivery judge pronounced the T6 Transporter unworthy of claimed “next-generation” status over the T5 it replaced. Even our resident died-in-the-wool ‘VW nut’ judge, Rob – who at last count owns eight or more examples of Wolfsburg’s finest – was underwhelmed by the T6 Transporter, which speaks volumes about its shortfalls.

So the majority vote was for a repeat Delivery Medium Van of the Year performance by the Renault Trafic.

Drivable, practical, well packaged and relatively affordable, the Trafic remains hard to top in an Australian market category that arguably has never been stronger.

 

Medium Strengths

Mid-sized vans get a good workout on most fleets, and in underground carparks they come into their own. Terry Bickerton gives his gongs – and slap-downs – in the popular Medium Van of the Year category.

I loved the Renault Trafic in the mid-sized category. To my mind, it’s very hard to fault.

The only things I don’t like about it are: a) it’s a manual, and, b) the gearchange surround is positioned a bit close to my knee when I’m driving it.

Other than that, it rides, turns and generally drives well. The suspension’s compliant. It’s not unattractive. Renault has really put some thought into this vehicle.

The iLoad drives like a Japanese van, which is probably a compliment. It has lots of features and it’s quite comfortable. There’s a little bit of road noise, but it’s a large cabin.

Inside, the driving position is very car-like, and instruments and controls are positioned logically. Fit and finish is pretty good, but it should be at its price. After all, it’s not exactly cheap.

Most van drivers drive their own car to work and on the weekend, and, when they get in the iLoad, it feels natural to them, so that’s a good thing.

In my world, we’d take the passenger seat out to give walk-through access to the cargo area. When you’re driving, you put your box containing your paperwork there.

The T6 Transporter was a major disappointment. I like its nice wide stance, but it’s incredibly noisy to drive, and the steering feels light and a bit nervous.

Rather than being the latest Transporter out there, it feels quite dated inside.

The Fiat Ducato’s transmission is just woeful, which is a shame, because the drivetrain is really good. The van is noisy, and items such as cruise control seem to have been fitted as afterthoughts.

The engine’s fairly flat and lifeless, and you find yourself waiting for a bit of torque curve and some boost, but it never happens, and you just change gear.

On the other hand, I was very impressed by the Vito. It’s very car-like to drive. It turns, it stops, it handles, and its power delivery, again, is very car-like. Its safety features are fantastic and over and above everything else that’s here. I had firsthand experience of its safety kit on my assessment lap when the dashboard light flashed because the car up ahead had slowed suddenly. That’s the sort of thing that makes the Vito worth a bit more.

 

The only thing I didn’t think was up to scratch was the fact it had a bit of road
noise, and I wonder if it has something to do with the fact our test one was fitted with Korean-made Hankook tyres. I would’ve thought Mercedes could have made it a little quieter.

For me in this category, it’s the Trafic, followed, if money’s no object, by the Vito.

 

Fleeting Glimpses

Mid-sized vans are fleet and small-business favourites. Kurt Grossrieder samples the varied contenders for this year’s Medium Van of the Year honours.

“Delivery drivers don’t like having to use a clutch all day, especially in city traffic. So in terms of having it on my fleet, the Renault Trafic’s only downfall in my eyes is the fact that it only comes with a manual transmission. Other than that, I really like it. It’s nice to drive, and very car-like.

“It’s got a really nice feature underneath the seats, too. You can open it to give extra room for what we call ‘longs’. You can then slide through long lengths of pipe, for example.

“There are a lot of clever touches, too. For example, the dual rear window wipers – rather than just one, usually on the left side only – really help rearward visibility.

“I really like Hyundai’s iLoad. It’s no-nonsense and a good all-round performer. I like its cabin, which is more straightforward and not as prissy as the Trafic’s, for example. The new rear-view camera is a good thing, too.

“There aren’t really any standout features about its on-road performance, but it doesn’t do anything wrong, either. I’m actually quite a fan of it.

“With the iLoad, it’s a case of, ‘Okay, let’s get down to work. What do we need to do? Let’s go and do it.’

“The new T6 Transporter was a huge disappointment. It was noisy, coarse, harsh, horrible. It feels dated already, by as much as 10 years old.

“The Ducato wasn’t a bad thing, although, like the little Doblo, its transmission is a massive issue for me. Actually, I think if Fiat could fix its transmission and drop four pounds out of the tyres, the Ducato would be a nice bit of kit. If you could take the drivetrain out of the Daily and put it into the Ducato, Fiat would be onto a winner.

“I liked its cabin layout, and it’s good cargo-wise, although there’s not a lot of storage in the cabin. There are a couple of small slots in there, but not enough of them, and no useful big one.

“The Vito is simply a class act. I love it. It’s such a beautiful thing to drive; it’s like driving a motorcar.

“If I was shelling out my money, I’d buy one. I’d even buy one for my everyday drive car. It’s that good.

“The Transit Custom is a nice thing to drive, although it lacks a bit of power and clutch engagement torque. Being only available as a manual rules it out for me in terms of running it on the fleet.

“As a fleet manager, if I’m on a budget, I’m going to buy an iLoad. However, if pricing isn’t that critical, I’m definitely going to buy a Vito. It’s just a class above everything else. For most people, its only drawback is its price,” added Kurt.

Last Thoughts

Chris Mullett ponders on the toughest medium sector ever evaluated

The credentials don’t get much better when they refer to totally new products from manufacturers such as Volkswagen with the Transporter T6 and Mercedes-Benz with an all-new Vito.

Pitch these two “wunderkinds’’ into the mix against Hyundai’s great value iLoad, Fiat’s highly capable Ducato and the French connection of the Renault Trafic, and it becomes a case of Germany versus Italy and France with a little bit of Britain in the form of the Ford Transit Custom – not the first time this type of confrontation has happened.

Currently, Trafic and Transit suffer from a lack of a suitable automatic transmission on our market, but it’s the sheer pleasantness of the Renault that wins out here. The Trafic feels right in all areas and provides a tremendously quiet workplace that offers positive steering, good roadholding manners and manages to look eye-catching, all in the one package.

Vito moved in and out of first place in my selection, marred mainly by disappointingly high interior noise levels resonating in booming fashion through to the cabin in what appeared to be excessive road noise from the Hankook standard fitment tyres. Counter that against the more user-friendly Trafic and it was the Renault that finally came out on top, scoring its second consecutive class win.

Ford’s Transit Custom ranked higher this year but issued an alarming level of black smoke from its exhaust on start-up when moving away from stationary. The Ducato has much going for it in style and ability but the inclusion of an AMT version was not going to go in its favour. As with many AMTs in the light to medium weight category, they may be cheap to make but they are definitely not the best option out there.

Finally, a word on the Transporter T6. It came with an expectation of being a step up from the T5. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. High interior noise levels and an interior and exterior that looked unchanged except to a VW aficionado, left this tester underwhelmed.

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