The growing choice of light commercial vans for sale in Australia reflects big changes in the practices of trade and business people, Chris Nixon reports.
While the traditional Aussie ute has been redefined as a quasi-sports vehicle and panel vans are simply a thing of the past, the small van has emerged as a specialised product for those who need maximum efficiency when working in our increasingly crowded cities and towns.
Japanese makers have always offered fairly utilitarian vans, but the relatively recent arrival of European products designed for truly congested environments has created many interesting new choices for buyers.
In particular, European vans have introduced better standards of safety, comfort and convenience for drivers who spend all day in their mobile offices.
Airbags, anti-lock brakes, large drink holders, spacious gloveboxes and bins, workshelves, satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone integration, CD players and better quality seats all make for a better life behind the wheel.
Here’s a selection of what’s available.
The first of the new-wave European small vans is still the cheapest and one of best value propositions for small businesses. Winner of small van awards in 2006 and 2007. Diesel variant introduced in 2008 is more economical and also delivers significantly better acceleration in city driving.
Based on the European version of the Barina hatchback, which means it’s a good little van. Lack of side doors limit usefulness, but it is very compact. Construction features many components attached with bolts rather than welds, including front and rear crumple units, to make repairs cheaper. Unpainted black bumpers don’t show scrapes.
Hyundai’s long-awaited first commercial vehicle contender in Australia was released in Australia in 2008 and has since collected an award for best mid-size van. People-mover version (called iMaxi) also available. Offers typical Hyundai value for money.
Mercedes-Benz Vito 109 CDi/111 CDi Compact
The Mercedes van range was refreshed in 2008 and is extensive. These vans are at the bigger end of the spectrum and also come in long- and extra-long wheelbase versions.
Built in Spain on the same platform as the 308 hatchback, it promises to be good to drive. Peugeot offers a long-wheelbase version, unlike most small vans, and payload is competitive.
The smallest of a three-model Renault van range. Payload is modest, but funky looks will appeal to buyers whose cargo priority is volume, not weight. Recently launched diesel version offers theoretical range of more than 900 kms. Passenger seat back folds flat to provide desk for laptop or books.
Toyota HiAce LWB
Good cabin room for two extra chippies, bonneted design gives extra crash safety margin. Toyota quality may give it the edge over European rivals in reliability and durability. Longer-wheelbase versions are available.
Volkswagen Caddy Maxi
Volkswagen’s Golf-based Caddy van is a quality vehicle. It is well-equipped and has the best transmission of any van, the 6-speed double-shift DSG. This automated manual makes quick, smooth changes that aid economy and reduce driver stress. Maxi is 47 centimetres longer than standard Caddy and is able to carry up to 100 kg on the roof.