The LDV V80 van gets a Euro 5 engine and a six-speed man­ual gear­box for 2017, and the Edi­tor checks it out.

HOWL­ING BLUS­TERY WIND ROAR­ING IN­SHORE OFF the Tas­man Sea is a fact of life on or near New Zealand’s west coast, and it can make driv­ing a big, slab-sided van a white-knuckle af­fair.

The day we ven­tured out for the open road sec­tion of our LDV V80 van test was one of the windi­est we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced this year.

The wind was fairly pow­er­ing east­wards down the Manukau Har­bour as we climbed the Man­gere Bridge head­ing south on the south­west­ern mo­tor­way.

I braced my­self for those gut-clench­ing mo­ments when your un­laden van spends its time try­ing to move into the left-hand lane, the wind fight­ing you for con­trol of the truck.

I was ready to wind on some op­po­site-lock to keep some sem­blance of straight-line progress when it dawned on me that I didn’t have to.

It caught me by sur­prise be­cause this par­tic­u­lar V80 was the one LDV New Zealand refers to as the Big­gest. Its cargo area is 3.3 me­tres long and just on two me­tres high. In this vi­ciously-buf­fet­ing near-gale I was ex­pect­ing that ex­panse of sheet­metal to act like a big steel sail.

But the van was track­ing straight with­out me hav­ing to coun­ter­steer.

How­ever, the guy driv­ing the Toy­ota ZX Minibus a few ve­hi­cle lengths in front, wasn’t hav­ing such a good time. The big Toy­ota minibus looked to have a full load of pas­sen­gers, but it was be­ing pushed around by the wind.

It jinked left then turned abruptly right as the op­po­site lock he’d had to wind on to try to keep the van on a sta­ble course stopped be­ing a re­strain­ing force and be­came a steer­ing one in the pause be­tween wind gusts.

I didn’t envy him and he wouldn’t get much respite un­til a few kilo­me­tres away when he turned east­wards as he ap­proached Rain­bow’s End.

I sig­nalled, turned out and bar­relled past him, the LDV serene and sta­ble.

Not that it was that serene in the cabin be­cause with­out the op­tional solid bulk­head be­tween the cabin and load­space, there was enough me­chan­i­cal and road noise to re­quire rais­ing my voice to con­verse with my pas­sen­ger.

The added cost of fit­ting the lo­cally-made solid bulk­head would be money well spent.

The only time the V80 was af­fected by the blus­tery wind was when we turned east on the run to­wards the South­ern Mo­tor­way junc­tion at Manukau City.

With the van’s rear end three-quar­ters on to the wind I felt a mild shove though it wasn’t enough to cause any anx­i­ety.

This sta­bil­ity in ad­verse van driv­ing con­di­tions was proven again when we headed along a straight ru­ral road that is ham­mered by the wind off the Tas­man. The trees on ad­ja­cent farms are bent per­ma­nently as a re­sult of the bat­ter­ing they get.

We’ve driven a sim­i­larly sized van along there in ex­tremely-windy con­di­tions and had to hold it on a quar­ter turn of right-hand op­po­site lock, and had to drop down to 80km/h and still felt ner­vous. The V80 ham­mered along at 100 with no op­po­site lock at all.

The sta­bil­ity was the first of sev­eral sur­prises the V80 sprang over a cou­ple of hun­dred kilo­me­tres in stormy con­di­tions.

The sec­ond, which is re­lated to the first, was the way the LDV cor­nered. The steer­ing is a shade vague at the straight-ahead but loads up nicely when you turn the wheel.

The V80 turns-in to bends crisply and cor­ners flatly with a con­fi­dence-in­spir­ing sta­bil­ity and no body lean. There’s a hint of un­der­steer and front-end push as the ve­hi­cle tries to run wide out of high-speed cor­ners, but it’s not enough to get con­cerned about.

Ride qual­ity is very good, and the van soaked up the bumps well; on a road with a very un­even sur­face half-way into our test loop, the un­laden V80 was com­posed and sta­ble. There’s no jump­ing around, just steady, rapid progress.

The flat cor­ner­ing stance is an at­tribute that im­pressed the front seat pas­sen­ger who has pas­sen­gered in more than half of the vans on the mar­ket and rates the V80’s cor­ner­ing feel as one of best she’s en­coun­tered.

She was grate­ful for the lack of body lean be­cause she could have done with a lit­tle more width in the seat cush­ion and a bit more lat­eral sup­port in the cush­ion and back­rest.

She felt it would be more com­fort­able if the pas­sen­ger’s seat was a full bucket de­sign and not part of a two-place bench seat (the cen­tral seat does have a lap/sash seat­belt).

She also felt the seat­belt top an­chor could have been a shade lower; even ad­justed to its low­est point, it cut across the base of her neck.

The front whee­larch in­truded to the ex­tent that she was rest­ing her left foot atop it. On the driver’s side that in­tru­sion means the ped­als are a shade fur­ther to the left than you’re ex­pect­ing.

In the man­ual, it proved less of an ir­ri­ta­tion than it did in the au­to­mated man­ual trans­mis­sion (AMT) V80 we drove last year – pos­si­bly be­cause when you’re us­ing both feet to op­er­ate clutch, brake and throt­tle ped­als your legs align themselves au­to­mat­i­cally.

In the Amt-equipped ver­sion, we oc­ca­sion­ally got half a foot on the throt­tle and half on the whee­larch.

The V-mo­tori 2.5-litre tur­bod­iesel pro­duces peak torque of 330Nm which ar­rives at 1800rpm and stays around till 2600rpm; max­i­mum power of 100kw is de­vel­oped at 3800rpm.

It’s not the most re­fined of units, but the new six-speed ra­tios are well matched to the engine’s torque. The ra­tios are close end revs don’t fall away dra­mat­i­cally as you shift up through the box, mean­ing the power de­liv­ery feels near-seam­less.

The good torque means fifth gear is use­able at city speeds and, un­laden, the van will cruise at 50km/h on flat roads in sixth gear, and han­dles 90-de­gree cor­ners in third.

We left the van in fifth on a steep­ish hill we use on our daily com­mute and it pulled up eas­ily with­out labour­ing; the V80 will ac­cel­er­ate well in sixth gear at mo­tor­way speeds.

The gearshift, con­trolled by a well-placed dash­board-mounted gear lever, is a lit­tle notchy, but the lever moves crisply through the gate. You don’t need to shift quickly, any­way, be­cause of the strong torque.

The shift mech­a­nism is very much spring-loaded to the cen­tral third­fourth plane, and you have to pull quite hard to the right to go into fifth and from fifth to sixth. The lat­ter re­quires a very de­lib­er­ate move­ment be­cause it’s very easy to end up drop­ping down to fourth by mis­take.

The gear­box’s user-friend­li­ness is helped by a hill-start func­tion that pre­vents the van from rolling back­wards; the clutch action is smooth and pro­gres­sive.

Get­ting in and out of the cab is quite easy thanks to a step at the side of the footwell and handy grab han­dles on the wind­screen pil­lars.

The ex­te­rior mir­rors are ex­cel­lent, with lower el­e­ments that show the sides of the van and the road and kerb and help make par­al­lel park­ing and re­vers­ing eas­ier.

There are ef­fec­tive re­vers­ing sen­sors that sound if you get too close to ob­jects when back­ing but we’d also have liked a re­vers­ing cam­era.

The cabin is largely gray and there’s plenty of hard plas­tic trim but it’s light and airy. Fin­ish, es­pe­cially where the head­lin­ing met the load­space was bet­ter than ex­pected and su­pe­rior to that found in some other low-priced vans.

The driv­ing po­si­tion is good and the deep wind­screen pro­vides an ex­cel­lent for­ward and three-quar­ter for­ward view.

The in­stru­ments are in a cen­trally-mounted bin­na­cle, a de­sign that makes it pos­si­ble to do left- or right-hand drive ver­sions with­out hav­ing to pro­duce two dif­fer­ent dash­boards.

Af­ter feed­back from NZ cus­tomers, the Chi­nese en­gi­neers have re­versed the in­stru­ment lay­out to move the speedo to the side clos­est to the driver, but I’d pre­fer in­stru­ments di­rectly in front of me.

The V80 sprang its last sur­prise as we headed north to­wards home. The wind was joined by buck­et­ing rain, but the van’s big wipers dealt with it per­fectly, sweep­ing at a good pace and en­sur­ing I had a good, clear for­ward view.

We can’t com­ment on longevity or dura­bil­ity but in terms of dy­nam­ics, us­abil­ity and prac­ti­cal­ity, the six-speed man­ual V80 ticks the boxes.

It drives well, han­dles nicely, cor­ners flatly, and though the test van’s cab was a bit noisy I could hap­pily drive it day-in and day­out.

Above : Test van was the one LDV New Zealand calls the Big­gest, with tall body and long wheel­base.

Bot­tom: Twin barn-style rear doors are stan­dard and open wide to stow along van’s sides. .

Above left: Side pro­file shows the V80’s pleas­ing lines. Win­dows can re­place raised pan­els on doors and sides. make it easy to get into and out of the V80. Dash-mounted lever con­trols six-speed gear­box. Above right: Step and grab han­dle

Left: Dash­board lay­out is clean. Speedome­ter has been moved to the right-hand side of the in­stru­ment clus­ter af­ter feed­back from NZ cus­tomers.

Right: Cargo area can ac­com­mo­date 11.6 cu­bic me­tres of freight. Solid, win­dowed bulk­head is avail­able to sep­a­rate cabin from load­space.

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