LDV V80 ROAD TEST
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.