PANEL VANS TESTERS' CHOICE HUME MIRO 1.90TINITI
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• by Colin Barnett
This year's selection of panel vans included just one, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 311 CD, at the full 3.5-tonne plating. Two—the new Vauxhall Vivaro DTI and Merc's Vito 110 CDI—were from the sub-2,800kg sector, while Iveco's Daily 29L11V held the middle ground at 3,200kg.
The lighter end of the latest Daily range represents a considerable leap away from lveco's traditional "lighttruck" concept, although its outright payload figures are still a little behind the best in the class. However, if you needed ultimate payload, you'd presumably go for the 3.5-tonner in any case, the 3.2-tonne version offers a full range of load volumes up to a roomy 10.2m3. The smaller Daily's 105hp engine is fed by an oldtechnology injection set-up, rather than the common-rail system of the 123hp unit, and drives through five gears instead of six. The resulting performance and economy figures are respectable rather than outstanding.
The interior is also a huge improvement on earlier Daily incarnations, including much better quality plastics. The only major gripe inside is the recessed instrument panel: fine if you happen to be the right shape and size to see it, but fairly useless otherwise.
The Daily is still recognisable as being a van built by a truck maker rather than a car maker, but that's by no means a bad thing. For example, operating costs are greatly helped by the more truck-like 18,500-mile service intervals and the three-year/120,000-mile warranty.
Although totally different in concept, the two Mercs share some common characteristics. Both have been around for a while now, but with mid-life makeovers in the past year or two, and both are fuelled by the efficient CDI common-rail injection system. And both of our test vans came with the middle rated version of their mainstream engine ranges.
The Sprinter turned up with the biggest body in the range, a whopping 13.4m3, and was powered by the 107hp motor. It might only weigh in at 2348cc but this is one engine that definitely punches above its weight, putting out 270Nm of torque. Again, though, the roadtest returns continued to echo our belief that more power used responsibly improves fuel economy as much as it does performance.
Inside the recent revamp has rejuvenated the ageing Sprinter considerably, but there's no escaping its age. While still more than adequate, the Sprinter's accommodation is a clear reminder that the current model is at an advanced stage in its life cycle compared with its newer opposition.
Much of the same can be said of the Vito. Still a valid contender, thanks to its excellent driveline and driver-friendly cabin, the Vito is probably entering the twilight years of its life cycle. Performance and economy are excellent, but, nevertheless, the payload now looks modest with no upgraded chassis available.
And so to the Vauxhall Vivaro. Just being new doesn't automatically make something better. But if observing how other people do something for five years doesn't help you do it better yourself, then you've been wasting your time. And Vauxhall, with its partner Renault, definitely hasn't been wasting its time.
The Vivaro is still not perfect (a few issues regarding the driving position head the niggle list ) but it is a highly impressive bit of kit. Styling is a matter of taste, but that slightly wacky exterior hides a completely practical goods carrier.
The Vivaro's biggest shortcoming at the moment is the limited range of variants, but by this time next year longwheelbase, high-roof and higher powered versions will be on the market.
Laden fuel economy of the fresh-outof-the-box test van was slightly disappointing, but in every other respect, including performance and refinement, the common-rail engine is a winner, and with a few miles under its wheels we expect economy to improve noticeably.
Not just because it's new, but because the newness of its design has given it the edge in today's van market, the Vauxhall Vivaro takes the CM title of Testers' Choice of panel vans for this year.