Boxes on wheels? Not any more
VANS, SOME PEOPLE SAY, ARE LITTLE more than a motorised cargo box with wheels at each corner.
There’s truth in that, but there are vans that have always stood out because they ooze character.
We’re not talking about workhorses like the Japanese cab-over-engine, forwardcontrol vans typified by the Toyota Hiace – on our market, the last of its breed – and also exemplified by the Nissan Urvan, the Mitsubishi L300, the Mazda E-series.
Those vans are scarcely likely to get your juices flowing. They’re okay to drive – especially the Hiace in its long-wheelbase, wide-bodied ZX form – but essentially they’re workhorses, pure and simple. They’re the covered wagon-hauling mule to the cowboy’s pinto.
They generally lacked character, unless you regard the shorter wheelbase versions of cab-over-engine vans’ bucking bronco ride over speed humps to be a sign of character.
But there have always been vans loaded with charisma, like the original rearengined Volkswagen T1 Transporter with its air-cooled flat four motor. Or Citroen’s corrugated-iron panelled H model.
Then there was the original Ford Transit – a pretty crude vehicle, granted , but with styling that exuded character by the bucketload.
Ford promoted it using British beat-boom bands to give it an aura of chic even if it was a bumpy, echo-ey box-on-wheels powered by Ford of Britain’s dire V4.
But compared with its dreary three-on-the tree column-mounted gearshift predecessor, the Thames, it was character on wheels.
More stylish still was Vauxhall’s Bedford CF, with its overhead cam four-cylinder motor and nicely-rounded lines.
Which brings us to LCV magazine’s firstever Van of the Year award.
Vans, by the nature of the work they do, are seldom sexy, but the modern van is much more than a mere workhorse.
Ute manufacturers bang on about how car-like their trucks are, but at the end of the day very few are.
By contrast, the best modern vans drive very much like a car. Many of them are front-wheel drive with car-style Macpherson strut front suspension – and have accurate steering, excellent roadholding and a surprisingly-supple ride, all while retaining the ability to carry a tonne or more of freight.
They also have strong performance, and even those at the budget end of the market are user-friendly and often engaging to drive.
Our Van of the Year, the Renault Trafic, has bags of character in its styling and blends that with superb handling and refinement and top-drawer practicality.
This issue also includes our guide to the vans on sale in New Zealand. Each van gets a description, and a representative specification panel highlighting a model from the range.
The panels are intended to provide a quick and easy way of comparing one van with another.