The sixth-generation Ford Transit might now be built in Turkey rather than Southampton but don't let that cloud your buying decision. If you want the best large van in its sector, you're looking at it right here. Rivals will doubtless arrive in a couple of years copying what Ford has done right here and now.
Under the bonnet, the big news is the replacement of the old 2.2 TDCi diesel this LCV was supplied with at launch with a new generation 2.0-litre Ford EcoBlue engine. It's offered in 105PS, 130PS and 170PS power ratings, each of which offers increased power and torque compared to before. Improved low-end pulling power - with 20 per cent more torque at 1,250rpm - delivers more flexible and responsive performance in everyday driving. There's also now the option of a smoother, more efficient automatic gearbox, a 6-speed SelectShift auto transmission.
Available in front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions, the Transit has been engineered to keep coming back after the worst abuse imaginable. Its body construction features high-strength and ultra-high-strength boron steels and in development, has covered the equivalent of nearly seven million miles in testing in Europe and North America, with more than 310,000 miles of that total covered by actual Transit customers. Safety tests have been undertaken to ensure the van would behave in a safe and predictable manner when subjected to the worst kinds of impacts experienced in real-world use, one test involving striking a 150mm kerb at 30mph. Ford didn't say how much damage the inevitable Pot Noodle in the cup holder did to the vehicle's interior.
By its definition, a panel van needs to be a big box on wheels, so there's only so much stylists can do to differentiate them externally. Nevertheless, Ford has done quite a good job with this Transit. The front end doesn't immediately look like a Ford product. Previous Transit generations have usually tried to crib whatever the current trend in Ford passenger car styling is and adapt it, more or less successfully, to the bluff front end of a commercial vehicle but while that may work with the smaller Courier, Connect and Custom lines, the latest fully-fledged Transit is a big thing and it looks a bit different. The huge front grille has echoes of the Aston Martin lookalike front end sported by some Ford cars, but thankfully the stylists haven't tried to force the theme.
The Ford Transit cannot rely on customer goodwill to maintain its UK market share, that much is clear. Much of that has evaporated with the company's decision to up sticks to Turkey to build the vehicle. Instead the Transit needs to unambiguously better its key rivals in terms of practicality, running costs and ease of use. It's hard to argue that this latest model doesn't do exactly that.
The amount of work that Ford has put in to improve efficiency betrays an almost obsessive attention to detail, zeroing in not only on the things that matter to fleet operators, but also devoting equal attention to what counts for those who will drive this vehicle. Yes, you can buy cheaper vans in this sector, but at what cost? The Transit formula has been calculated to the nth degree and it works. Don't expect that to change anytime soon.Click here to find out more about our Ford Transit range
Peugeot's Boxer is a large LCV that has forensically focused on the things that make a real difference to fleet operators in order to give its heavyweight the best chance of a unanimous decision. Let's check out this revised model with its more frugal range of 2.0-litre BlueHDi engines.
The Peugeot now offers a strong line up of three 2.0-litre BlueHDi diesel engines, all fitted with diesel particulate filters. At the foot of the range, there's a 110bhp unit with 300Nm of pulling power, 50Nm more than the previous entry-level engine. The next BlueHDi unit up is the 130bhp variant, which delivers 340Nm of torque, 20Nm up on before. Finally, at the top of the range, if you need to haul really heavy loads, you'll want the 160bhp powerplant, which fronts up with 350Nm of torque and has 10bhp more than its predecessor could offer. Big brakes, strong suspension mountings and a rigid body all improve the driving characteristics. BlueHDi technology has enhanced performance too. In the 110bhp version for example, acceleration has been improved by up to 4.0 seconds for the 0-62mph sprint and by 8.0 seconds for the important 50 to 80mph overtaking increment.
On to the main practical facts you'll need. There are two body styles - Panel and Window van. The Panel and Window van can be specified in four lengths (L1, L2, L3 and L4) and three heights for the Panel van and two in the Window van. The Panel van offers loadspace options between 8m3 and 17m3. And payload options between 1115kg and 1900kg.
The interior is nicely executed with far better materials quality than the outgoing van. The steering wheel looks more car-like and can be trimmed in perforated leather as an option. The dashboard gets a revised control panel with a better range of audio systems, while black 'Darko' cloth punctuated with red and grey is adopted for the seats, with brown Achille trim as an option. The whole effect contributes towards the perception of improved quality and modern appearance of the cabin. It's no mere perception that this van feels tough. This Boxer has benefited from testing such as 1,500 hours at temperatures from -20??C to +40??C to ensure resistance to ageing by the components and materials used in mechanical, plastic and electronic parts. It's been subjected to 1,000 dunkings in 10cm of water or 3cm with saline spray, with no washing of the vehicle during the following 1,000 km, to validate the sealing and resistance to corrosion. Half a million door opening test cycles were carried out at temperatures of -30??C to +80??C, to simulate ten years of hard use.
The Boxer is faced with some really strong rivals but rather than shy away from the challenge, Peugeot has come out swinging. It's hard to argue with a van that offers this sort of refinement inside while also being able to claim such excellent economy figures and backing it up with a large and practical load bay which boasts the broadest load width in the sector. Perhaps the most interesting challenge to the Boxer will be the one from its sister vehicles, the Citroen Relay and the Fiat Ducato. Much will come down to the individual deals you can gain from your dealer there, but the Peugeot might just win out, in this country at least.
A lot of thought has gone into making the Boxer work for its operators. The service intervals are lengthy at two years or 30,000 miles. It runs on 15-inch tyres, which are the cheapest and easiest to get hold of for van fleets. The engines are chain rather than belt driven so don't require replacement every 60,000 miles. Small things like this make a difference. Peugeot hopes you'll agree.Click here to find out more about our Peugeot Boxer range
Volkswagen's Crafter, the UK's fourth best selling large van, is the thinking business person's choice in this sector, especially since it was improved with a smarter look, a fresh range of 2.0 TDI diesel engines and enhanced safety and media connectivity. Now making more sense than ever before on the balance sheet, this is a contender better placed than most to take in its stride whatever your company can throw at it.
Once you settle into driving a large van like this, it's a very commanding experience. You sit high up in quite a car-like position thanks to the upright steering wheel, enjoying a supportive seat that's equipped with an armrest to prop a weary elbow on over longer trips. A pity then, that earlier Crafter engines tended to be relatively ponderous. That's not the case anymore thanks to far-reaching changes under the bonnet of this revised version and the adoption of a freshly designed electro-mechanical steering system..
Engine changes centre around the installation of a freshly-designed 2.0-litre TDI diesel unit, available to 102, 122 and 140PS outputs, plus there's a potent bi-turbo version putting out 177PS. All the engines will get you and your load where you need to be with deceptive speed. The smoothness and pulling power of this 2.0-litre unit is something that operators familiar with the old version may well notice in the first half a mile of use, even in the entry-level 102PS variant. Customers have a choice between front, rear and all-wheel drive (4MOTION), as well as the option of a manual or automatic gearbox.
Power arrives low in the rev range so that you don't have to row the thing along with the gear lever so much in town. On the open road, overtaking's easy too. It's the main reason why this vehicle has so much towing power too, all Crafters able to haul a braked trailer grossing at up to 2,000kgs. Further up the range, the differences with what went before are even greater, the top-flight twin-turbo 177PS BiTDI variant offering around 400Nm of torque.
Inside, the space available will of course depend upon your choice of wheelbase - short, medium, long or Maxi. And you'll also need to carefully select your roof height, the choice being between normal, high or super-high, equating to interior roof heights of 1.65m, 1.94m and 2.14m respectively. There are four load compartment lengths varying between 2,600mm and 4,700mm.
Load volumes vary between 7.5 and 17 cubic metres. The load width is 1780mm, narrowing to 1350mm between the wheelboxes. Payload capacity, now increased, will of course depend on your choice of Gross Vehicle Weight - 3.0, 3.5 or 5.0 tonnes.
Active driver assistance systems include ESP with trailer stabilisation, ACC Adaptive Cruise Control, a post-collision braking system, a side wind compensation system and a trailer manoeuvring assistant system. Buyers might also also want a reversing camera, a parking distance monitor and a Rear Traffic Alert system. Optional LED headlights, cornering lights and a Light Assist set-up can ensure a clear view of the road ahead at night, while the Crafter can also now come with online services tailored to the specific needs of customers.
Is there a better quality large panel van out there than the Volkswagen Crafter? Assuming you prefer the Volkswagen's engine range and pricing structure to that of its Mercedes Sprinter stablemate, then you'd have to say not. The only issue this vehicle used to have centred upon its running costs, but these are now amongst the most efficient in the class thanks to the adoption of a far cleaner and more frugal set of Euro6 2.0 TDI diesel engines.
Yes, the Crafter is priced at a premium compared to rivals but you can see and feel where the extra money goes. Forward-thinking businesses will accept this on the basis that residual values are very strong and the whole vehicle feels - and is - built to last, enabling companies to spread the up-front sticker price over a longer operating period. In ten years time, we'd wager that this vehicle will still be going strong at a point when most of its rivals will be falling to pieces. Enough said.Click here to find out more about our Volkswagen Crafter range