Delivery analyses the medium van segment and finds a wealth of difference.

The medium van one tonne payload segment deserves much more attention than it usually gets from buyers, not only because pricing right now is at very keen levels, but also because of the increasing levels of technology available as part of the humble delivery van.

Out of the ten competitors in this segment, Delivery has selected three front runners and will be running a continuing test programme on the remaining models in future issues.

For our comparison this month we look at Hyundai iLoad, the Fiat Scudo and the Mercedes-Benz Vito. Still to come are the Citroen Dispatch and Peugeot Expert, Renault Trafic, Volkswagen Transporter, Toyota HiAce, Ford Transit and Mitsubishi Express.

There are good reasons for not bringing all the contenders together in this issue, as HiAce is soon due for scheduled upgrades and the Transit is due to launch a totally new model. There is also the suggestion that the Mitsubishi Express is not destined to be in our market for much longer, due largely to its low scores in crash protection and its advancing years.

The total one-tonne van market is currently running in sales volumes terms at around 15,500 units for this year, slightly down by approximately 7.0 percent when compared to 2012. HiAce is the number-one seller, with 42 percent of the market segment and once again leading second place Hyundai with the iLoad.

Van-Comparison_P5The Hyundai success story saw the South Korean manufacturer blitzing all comers for a while, at least until the manufacturing plants failed to keep up their supply and stocks dwindled. The iLoad’s market share is currently at around 30 percent of this segment and a company spokesperson told Delivery Magazine that stocks should be gathering momentum again in 2014 as supply becomes easier.

Renault has been marketing very strongly with its Trafic, gaining substantial ground to currently edge out the Mercedes-Benz Vito by just 32 units at the end of November to hold 6.4 percent market share with sales of 936 units (VFACTS YTD November). Volkswagen holds 11.4 percent with sales of 1,619 units. Ford managed 483 units with a market share of 3.4 percent, ahead of the Mitsubishi Express with 373 units and Peugeot Expert at just 560 sales. Fiat lifted its game play to score sales of 182 units with its Scudo.

What is very noticeable is that comfort levels and technical sophistication in these one-tonne vans completely outclasses the one-tonne ute market. Ride comfort levels are far higher, thanks to independent suspension systems on some models, plus braking ability through the fitment of disc brakes rather than drums, on the rear, provides better performance. The electronic intervention safety systems are also much more sophisticated.

Our three contenders for this comparison all offer different solutions to the same problem of shifting loads. Although all sport a similar one-box semi-bonneted van appearance, the driving dynamics differ, as do the impressions imparted to the driver by each model.

The most car-like amongst this trio is the Fiat Scudo. With its bright blue upholstery there’s an instant Italian style influence that simply doesn’t happen with German, Korean or Japanese vans. Although one might expect some French flair, the French manufactured vans tend to rely on external styling cues rather than considering interior trim options that add light and colour to the palette.

Under the bonnet of the Fiat is a 2.0-litre, diesel, turbocharged and intercooled, four-cylinder engine. With maximum power output of 88 kW at 4,000 rpm and peak torque of 300 Nm rated at 2,000 rpm, it matches the six-speed manual gearbox with a well-chosen set of ratios.

The gearshift is light and snappy and the short stubby lever is close to hand, sprouting out of the centre console. Changing gears is never going to become annoying, as the shift is positive and engine noise is kept low, even at cruising freeway speed, as the engine rpm at 110 km/h is just 2200 rpm in 6th gear. At 100 km/h the engine speed is 2,000 rpm.

This van is actually very easy to drive. Because of the full-width and full-height cargo bulkhead behind the front seats, which separates off the cargo area, there’s none of the drumming and vibration that is usually a part of the internal noise generation. At first thought, it’s easy to feel that you should have access into the rear of the van from the cabin, but, in reality, with sliding side doors on both sides, plus twin barn doors at the rear, the cargo area access is fine.

The more one drives the Scudo, the more pleasant the experience becomes. The cargo divider really does make the cabin more comfortable and enables the air conditioning system to win the battle with overcoming large volumes of space heated to ambient temperatures. Consequently, the cabin is as comfortable as a typical car interior.Van-Comparison_P4

The steering is a power-assisted rack and pinion unit with an electrohydraulic booster, and provides a light feel to the wheel, even with it being front-wheel-drive. The independent front suspension uses the typical MacPherson strut design with lower wishbones, and at the rear it’s coil sprung with a torsion beam.

Safety systems are plentiful, with ABS, EBD (Electronic Brakeforce Distribution), and Hydraulic Brake Assist (HBA). The driver gets an SRS airbag as standard equipment, but it’s optional for the passenger. A double front passenger seat with a fold down centre backrest is optional, but makes sense, especially with the optional cargo bulkhead.

It’s the little things that sometimes make all the difference, and the Scudo comes with rear parking sensors and very efficient halogen headlamps. Cruise control is always a handy inclusion, and it’s standard on Scudo, together with Bluetooth phone connectivity.

We talk of one-tonne vans, but Scudo actually offers a payload of 1200 kg and does so in a cargo compartment that dimensionally is 2584 x 1600 x 1449 mm (l x w x h). The distance between wheel arches is 1245 mm. The maximum claimed towing ability with a braked trailer is listed at 2000 kg, but, given the 2.0-litre engine, it’s not something we would push for a common application. Those wanting to tow regularly should look for a few more horses under the bonnet.

At the time of testing, the Fiat dealerships were offering the Scudo at $32,000 drive away, increasing its competitiveness and attraction. The combined fuel consumption figure is 7.4 l/100 km. The warranty level is three years/200,000 km.

In comes van number two, the Hyundai iLoad, and it’s an old favourite, having won the Delivery Magazine Van of the Year award twice since its launch into our market back in February 2008. Not much has actually happened to its specification in the intervening six years, and, although many might expect a serious revamp as it enters its seventh year here, there’s really nothing wrong with the package as it sits today.

We are testing the 2.5-litre diesel turbocharged four-cylinder matched to a five-speed automatic, and it’s a smooth combination that works well. When matched to the auto transmission, the engine power output is 125 kW produced at 3,600 rpm with peak torque of 441 Nm rated at 2,000-2,250 rpm. If you prefer a manual six-speed gearbox, the engine is actually rated a little lower at 100 kW and 343 Nm. There is a petrol 2.4-litre option with a five-speed manual gearbox, but, frankly, why bother? The diesel is the better option.

This rear-wheel-drive set-up for the iLoad uses a standard live rear axle on leaf springs, but it works well enough and is well damped for good ride comfort. The front suspension again uses MacPherson struts with coil springs.

Safety-wise it’s much the same as the Scudo, but adds Electronic Stability Control and Traction Control as an option. This should be standard in our book on all light commercials. SRS airbags are, however, standard for both the passenger and driver.

The semi-bonnet design enables easy across-cab access, and the cabin is well trimmed, comfortable and easy to live with. Bluetooth is also standard, with central locking but no cruise control. Sliding side load doors are standard on both sides and there’s a choice between standard rear barn doors and a lift-up tailgate.

Hyundai has come to terms with what commercial vehicle operators may need in order to protect the interior or make loading and lashing of cargo easier. Consequently, check out the list of available additional gear, such as cargo interior plywood lining sheets, towbar, wiring harness, step with corner protector, wooden floor, rubber floor mats, cargo barrier and even canvas seats covers.

Van-Comparison_P3There are all sorts of further options. In the accessories brochure you’ll find roof racks for bikes, boats and skis, plus ladder racks and surfboard racks. We think the nudge bar is a bit on the light side, construction-wise, and not worth having as it easily fouls steep kerbs and deep drains on access into driveways.

When it comes to cargo space, the dimensions are 2375 x 1620 x 1350 (l x w x h), with a distance between wheel arches of 1260 mm. The payload is 1098 kg, the towing limit is 1500 kg and the fuel economy (combined figure) is 8.8 l/100 km.

At the time of writing, the price quoted by Hyundai for the van with diesel engine and automatic transmission was $37,990, or $35,490 for the five-speed manual.

Our third candidate for this van comparison is the Vito, and specifically for this comparison it’s the 113 CDI Vito that is available in short and long-wheelbase form.

There’s a definite requirement to show off any and all driving abilities when steering a white van around with Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy signwriting all over each side. Like it or not, your driving prowess and skill set, not to mention your displayed patience and understanding of those around you, has to be displayed to all road users.

The 113 CDI we evaluated was fitted with the five-speed, fully fluid automatic transmission with rear-wheel-drive. Power from the 113 CDI engine is 100 kW and it fits in the middle of the range that includes a 100 CDI with 70 kW and a 116 CDI with 120 kW, all at 3,800 rpm. Those that like swapping cogs manually can choose a six-speed manual. The three various peak torque ratings are 250 Nm at 1,200-2,400 rpm, 310 Nm at 1,400-2,400 rpm, and 120 kW at 1,600-2,400 rpm.

Payload ability varies between 1,000 kg and 1180 kg (dependent on model), the floor load height is 556-560 mm and the turning circle is 11.8-12.5 (SWB-LWB).

At the top of the range, the V6 engined 122 CDI is only available as a long-wheelbase model, but offers a step up in power to 165 kW at 3,800 rpm and 440 Nm of torque rated at 1,400-2,800 rpm.

Benz uses its BlueEFFICIENCY technology in these three engines, and, since their introduction on February 2011, it can boast a reduction of up to 15 percent in exhaust emissions and fuel consumption. The combined fuel consumption figure for the 113 CDI is 8.2 l/100 km.

Standard equipment includes ADAPTIVE ESP®, which combines anti-lock braking (ABS) in combination with acceleration skid control (ASR); Electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and a brake assist system (BAS). Together, these systems help improve directional stability and traction in critical situations.

The entry-level Vito has been given an ANCAP safety rating of four stars, while a Vito fitted with optional head protecting window airbags has achieved the highest ANCAP rating available in Australia – five stars. This five-star rating is a first for the Australian van market, making the Vito the only van in Australia to have achieved this outstanding result.

Dimensionally, the Vito 113 CDI features a cargo area of 2222 x 1259 mm for the SWB (l x h), extending its load length to 2697 mm for the LWB version. The distance between wheel arches is 1277 mm.

The ride comfort out on the open road is typically Benz, with a firm feel and excellent absorption of road bumps and even potholes. Steering is positive and the seating works extremely well in relation to the ergonomics to reach all controls.

The Vito was Delivery Magazine’s Van of the Year back in 2011, and it remains an impressive combination of engine and transmission options, together with being the only one of the three vehicles tested to offer short and long wheelbase types. Both the Fiat and Hyundai offer one diesel, but, with four on offer for the Vito, the buyer really can select the right power and torque outputs for whatever the task ahead might require.

On the road, the Vito feels the strongest of the three, closely followed by the Hyundai. The build quality appears to produce a more solid body feel with less noticeable body flex.

The quietest of the three is the Fiat, thanks to a full-width and full-height one-piece bulkhead, and, where two sliding side load doors are fitted, we reckon the trade-off of losing internal access is well worth the exchange for a much quieter, car-like interior. It also means the heating and ventilation system only has to cope with temperature variations in the cabin, and not throughout the cargo area.

Although we are very familiar with the Hyundai iLoad, the design is now beginning to show its age and it’s time for an upgrade. The same could be said for the Vito, were it not for the personal choice available in terms of engines and body lengths.

Van-Comparison_P2The surprise contender here was the Fiat Scudo, and although it’s build quality suggests that it is not quite as solid as the Vito and iLoad, it is light and easy to drive around town. The bright interior with its blue upholstery is more interesting than the typical slate grey of the competition, and for the price on-road it does come with a high degree of equipment.

If carrying light loads the Scudo will do the job of carting gear and equipment in town and on the open road in an easy manner. The disadvantage of a 2.0-litre engine with lower power and torque output makes itself known at higher payloads.

The standards of stereo equipment and the ease of Bluetooth connectivity also act in consort to either improve the driver’s day or annoy. In this case, the Fiat system is easy to use to connect a mobile phone, and the stereo is of acceptable quality. Hyundai has far better systems in its latest small car range and needs to make upgrades in this area. The Vito has a very disappointing sound system but very easy to use stalk operation for cruise control.

In pricing terms, the $42,990 of the Vito remains competitive with that of the iLoad, but it represents a substantial additional investment financially when compared to the Scudo.

As we progress through further comparison tests to find the van of the year for 2014, the results should be interesting.

Alternative Viewpoint

Although this trio of semi-bonneted vans looked outwardly similar, the chassis and suspension designs differed greatly: the Hyundai iLoad had coil/strut front suspension and a rear-wheel-drive, live axle on leaf springs at the back; the Fiat Scudo had front-wheel-drive with coil/strut suspension at the pointy end and a coil-sprung, pressed steel beam axle, anchored by twin trailing arms and a Panhard rod at the rear; and the Mercedes-Benz Vito had a coil/strut front and an independently coil-sprung rear end with ¾ trailing arms.

Not surprisingly, the Vito’s all-independent suspension gave it the most supple ride of the test trio on rough surfaces. On smooth roads all three vans steered, rode and handled very well. In contrast to the utes in the market, these vehicles had four-disc braking.

We’ve driven European vans on European autobahns, and we know why makers have abandoned leaf rear springs in favour of coils, given that buyers expect car-like handling from their vans, at speeds above 140 km/h. At Australian legal speeds the less sophisticated Korean iLoad worked nearly as well as the all-coil-suspended Euro vans.

All three vans had adequate power and torque for the task, providing effortless acceleration and hill-climbing ability.

There was little engine noise penetration into the cabins, with road noise echoing inside tin boxes being the main noise culprit. Given the advancing level of electronics, is it possible that anti-noise frequencies from the sound system could counter this road noise?

The Mercedes-Benz Vito’s engine and transmission were well matched, but the five-speed auto saw engine speed at 2150 rpm at 100km/h – a relatively high rpm point compared with the other vans. Cruise control and an adjustable road speed limiter were fitted.

The Vito had good cabin ergonomics, with a dashboard-mounted automatic transmission selector, tilt-telescopic steering column and a foot-activated handbrake, with dashboard latch release. There was a mobile phone slot close to a 12-volt power outlet. However, the radio sound quality was woeful and not what you’d expect in a vehicle bearing the three-pointed star badge.Van-Comparison_2

Vision was excellent, thanks to a well-wiped screen, reasonable headlights and powered side mirrors.

The Vito came with Bluetooth, but the ‘Benz showed its age in lacking music playback function from a mobile phone, and it had no USB outlets.

The seats had good fore and aft movement, but lacked lumbar adjustment and offered poor shoulder support.

There was a sunglasses holder in the roof console, but it was difficult to use. Large door bins made up for a small glovebox.

The Fiat Scudo’s six-speed manual transmission worked smoothly, in conjunction with a light clutch that had a firm friction point. Engine revs at 100 km/h were just over 2000 rpm and the cruise control worked well.

Ergonomics were good, with a tilt/telescopic steering wheel and all controls easily reached, but the dash-top information panel was difficult to read – impossible with sunglasses on.

The Scudo had the best rear-vision mirrors of all three vans, with powered main glasses supported by lower fixed-position spotters on both sides. It also had the best headlights, with a wide spread and good distance ‘hot spot’ when on high beam.

Electronic equipment was a mixed bag, with no Bluetooth, but USB and auxiliary points.

The seats offered excellent adjustment and the best back and shoulder support of the trio, despite the lack of lumbar adjustment.

Door bins were small, but there were two oddments recesses on top of the dashboard.

Hyundai’s iLoad loped along below 2000 rpm at 100 km/h, and the auto box shift quality was very good. Surprisingly, Hyundai still hasn’t fitted cruise control to its popular van range.

We rated the ergonomics highly and it was possible to get comfortable behind the wheel, even with tilt-only steering column adjustment. The driver’s seat had excellent reach, rake and height adjustment, with good back and shoulder support, despite having no variable lumbar pad.

The iLoad was the only van to offer a token third seat space on the passenger side, but this perch would suit only the very young or the anorexic.

The iLoad came with the best electronic media and phone kit: Bluetooth, USB and auxiliary functions, plus a phone slot in the dashboard.

Hyundai fitted large door bins to the iLoad, along with the four largest-size cup holders of the van trio.

Van-Comparison_3Five new assistance systems – three world premieres

Preventing accidents from happening in the first place rather than mitigating the consequences afterwards – active safety is paramount for Mercedes-Benz Vans. The five new assistance systems will increase the high level of safety of Mercedes-Benz Vans even further.

Crosswind Assist keeps a van safely on course when the wind is gusting strongly. The Collision Prevention Assist alerts the driver if the vehicle gets too close to other moving vehicles on the road ahead or to the end of a queue of traffic, while the Blind Spot Assist warns a driver that is about to change lane that vehicles in the next lane are dangerously close. All three systems are celebrating their world premieres in the van class. Also new are the Lane Keeping Assist and Highbeam Assist.

Dianne Tarr, General Manager, Mercedes-Benz Vans: “When it comes to safety, we have always enjoyed a pioneering role with our vehicles and are now launching a new era in assistance and safety systems for vans. These systems will support the driver and help to avoid accidents, thereby also ensuring the maximum availability of our vans. We expect that we will have vans in stock in the third quarter of this year for sale”

Mercedes-Benz Vans has a long tradition of taking a pioneering role in relation to assistance and safety systems. It was the first brand in this sector to introduce Antilock Brake System ABS in its flagship Sprinter model as early as 1995, and this was followed by the Electronic Stability Program ESP in 2002. Further trailblazing advances from Mercedes-Benz Vans came in 2006 with the further development of the system to create ADAPTIVE ESP. This system takes the actual weight of the vehicle and its centre of gravity into account when calculating the control characteristics. Both generations of ESP have led to drastic reductions in accident numbers.

Generally speaking, accidents involving vans happen in very similar ways to those involving passenger cars. This has been evidenced by a recent research report undertaken by, amongst others, accident researchers working on behalf of the insurance companies, and Germany’s Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt). When it came to looking at the mileage, the researchers even registered a lower accident risk for vans than for passenger cars.

In developing its new assistance systems, Mercedes-Benz Vans was able to benefit from the unique expertise available in the company’s Group Research division, as well as from the experience gained by its passenger car and commercial vehicle units.

Dr Sascha Paasche, Head of Development at Mercedes-Benz Vans: “We are fortunate in being able to benefit from a very special network and a transfer of knowledge within the Daimler Group. This is just one more reason why we are at the top when it comes to safety engineering.”

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