The panel game

The panel game – buyer’s guide: 3.5t vans

The mainstay of many fleets, the 3.5t sector is likely to expand further still as e-commerce and e-consumerism grows, says Ian Shaw.

Add the gradually diminishing number of drivers licensed to drive vehicles between 3.5 and 7.5t–it’s now over five years since we aligned with the rest of Europe on the 3.5t limit–and the case is strengthened.

Drivers with full truck licences are in demand by a road haulage industry desperately short of qualified Category C drivers, leaving the C1 specialist out in the wilderness to some extent. This is demonstrated by Iveco’s move into the 3.5t sector–once deemed out of bounds for it in the UK with its agreement with Ford on the Transit’s position.

The 3.5t market is also currently one of the most active sectors for new vehicles. The latest Transit is now well established, with its smaller brother, the Connect, emerging into the limelight, but the new Sevel trio, revised Master and constantly evolving Mercedes-Benz Sprinter cannot be overlooked.

All these vans offer a 3.5t gross vehicle mass (GVM) and hence broadly similar ranges of load cube and payload. Many offer lower weight models too, but with increasing kerbweight due to the level of standard kit thrown in, many operators will need to run right on the 3.5t limit over the next few years to realise the payloads that used to be taken for granted at 3.3t.

Citroen Relay

The Sevel vans were starting to look dated in the light of the latest models from Mercedes-Benz, Iveco, and the new Ford Transit, so Citroen, Peugeot and Fiat have revamped their ranges. The Relay now has revised exterior styling and a much better equipped cab, with HDi engines in 2.2- and 2.8-litre guises at this weight.

The 2.2 is a cracking unit and offers excellent economy too. The hallmark cavernous load cube is still the Relay’s best asset while its worst point–the poor gearchange–has a closer gate but is no better overall.

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DRIVER’S LOG

LIST PRICE: 17,190 [pounds sterling] to 19,520 [pounds sterling]

ENGINES: 2.2 HDi, 2.8 HDi

PAYLOAD: 1480-1580kg

LOAD CUBE: 9-12[m.sup.3]

Fiat Ducato

The Fiat naturally shares the Relay’s main features, both good and bad. However, Fiat breaks from its PSA partners with the use of its own common-rail engines.

In 2.3-litre turbocharged JTD form, it aims to find an edge over the 2.2 HDi in the French vehicles. The Sofim 2.8-litre is used through the range and a fine engine it is, despite its age. The Ducato has been a huge success across Europe and although it might not have featured as highly on UK fleets, the latest embodiment should do well as Fiat’s LCV operation has been revamped too.

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DRIVER’S LOG

LIST PRICE: 17,555 [pounds sterling] to 19,715 [pounds sterling]

ENGINES: 2.3 JTD, 2.8 JTD

PAYLOAD: 1420-1480kg

LOAD CUBE: 10-12[m.sup.3]

Ford Transit

The Transit is still one of Ford’s best ever products and now heads a family with two Transit Connect models to support it. However, at 3.5t the Transit’s traditional strengths shine through.

The 2.4-litre engine is an improvement, although the lower powered units at lighter GVM ratings feel a touch weak. The cab is first rate and Ford still leads the pack with interiors designed for drivers. The gearchange is far slicker than the fascia-mounted Sevel offerings and its residual values, high used demand and reputation for low maintenance bills give it excellent running costs.

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DRIVER’S LOG

LIST PRICE: 18,250 [pounds sterling] to 19,700 [pounds sterling]

ENGINES: 2.4 TDi

PAYLOAD: 1390-1675kg

LOAD CUBE: 9.9-14.3[m.sup.3]

Iveco Daily

Previously kept out of the 3.5t sector due to market agreements with Ford, the Daily now hits the Transit head on

Although 3.5t might be the limit for most of the vans here, it’s just the start for the Daily–the larger versions gross out at 6t. The driving position is good–it feels more truck than van–and the common-rail diesels are fuel efficient and powerful. Sure, the separate chassis robs some payload at 3.5t, but the Daily’s reputation for toughness is well deserved.

The bespoke Daily City has earned the range a good fleet reputation.

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DRIVER’S LOG

LIST PRICE: 18,300 [pounds sterling] to 21,200 [pounds sterling]

ENGINES: 2.8 tDi

PAYLOAD: 1225-1420kg

LOAD CUBE: 10-15[m.sup.3]

LDV Convoy

The LDV name has been associated with more takeovers, buy-outs and mergers over the last year than many boardroom members can remember, but it keeps on turning out some of the toughest–if not the most sophisticated–panel vans.

Rather dated, and not much of a driver’s van, the new Convoy has at least been kept in the running by its revised fascia and Ford direct-injected diesel engines. With big investments in its factory and joint tenders for military applications, LDV is still in the thick of the 3.5t sector. One of the industry’s great survival stories.

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DRIVER’S LOG

LIST PRICE: 19,375 [pounds sterling]

ENGINES: 2.5 TD

PAYLOAD: 1555kg

LOAD CUBE: 11.4[m.sup.3]

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

You could imagine that not only the latest Transit, but also the new Sevel vans would be treated with disdain at Mercedes-Benz HQ.

However, despite packing CDI, common-rail injected diesel engines of 2.2- and 2.7-litres with outputs from 82 to 156bhp, the German giant is not resting on its laurels. At the NEC it announced a 4×4 version complete with two-pedal Sprintshift transmission.

The excellent build quality and residual values make the Sprinter a tough act to beat but in an ever-more sophisticated market, the Sprinter is being chased hard.

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DRIVER’S LOG

LIST PRICE: 19,250 [pounds sterling] to 23,550 [pounds sterling]

ENGINES: 2.2 CtD, 2.7 CtD

PAYLOAD: 1375-1550kg

LOAD CUBE: 19.1-13.4[m.sup.3]

Peugeot Boxer

Sharing all but its badge with the Citroen Relay, the Boxer benefits from the same revisions to cab interior, body exterior and the midrange 2.2-litre HDi diesel unit.

The Boxer now offers more derivatives than ever before and with one eye on the motor caravan market, Peugeot is offering a petrol engine too. However, fleets expecting an LPG Boxer will be somewhat disappointed as Peugeot says it has no such plans.

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DRIVER’S LOG

LIST PRICE: 18,830 [pounds sterling] to 19,575 [pounds sterling]

ENGINES: 2.2 HDi, 2.8 HDi

PAYLOAD: 1400-1450kg

LOAD CUBE: 11.5-12[m.sup.3]

Renault Master

Streets ahead of the old eggbox-shaped Master, this new vehicle has found many friends. Using Renault’s excellent range of common-rail dCi engines and giving its all to the Vauxhall Movano, the Master is aiming to drive a wedge between the dominance of the Relay and Boxer in both its home–and export–markets.

Renault’s fortunes in the truck sector are on the up, and this must have a bearing on the position of the Master.

Add the striking new Trafic at the lighter weight ranges and Renault is set for a much higher profile role on the UK 3.5t scene.

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DRIVER’S LOG

LIST PRICE: 18,400 [pounds sterling] to 20,110 [pounds sterling]

ENGINES: 2.2 D, 2.5 TD

PAYLOAD: 1585-1640kg

LOAD CUBE: 12-13.9[m.sup.3]

Vauxhall Movano

Vauxhall has made much of its expansive line-up of LCVs–although completely ditching the 1t pick-up market seems a strange way to illustrate it!

The Movano is a shrewd move for Vauxhall. While the new Trafic is built in Luton along with the Vivaro, the Movano is simply a re-badged Master but Vauxhall could do a lot worse than choose the Renault as its European exchange guest. Good engines in the form of the Renault common-rail dCi units and a generous payload mark it out.

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DRIVER’S LOG

LIST PRICE: 18,250 [pounds sterling] to 29,975 [pounds sterling]

ENGINES: 2.2 TDI, 2.5 TDI

PAYLOAD: 1585-1630kg

LOAD CUBE: 12-13.9[m.sub.3]

Volkswagen LT

While the Volkswagen LT and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter were developed jointly, the two vans kept separate identities through their engine choice. Although this extended only as far as different five cylinder units in one of the power ranges, the Mercedes-Benz move to common-rail and VW’s big-banger approach with the four-cylinder 2.8 TDI, has taken them down different routes.

This engine now appears at 3.5t, pumping out some 158bhp and 2441b/ft of torque. Just how quick do you want to shift 1.5t! The LT has typical solid VW build quality and cast-iron residuals. The 2.5-litre offers an excellent payload against mpg compromise too.

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DRIVER’S LOG

LIST PRICE: 19,975 [pounds sterling] to 20,510 [pounds sterling]

ENGINES: 2.5 TDI, 2.8 TDI

PAYLOAD: 1430-1560kg

LOAD CUBE: 10.5-13.3[m.sub.3]

COPYRIGHT 2002 DMG World Media Ltd.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group