Car Mechanics (UK)
CHEAP VANS TO CONSIDER
Citroën Berlingo/peugeot Partner
Introduced in 1996 and on sale for 12 years, the original Berlingo and Partner were the best small-ish vans of their generation to drive, which is hardly surprising considering they’re based on the chassis of the Peugeot 306 and Citroën ZX. The load bay isn’t the most practical in terms of access, but they were designed to carry a pallet with ease and offer decent performance and economy, especially in HDI form.
Citroën Dispatch/peugeot Expert/ Fiat Scudo
The PSA-FIAT triumvirate of Dispatch, Expert and Scudo were launched concurrently in 1997 and went on to enjoy a 13-year production run. The vans were positioned to fit into the market below larger panel vans, while maintaining the same level of practicality, including triple front seats and sliding side doors. In many ways, the trio led a revolution in the van market, filling a gap between car-derived models and ‘big’ vans, while also being popular as passenger vehicles.
It’s a bit of an oddball, but the Doblo is a decent van and has more load space than you’d expect given that it’s based on Bravo and Brava hatchback platform. With a choice of barn doors or a tailgate, as well as 70mpg fuel economy from the 1.3 CDTI engine, it’s a useful little van that will carry a lot more for a lot less than you might think.
Ford Transit Connect
Patches to weld onto the rear of the sills are practically service items, but otherwise the 2003-onward Transit Connect combines excellent dynamics with a loadcarrying capacity that almost matches the shortwheelbase ‘proper’ Transit. There are loads about, but some have been heavily abused so buy carefully. Later models with diesel particulate filters can be a headache.
The Vito was the first Mercedes van aimed at a smaller market, building on the reputation the company had already earned from its larger Sprinter and chassis cab models. It’s great to drive, but watch for corrosion – they were built at a new factory in Spain that didn’t offer the same build quality as Mercedes-benz aficionados were used to, so rot in the sills and floors is common. A good one, though, is a practical and enjoyable van to own.
Nissan Vanette/ LDV Cub
Powered by the same engine as a London taxi, the Nissan Vanette is never going to be first away from the lights. On the other hand, thousands of low-stress miles are easily swallowed up if you don’t mind taking your time over them. It has an unusual midengined, rear-drive layout with twin side doors and a vast load bay, especially in high-roof Cargo format. Also sold as the LDV Cub, which was merely a badge change, if you can find one that’s still going.
The Hiace is a terrific van that enjoyed a long production run from 1995 until 2012, with only one real facelift that made it arguably less attractive than the streamlined original. Hiaces are mechanically indestructible and pretty good at resisting corrosion, which is quite unusual for a Toyota of the era. They tend to get snapped up quickly, though, and are very popular with exporters, so if you see one available within your price range then act quickly.
British Gas, Royal Mail and BT were just some of the organisations that had huge lease deals with Vauxhall when the Corsa C-based Combo was on sale from 2002 to 2011. With a load bay big enough for a Euro pallet and astonishingly rust-resilient bodywork, the Combo is a real survivor. It’s not bad to drive, either.
Vauxhall Vivaro/renault Trafic/ Nissan Primastar
The 2001 Renault Trafic and Vauxhall Vivaro came from a collaboration that saw Renault take care of the styling and GM the engineering and manufacturing. In many ways, it was the best of both worlds, with a practical load bay, great looks and a six-speed transmission as standard across the range. Check for excessive smoke, though, as that generally means injector wear. The Nissan Primastar was a badgeengineered variant of the same van and debuted in 2006.
The 2004 Caddy was the first small van to be designed and developed by VW since the 1978 Caddy pick-up, with the model’s predecessors being based on the SEAT Inca and Skoda Felicia. The new Caddy was much more modern, using styling and interior details from the Polo and Golf. The Caddy could swallow a pallet, had optional side doors and came with VW’S excellent PD diesel engines. It remained on sale for 11 years and the current model is still closely related.