THE VAN MAN | Small Van Review

Rob Randazzo and Brenton O’Connor review the small to medium van sector.

Visitors to Sydney airport can gain an immediate impression of the importance of the van segment to the courier market simply by walking past the huge DHL courier depot located adjacent to the domestic terminal. It’s a hive of activity as dozens of yellow bee-like Ford Transits of varying size hover around the site, collecting and delivering packages for the airlines.

DHL is part of one of the largest logistics companies in the world, but there are many such courier, PUD (pick-up and delivery), and logistics companies in Australia – and they all rely on the humble van to keep their businesses buzzing.

A total of 16,602 vans have been sold on the Australian market in the first eight months of 2017 (VFACTS 2017), forming part of the total light-commercial vehicle market that rose by 12.8 percent in August.

With workplace health and safety, duty of care and chain of responsibility now holding prime places in Australia’s commercial environment, it is no longer acceptable to put drivers in anything less than the safest vehicles.

The major players vying for medium-van business are Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Renault, Ford, LDV and Toyota, while IVECO’s and Fiat’s mid-roof versions of their large vans manage to just slip in to this segment.

Fleet buyers are now almost universally going for vans with diesel engines and automatic transmission, a trend that some light-commercial vehicle manufacturers have been slow to address.

Sales figures (VFACTS) for 2017 to the end of August for medium vans show the Toyota HiAce van leading the segment with 34.3% of the market (4924 sales), followed by the Hyundai iLoad with 28.7% (4127 sales), the Volkswagen Transporter 9.4% (1352 sales), Renault’s Trafic with 9.0% (1290 sales), Ford’s Transit Custom 6.3% (900 sales), the Mercedes-Benz Vito 5.5% (794 sales), LDV’s G10 5.0% (724 sales), and the LDV V80 1.7% (241 sales). Sales of the Fiat Ducato and IVECO Daily vans totalled 687 units and 158 units respectively, covering both long and short-wheelbase versions – some of which would not fit into the medium-van category.

If you are looking for a small load-lugging van, your choice will come down to Citroen, Suzuki, Fiat, Renault or Volkswagen. However, with 81.4% of sales for the first eight months of 2017 (VFACTS) going to Volkswagen (56.2% or 1301 sales) and Renault (25.2% or 583 sales), it would be fair to say the other brands are unlikely to be on fleet buyers’ shopping lists.

In the medium-van segment, Ford’s latest version of the Transit Custom has a new engine with a six-speed auto transmission driving the front wheels. This model recently jumped from fifth position for year-to-date sales (6.3%) to fourth position for August with an increase to 10.1% of the month’s sales (VFACTS) – and a 3.4% increase on August 2016 sales. The larger Transit 350L has also increased sales volume, and these sales boosts can almost certainly be attributed to the six-speed auto option in both vans.

There’s much to like about the new six-speed automatic Transit Custom, including a new, more powerful Euro 6 engine, reduced fuel consumption, stop/start technology, extended service intervals (12 months or 30,000 km), a payload of 1035-1334 kg (depending on model), dynamic stability control with rollover mitigation technology, and an impressive cab with full bulkhead and seating for three.

Hyundai has always had an auto in its iLoad, and it has been a popular medium-van choice over recent years. It continues to be fit for purpose and perform well, but it has not progressed as far as some of the competition in offering a five-star safety rating like the Transit Custom and Vito, or more ratios in the transmission to bring fuel economy level in line with the more frugal competitors – iLoad has five ratios, while six is common, with Vito and Transporter offering seven and the Daily offering eight-speeds.

The iLoad (8.8 l/100 km), HiAce (8.7 l/100 km) and LDV G10 (8.6 l/100 km) are the thirstiest vans in the segment, compared to the Vito (6.1 l/100 km), Fiat Ducato MWB (6.7 l/100 km), which just sneaks in to the medium-van category, and the manual-only Trafic (6.2 l/100 km). The new Transit sits midway with a combined-circuit fuel usage of 7.2 l/100 km.

LDV’s G10 van was full of surprises when tested earlier in the year, but lower levels of fit and finish, higher fuel consumption, lack of an ANCAP rating and unknown parts and service reliability will weigh in heavily against the G10’s lower initial pricing when contemplating total cost of operation.

Toyota’s HiAce retains market leadership in the medium-van segment, yet it is the second least fuel-efficient, has basic seating for the driver and just one passenger (both sitting over the engine), its three-year/100,000 km warranty has the shortest service intervals of six months or 10,000 km, it produces the second highest levels of CO2 emissions and the least torque, has the lowest payload (SWB – 955 kg), and, like the Chinese LDV, has only two airbags to earn the HiAce just four stars in ANCAP rating. Toyota’s strong service network underpins its sales performance – but for how long?

Volkswagen’s 2017 Transporter has not yet received an ANCAP rating, but, with six airbags (equal to the Vito and Transit Custom), fleet buyers and private owners have kept the T6 model as the third most popular van in the segment – just! In August, Australian buyers bought fewer Transporters than Trafics and Transit Customs, and Volkswagen dropped from third to fifth in the sales race (VFACTS).

The Transporter still uses Volkswagen’s seven-speed dual-clutch DSG auto transmission, which has not been a favourite of Delivery Magazine. It is shame that the T6 has not inherited Amarok’s brilliant eight-speed ZF auto as used in the Daily.

Vito is Mercedes-Benz’s commercial entrant in the mid-size van segment, and is one of the safest and most fuel-efficient light-commercial vehicles on the road. With a full five-star ANCAP rating and a four-cylinder Euro 6 turbodiesel that produces 100 kW at 3800 rpm and 330 Nm at 2400 rpm, the Vito 114 CDi Delivery tested punched well above its weight thanks to a superb seven-speed auto transmission driving the rear wheels.

This is a true one-tonne van with is payload of 1130 kg, and it will tow a braked trailer weighing 2500 kg if need be. The Vito only has seating for two, but you can be confident be they will both get where they are going safely.

The medium-wheelbase IVECO Daily 35S17A8 V van with a cargo volume of 12 cubic metres is bordering on the large van segment, but due to the huge 16 cubic-metre model competing higher up in the range it gets a nose into the medium sector.

This big IVECO has much to offer, and is a vast improvement over previous models. The cab provides a comfortable environment with its suspended and heated driver’s seat, excellent forward visibility, reversing camera, full bulkhead, big touchscreen for GPS and reversing camera, numerous storage spaces and dual passenger seating.

Our test van had the optional higher-output 3.0-litre Euro 5 engine that produced 125 kW at 2900-3500 rpm and 430 Nm at 1500-2600 rpm through an efficient eight-speed auto transmission to turn the rear wheels. The dash-mounted selector was not a favourite with any test team member, and some had issues with limited seat adjustment, while others had difficulty with side-mirror adjustment. Another common comment was about overly light steering that gave a slight floaty feel.

The 35S had a token 400 kg load in the capacious cargo area, but this was only a fraction of its 1565 kg payload limit and did not hinder this big van’s progress in any way.

Fiat’s long-wheelbase mid-roof Ducato 180 is another van that hovers between the large and medium-sized van segments.

The smallest Ducato has a cargo volume of 8.0 cubic metres and payload of 1605 kg, but Delivery’s test van was 13.0 cubic metres with a 2145 kg payload, which was even bigger than the IVECO, and it is packed with comfort and safety features. Last year’s testing highlighted the Ducato’s extremely hesitant six-speed automated manual transmission and it remains a negative that outweighs the positives of this van.

With seating for three in the comfortable cab, a strong torquey engine (130 kW/400 Nm) that complies to Euro 6 emission standards, huge cargo area volume and payload, competitive price and funky European design, this van should be a top-seller – but it needs to follow IVECO with the adoption of the ZF eight-speed automatic.

The final van in the mid-sized category was the most talked about van (for all the right reasons) by the test team – the brilliant Renault Trafic.

Also available as a standard van with the option of a single-turbo (66 kW/260 Nm) or a twin-turbo (103 kW/340 Nm) diesel engine, the version tested this year was the LWB crew-cab, twin-turbo version.

Trafic comes with a clutch pedal and a manual gearbox, rather than offering an auto option, and this situation is unlikely to change until mid next year. This omission alone is stopping the Trafic from launching a true challenge on the mid range segment.

Our crew-cab had seating for six (including the driver) and still had room behind the full bulkhead for 4.0 cubic metres of tools, toys or parcels, as long as you did not exceed the 1118 kg payload.

The Trafic was a pleasure to drive, and with a six-speed manual it pulled well. Styling, inside, and out, is European and classy, and the RRP of $42,990 (before on-road costs), four airbags, exceptional fuel economy (6.2 l/100 km), long service intervals (12 months/ 30,000), standard-fit reversing camera and ability to carry the crew and their gear, will keep the Trafic climbing up the sales ladder.

Purchase decisions from within the small-van market are a far less complicated task, as there are realistically only two options – Volkswagen’s Caddy or Renault’s Kangoo.

The Caddy actually created the small-van market, and continues to dominate sales (more than twice the Kangoo sales), even in the wake of Dieselgate.

It is a great little van that offers a number of options and configurations ranging from a SWB manual 1.2-litre turbo petrol producing 62 kW and 160 Nm of torque, right up to the TDI250 Maxi auto with its 2.0-litre turbodiesel that pumps out 75 kW at 4000 rpm and 250 Nm of torque from as low as 1300 rpm right up to 2800 rpm.

Prices range from $24,990 driveaway, up to $35,990 (plus on-road costs) and both the 1.2-litre petrol and 2.0-litre diesel use less than 6.0 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres (5.9 and 5.3 respectively) – the 1.4-litre petrol TSI220 is the thirstiest of the range with consumption of 6.2 l/100 km. The Maxi has seating for five and a maximum load volume of 4.13 cubic metres, while the smallest caddy variant will carry the driver, one passenger and 3.2 cubic metres of cargo.

Renault’s Kangoo is the up and coming contender in the small-van segment, and, while sales are well below Caddy’s, they are on the rise. Delivery’s time in SWB, auto, 1.2-litre Compact was a pleasant surprise. While it is the spartan version, able to carry 3.0 cubic metres and 540 kg payload, it was comfortable and functional. As this model does not have a bulkhead, there was some noise intrusion from the cargo area, but it was not overly obtrusive.

A simple frame behind the driver’s seat would provide some protection if needed, but mesh reinforcement between the bars would be safer. The six-speed dual-clutch auto performed well, and helped keep consumption and emissions at Euro 6 standards, with fuel usage of 6.5 l/100 km. The 84 kW/190 Nm petrol engine was more than capable of keeping up under all traffic conditions.

Renault is set to become the light-commercial vehicle manufacturer to push the boundaries, and the one other manufacturers will need to watch.

For a comprehensive overview of all van, light trucks and utes on the Australian market, be sure to consult Delivery Magazine’s specification pages.

Share on FacebookEmail this to someonePrint this pageShare on Google+Share on TumblrTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*