The right van for the right job – a look at a quartet of workhorses to tackle any task. It wasn’t so long ago that vans were the true workhorses of the road. Abused, ignored, barely maintained and pounded for mile after mile, they gave everything until they conked out. But they didn’t do a great job of looking after their occupants either: noisy, uncomfortable and as welcoming as a prison cell.
It couldn’t be more different today, however. Modern vans are styled without the use of a setsquare, packed with luxury touches like air conditioning and satellite navigation. And with the latest generation of diesel engines, they’re economical and good fun to drive too.
Here we select the best vans depending on the task in hand…
1. Citroen C2 Enterprise
Best for: Package delivery drivers
At this end of the scale it’s all about keeping costs down, and the C2 Enterprise has it licked. Based on the thrifty C2 passenger car, the Enterprise can manage starship distances on just one tank of fuel thanks to the super-frugal 1.4-litre diesel engine.
It’s near the front of the pack in terms of cheap van insurance, and it’s also one of the cheapest to buy in the first place.
2. Ford Transit Connect
Best for: Plumbers
The Transit name has become synonymous with the world of vans. It’s a pretty generic term but the smaller Connect model, that wears the legendary badge, is an absolute gem.
For starters, it’s square, which means plenty of usable space and the ability to fit racking on the inside too. There’s a healthy choice of engines, with three diesels and one petrol to choose from, helping to keep costs down. Even better, the cabin is nicely laid out and it drives very well indeed – some of the Ford passenger car magic has rubbed off on the commercial side.
Ford’s wide dealer network should also make it easy to get hold of a bargain. The credit crunch means there are some great deals available at the moment from most manufacturers. If you don’t have the cash to hand, why not consider a vehicle loan to give you the leverage to broker an even better deal.
3. Vauxhall Vivaro
Best for: Builders
When it comes to full-size panel vans, you need a good engine, plenty of space and a tough cabin, and it’s all in the Vauxhall Vivaro. A new engine range appeared three years ago, bringing extra grunt and making it a surprisingly rapid machine. It comes in all the combinations you could need, with two wheelbases, two roof heights and two payloads, as well as the option of dropsides and double cabs.
It’s also something of a handsome beast. Despite not being in the first flush of youth, the Vivaro still looks sharp and manages to avoid the ‘wind-eroded breezeblock’ style that so many big vans are saddled with.
The icing on the cake is the running costs: expect good fuel economy and long service intervals, with cheap van insurance too.
4. Land Rover Freelander 2
Best for: Vets
If you need commercial amounts of space plus the ability to cross difficult terrain, it makes perfect sense to choose a Land Rover. The commercial version of the Freelander 2 retains the modern exterior design, with smart, blacked-out windows at the rear to hide the contents of the load bay.
Underneath, it’s sophisticated too. Go for the higher spec XS model and you get the fiendishly-clever Terrain Response system, which should keep you going in all conditions, as well as luxuries like climate control and parking sensors.
It’s still practical too of course: with a rubber-lined load bay and lashing points, it’s sturdy enough to cope with the toughest of jobs.