Boxes on wheels? Not any more

New Zealand LCV - - FROM THE EDITORIAL DESK - – Mike Stock, Edi­tor.

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.

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