Three-way van test

Small van shootout

New Zealand Company Vehicle - - CONTENTS -

There are, of course, many con­tenders in the small van mar­ket, and it would take most of the mag­a­zine to com­pare them all. We have there­fore, gone with the gas­tro­nomic trend of pro­vid­ing a tasty trio of tempters: with the Ford Tran­sit Cus­tom, LDV’S G10 and the Re­nault Trafic. Of th­ese, the Ford would likely be con­sid­ered the most tra­di­tional, with the Re­nault be­ing a lit­tle Left Bank. The G10, be­ing an LDV, is the new kid on the block with quite a bit to prove. Even our com­par­a­tively sim­ple sam­ple demon­strated the diver­sity in mod­ern cargo haulers, and what we thought would be a sim­ple case of one, two, three – yes folks, we have a win­ner; didn’t quite pan out that way. Our test­ing panel of Sean, Ross and Trevor had very clear ideas about what they were look­ing for in terms of spec­i­fi­ca­tion, ease of load­ing and how well the ve­hi­cles coped with var­i­ous city en­vi­ron­ments. In­stead, each van was as­sessed on its in­de­pen­dent at­tributes and – for lack of a bet­ter ex­pres­sion – gut feel­ing, on how they per­formed from the per­spec­tive of each driver. When it came to which was the best van of the three, well, it wasn’t easy to pick, be­cause un­like other com­par­isons where there is of­ten a clear win­ner, in this case each van res­onated es­pe­cially with one driver, and for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. There was a sig­nif­i­cant vari­ance in price be­tween our three con­tenders, the Ford top­ping the tree at $54,990, the Re­nault

com­ing in just un­der this at $49,990 and the LDV rep­re­sent­ing the low­est hang­ing fruit at $32,990+gst. If we were analysing on price alone, the LDV would take the ti­tle, but for our pur­poses, price was not the only con­sid­er­a­tion. Spec­i­fi­ca­tion was a big one for our testers, and here, there was one clear stand­out: the Ford Tran­sit. This is the van with the most fruit, as ev­i­denced by the al­pha­bet soup of safety fea­tures, which far over­shad­owed the com­pe­ti­tion. As well, the Tran­sit gains an ar­ray of spec­i­fi­ca­tion items which sets it apart: the fa­cil­ity for Ap­ple Carplay or An­droid Auto through the SYNC3 con­nec­tiv­ity plat­form, which in­cor­po­rates satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion as well as the ubiq­ui­tous rear-view cam­era, adap­tive cruise con­trol, voice com­mand func­tion­al­ity, trailer sway mit­i­ga­tion and heated seats. In terms of load­space, it was an al­most even con­test, the Ford and Re­nault boast­ing a six cu­bic me­tre cargo bay with the LDV fall­ing a shade short at 5.2 cubes. All how­ever, sported mul­ti­ple load points and in­ter­nal floor and wall cov­er­ings. Ac­cess was via dual side slid­ing doors, with the Re­nault sport­ing glazed doors and rear pan­els as stan­dard, as op­posed to the stan­dard blind pan­els of the Ford and the LDV. Rear door ac­cess for the Re­nault and the Ford was af­forded by barn-style doors with 180-de­gree open­ing in the case of the Ford and 270-de­grees for the Re­nault. The LDV came to us with a lift­ing tail­gate ar­range­ment. Bulk­heads were found in all vans, though the Ford and Re­nault demon­strated a lit­tle more so­phis­ti­ca­tion over the LDV, with through-bulk­head ac­cess to ac­com­mo­date longer loads. Re­nault took line hon­ours here how­ever, as the longer load car­ry­ing abil­ity ex­tended fur­ther, un­der the left-hand pas­sen­ger’s seat, util­is­ing the cabin space through to the fire­wall. Pay­loads var­ied, with the Ford claim­ing 767kg, the LDV lug­ging 1093kg and the Re­nault again, scor­ing top marks with its 1274kg pay­load. As far as en­gines, power and torque are con­cerned, the Ford was a clear win­ner with a two-litre tur­bod­iesel putting out 125kw of power and 405Nm of torque down to the front end and claim­ing 7.2 litres per 100km. Next up was the LDV with its 1.9-litre turbo diesel throw­ing down 106kw and 350Nm, this time to the rear wheels, with a con­ser­va­tive 8.3 litres per 100km fuel fig­ure. As to the Re­nault Trafic, a 1.6-litre twin turbo punched out 103kw and 340Nm again to the front wheels, but for an im­pres­sive fuel con­sump­tion fig­ure (at­tained) of 6.2 litres per 100km.

Part of this could be at­trib­uted to the Re­nault’s slick six-speed man­ual, where the other two ran the more con­ges­tion-friendly, six speed auto boxes. And so, we come to the drive im­pres­sions and our pre­ferred pick per driver. Sean’s opin­ion came first. The pick of the pack? The Re­nault Trafic. The Re­nault res­onated with the ‘round­headed one’ for its quiet run­ning, fuel econ­omy, star­tling per­for­mance and seem­ingly slightly larger aper­tures for side load­ing. Had the Trafic not been kit­ted out with the roof-mounted con­duit car­ry­ing bazooka and lad­der holder, Sean would also have given it the Whis­per award. Re­nault’s man­ual trans­mis­sion will not find favour with every­one, but its en­gage­ment was smooth and mis-shift free. While the in­te­rior was not as tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced as the other two, the all-day van user con­ve­nience fea­tures blitzed the op­po­si­tion and the low rider look of the Trafic will ap­peal to the boy rac­ing badass in ev­ery red­blooded, stick-shift­ing driver. Trev’s choice was the LDV. Eas­ier to drive than many cars, ac­cord­ing to the daily driver of a con­tem­po­rary sedan, Trev gave the G10 top marks for its com­bi­na­tion of fa­mil­iar­ity and prac­ti­cal­ity. Trev took a shine to the smooth power and solid torque af­forded by the LDV’S ro­bust pow­er­plant, and while the Tran­sit has greater tar­mac tear­ing abil­ity on pa­per Trev felt, the LDV’S de­liv­ery of the torque was su­pe­rior and more eas­ily dis­cerned. “The LDV is an hon­est, work­ing van,” ex­plained Trev. “It’s not overly bur­dened by tricky tech which tries to con­vince the driver that he or she is in a slightly larger car with all the bells and whis­tles. The G10 has enough van kit on­board to be im­mensely use­ful, but it has an in­her­ent car feel, which the oth­ers have to work hard to con­vince you of.” LDV’S auto came in for pos­i­tive com­ment, as did the clar­ity of the rear cam­era on the seven-inch dis­play. This meant Ross was the Blue Oval’s cham­pion – or is that the other way ‘round? Re­mem­ber­ing that Ross has a pe­cu­liar ob­ses­sion with drift-car rac­ing, the ap­peal of the Tran­sit’s 125kw and rub­ber lay­ing 405Nm torque fig­ure, al­beit through the front wheels, was al­ways go­ing to hit a high note with our res­i­dent DK (Drift King). The Tran­sit my pick? Sure, I’ll go with that Sean. It was cer­tainly the one I grav­i­tated to when the time came to head home and I needed wheels. Though iron­i­cally, it was the Re­nault I plumbed for (longer wheel­base) when it came to mov­ing some body parts (don’t worry, they were bits of a Sky­line I’ve just ‘split’ to re­pair my smacked-up drifter) from When­u­a­pai to my lock-up in Hen­der­son.

And in a weak mo­ment I ad­mit­ted to Sean that I ac­tu­ally quite en­joyed the billy ba­sic no-bs ‘charm’ (if that’s the right word when you are talk­ing about a van) of the LDV. In say­ing (all) that if I was back driv­ing a van reg­u­larly (as I was sev­eral years ago now) and I had some say in the pur­chas­ing de­ci­sion, I’d go for a Tran­sit Cus­tom ev­ery time. Back in the day, when I drove a big, blue EX-DTR high roof Tran­sit nick-named Betty Blue, it had a great en­gine, a de­cent enough driver’s ‘chair,’ bare-bones in­te­rior and a body that pretty-much shook it­self to bits in the five or so years I had any­thing to do with it. So­phis­ti­cated it was not. But that was what vans were like back then. Now – thank good­ness – they could not be more dif­fer­ent. Climb up and into the short wheel­base Cus­tom model we got to try and the look, feel and even the er­gonomics are – if not quite ‘car-like’ – at least on a par with the cur­rent mar­ket dar­ling of the Ford range, the Xlt-spec Ranger ute. Sean made much of the punchy tur­bod­iesel en­gine’s se­ri­ous power and torque fig­ures, and fair play to him, the Cus­tom was a plea­sure to drive be­cause of it. What I most liked about it, how­ever, was the all-day com­fort of the driver’s perch, and – once I be­came ac­cus­tomed to not re­ally be­ing able to see enough through the in­te­rior rear-view mir­ror – quickly com­ing to use, and per­haps more im­por­tantly trust, the com­bi­na­tion of ex­cel­lent re­vers­ing cam­era (which proved par­tic­u­larly good in low light sit­u­a­tions) and two-level, plain top/fish­eye bot­tom door mir­rors. With room for both a take­away cof­fee cup (top right cor­ner of dash above driver’s side air vent) and a water bot­tle (door trim), plus a flat floor so you can, should you ever need to, slide across the cen­tre and pas­sen­ger seats and exit via the left-hand side door, plenty of time and thought has ob­vi­ously gone into de­sign­ing a cock­pit that works as long and as hard as the driver is ex­pected to. Add twin slid­ing side doors plus the twin 180 de­gree open­ing ‘barn’ doors at the back and you have a van which can not only carry but also tick all the boxes! “If you think you know what one of th­ese new-gen­er­a­tion Tran­sits is like be­cause you – or worse, a ‘mate’ – drove one ‘back in the day,” says Ross, “think again. Th­ese new-gen­er­a­tion mod­els feel like they came from the same de­sign team and off the same pro­duc­tion line as a Mon­deo or Fo­cus. And that, if you are aware of the huge strides Ford has made with its pas­sen­ger cars over the past five to ten years, is say­ing some­thing!” For those who were ex­pect­ing a clearcut win­ner this time round, we’re sorry to dis­ap­point, but this was not a clear-cut com­par­i­son by any means. It’s very un­usual to find such diver­sity from three driv­ers of three ve­hi­cles. The take­away from all of this is, in terms of the con­tem­po­rary selec­tion of light com­mer­cials when it comes to find­ing the right van for the right job, the fleet buyer would do well to con­sider the driver’s in­put as a crit­i­cal part of the fi­nal anal­y­sis.

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