CVT Awards logo 2019 FINALCompany Van Today Awards 2019

The van industry is going through a period of phenomenal change, with almost all the major models either recently updated or due a refresh in one form or another in the near future.

Drivers coming out of a van at the end of a long lease, or upgrading a bought vehicle that has reached the end of a long life, will be pleasantly shocked at how far things have come in terms of interior quality, technology and powertrains.

For the first time, Company Van Today is naming the models that can be considered the best in the business. We are also honouring the newest and best technology and innovations, and shining a light on the brand that has made the biggest ecological strides. The following pages commend the winners of the inaugural Company Van Today Awards.

 

GREEN AWARD

RENAULT

Electric is very much a powertrain in trend, with manufacturers scrambling to bring out battery-powered commercial vehicles and fleets rapidly warming to the idea, especially those with site-based or inner-city needs.

However, one manufacturer has been ahead of the curve for some time, and already has several models available to buy in the marketplace. Renault has a wider spread of electric vans than its rivals, and has one of the longest ranges – claimed and real world – of any electric commercial vehicle.

2019 Company Van Today Awards - Green Award - Renault EV RangeThe Kangoo ZE33 is a more realistic prospect than almost anything else in its class when it comes to usability, with a real-world range of 124 miles. The only thing that comes close is the Nissan eNV200, but the Renault trumps it by offering two different sizes as well as a crew option.

On top of the Kangoo, Renault managed to beat many of its rivals to market in the large van sector, with a battery-powered Master. It might not be as polished as forthcoming purpose-built electric vans promise to be, but it has the distinct advantage of being available to buy, and coming in more than one body style. Add in the quirky Renault Twizy commercial and Renault can claim to have almost all bases covered in the electric van market at a time when others are still making plans.

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INNOVATION AWARD

FTA’S CALM INITIATIVE

Spending hours at a time behind the wheel of a van can be a lonely place, and there are regular reports that paint a concerning picture about the state of drivers’ mental health. Research shows that one in five rate their mental health as poor or very poor, and three quarters of those said that work is a contributory factor.

But loneliness, anxiety, depression or mental health issues of any sort can afflict anyone, regardless of their day to day working environment, so it is laudable that the FTA is making efforts to help those in the van industry that suffer, often in silence.

2019 Company Van Today Awards - Innovation Award - FTA's (Fleet Transport Associations's) CALM InitiativeThe FTA is working with CALM – the Campaign Against Living Miserably – and encouraging businesses to sign up to its CALMVan pledge to publicly show their commitment to tackling poor driver mental health. This means pledging that drivers have access to mental health support and advice, and that they have a workplace culture of support and openness.

The briefings also tackled the physical and safety challenges facing van drivers, and a CALM-branded Mercedes-Benz van has been on display at Van Excellence briefings to help spread the message.

It might not be an initiative that will solve everything, but if it helps even some of that one-in-five then it is well worthwhile.

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MEDIUM VAN OF THE YEAR

FORD TRANSIT CUSTOM

Highly Commended

Volkswagen Transporter
Buyers in the medium van segment are spoilt for choice in many ways, because there are several models that could rightly claim the top spot, and there are many more that could be considered unlucky to not be named highly commended.

The Volkswagen Transporter is the one that edges ahead of a strong set of rivals, though, thanks to its versatility, excellent engines and plush cabin. The payload isn’t as impressive as that of the Citroen Dispatch/Peugeot Expert/Toyota Proace trio, but the Transporter’s wider range of body styles gives it the edge.

It also comes with an excellent DSG automatic gearbox, the rare commodity that is a petrol engine, and a wide range of options and limited editions that put the emphasis on style, making it a genuinely desirable van.2019 Company Van Today Awards - Medium of the Year - Highly Commended - VW Transporter

The king of the sales charts is number one for a good reason – it is simply so good at what it does. The Ford Transit Custom is beloved of drivers and fleet managers alike, and the most recent update solidified its well-earned place at the top of many companies’ lists and more than justified its victory in a keenly fought class with some incredibly compelling rivals.

One tool in the Transit Custom’s armoury is its flexibility – with two lengths, two heights, a choice of two or three seats across the front, a Doublecab-in-van (a crew van by another name) version and a nine-seater Kombi there is a high chance that the Ford’s range has you covered whatever you need to do.

2019 Company Van Today Awards - Medium Van of the Year - Ford Transit CustomThere are updates on the way, but even before those arrive the Transit Custom’s range still has a strong enough offering to really impress. The 2.0-litre diesel engines that came in as part of Ford’s move to Euro6 compliance in 2016 are smoother, quieter and more responsive than the versions they replaced. As with the body styles, there is a wide range of power options, ranging from 105hp to 185hp.

But the best thing about the Transit Custom has nothing to do with its excellent practicality, its strong engines or its high-quality cabin with a decent amount of storage. No, it’s because it is also great to drive in a way that many vans aren’t. This isn’t necessarily a top reason to choose a van, but it is a very good reason to enjoy living with one.

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LARGE VAN OF THE YEAR

MERCEDES SPRINTER

Highly Commended

Volkswagen Crafter
The Volkswagen Crafter is a fantastic vehicle all round and the fact that it was developed in conjunction with the target customers shows in a series of ways. It’s excellent to drive, has a high-quality interior and is in many ways the best at what it does. It feels particularly fresh, because the van that was launched in 2016 was an entirely new creation, having been developed from the ground up; many new models launched in the van world are evolutions, taking the old vehicle and adding a few bits here and there to spruce it up.

The result is a genuinely easy van to drive with a good, if not class-leading, payload, a fantastic set of engines and a wide range of body styles and drivetrain layouts. The only niggle, if there is one, is that the rear-wheel-drive model feels a bit loud and rough.2019 Company Van Today Awards - Large Van of the Year - Highly Commended - VW Crafter

 

With the replacement cycles in the van world normally the best part of a decade apart, a new model has to really move the game on in some form or another to give it longevity. The new Mercedes-Benz Sprinter can easily be said to have done that, with a level of tech and quality that sets a benchmark by which all others have to be judged.

If being the best meant simply offering the biggest payload then the Sprinter wouldn’t be up the top of the class, but as the large van plays an ever increasing role in delivering parcels to a demanding city-centric customer base, payload is not the only measure by which a contender should be judged.2019 Company Van Today Awards - Large Van of the Year - Mercedes SprinterInstead, the big Merc moves the goalposts in almost every other area, including technology. Vans often get the short straw when it comes to new tech, having to wait for it to trickle all the way down through a car range before it makes it into a van, but the Sprinter cocks a snook at this tradition, with a selection of kit that is as new as it gets.

The highlight is the huge infotainment system, which is the latest that Mercedes offers, and so the wide range of connectivity should help future-proof the Sprinter through the next few years of development in the sector.

A new front-wheel-drive version sits alongside the old-school basics of rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, while a stunningly smooth nine-speed automatic gearbox makes the Sprinter a relaxed and sophisticated van to drive.

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PICK-UP OF THE YEAR

VW AMAROK

Highly commended

Isuzu D-Max
At the other end of the spectrum from the VW Amarok sits the Isuzu D-Max, which makes no secret of the fact that it is aimed at those needing a tool rather than a lifestyle vehicle.

The downsizing of the engines in the most recent update to the range might seem to run counter to the approach taken by others, but it doesn’t hamper the D-Max’s ability, whether that be towing, tackling tough terrain or on road. The added bonus is that it doesn’t need topping up with AdBlue to comply with emissions legislation.

There are many more luxurious models available, but the value, strong warranty, tough build quality and sheer ability means that the D-Max is hard to beat if you want a pick-up to be a hard-working tool.2019 Company Van Today Awards - Pick-Up of the Year - Highly Commended - Isuzu D-Max

Pick-ups face a challenge in the modern market, with some buyers wanting them to do one thing and others seeking something different.

To expand, some simply need their truck to be a hardy, go-anywhere tool. However, the current tax system means there are many others that want pick-ups to offer a car-like experience. That’s why the majority of buyers head for top-of-the-range models, and are often looking for their pickup to perform as a family vehicle. Add in the lifestyle market and it is clear that the pick-up is less a working vehicle than every other commercial offering.2019 Company Van Today Awards - Pick-Up of the Year - VW AmarokThe VW Amarok puts its rivals to shame in many areas and is the pick-up that fulfils that brief of being a comfortable and refined vehicle better than any. Chief among the reasons why it is able to do this is its engine line-up – the all-V6 range sets the Amarok’s stall out as a high-performance and powerful option. The top two engines are smooth and offer a real turn of pace.

It retains good working credentials, though, with a loading area that is one of the largest in the class, and every model has a payload in excess of 1030kg. It might be the best posh pickup, but it holds its own when the going gets tough, too.

 

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TECHNOLOGY AWARD

PSA OVERLOAD SENSOR

The overload sensor in the Citroen Berlingo, Peugeot Partner and Vauxhall Combo is a piece of tech that is so clever it feels like it is only a matter of time before it starts appearing on rival vans as other manufacturers find their own equivalent.

In short, the sensor warns you when you have loaded the rear of a van up to 80% capacity, and again when you have exceeded the maximum payload. As a result, operators will be able to load smaller vans up more than they might otherwise have done, which should result in fewer trips and an increase in efficiency, saving both time and fuel.

It should also offer a boost to duty of care, because there would never again be a situation where a van is overloaded. Not only does this help with legal compliance but, more importantly, it will make a fleet safer.

This clever piece of technology is only an optional extra on most versions of the Berlingo, Partner and Combo, but it is affordable enough at only a couple of hundred pounds that it is well worth adding on.

By allowing operators to cut out a few extra journeys it should pay for itself in a very short period of time.

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LIGHT VAN/VAN OF THE YEAR

CITROEN BERLINGO/PEUGEOT PARTNER/VAUXHALL COMBO

Highly Commended – Light Van of the Year

Ford Transit Courier
Ford’s Transit Courier isn’t the most glamorous small van – it loses out to the Ford Fiesta on the style stakes – but it offers more practicality in a vehicle that won’t intimidate those who are more used to driving a car-sized vehicle.

The Transit Courier is also a rare commodity because many other manufacturers don’t compete in the smallest van sector, with car-derived vans hard to come by, and most brands no longer offering a similarly sized commercial vehicle.

Given how good the Transit Courier is, though, rivals would have to go some to steal sales off the Ford. As well as a generous and well-shaped loading bay, an excellent interior with a media system that was upgraded in the most recent facelift and sharp looks, the Transit Courier is fantastic to drive. The steering is sharp, the engines are strong and it is entertaining and accessible for those that want a small van to nip around town.2019 Company Van Today Awards - Light Van of the Year - Highly Commended - Ford Transit Courier

Steps forward in the van world tend to be measured and notably smaller than those of the passenger car equivalent, so it was a surprise and a delight when the new Citroen Berlingo, Peugeot Partner and Vauxhall Combo launched with some ground-breaking new technology, a genuinely upmarket cabin and a top-level driving experience.

The trio do have their quirks to differentiate them from one another, but the fundamentals are the things that set these vans ahead of the more established competition. The ability to offer a payload that is in excess of 1000kg is fantastic, and the best you can get in this class.

2019 Company Van Today Awards - Light Van of the Year / Van of the Year - Citroen Berlingo

Citroen Berlingo

The fact that you can make the most of this payload due to the overload sensor makes it an even more compelling prospect for those that want to carry as much as possible in a small van. But the overload sensor  isn’t the only piece of tech that is simple and clever. Using cameras in place of a mirror is nothing new but it is something that hadn’t made it to the commercial vehicle market before these three came along. The ability to see behind a van with solid rear doors, and to see into the blind spot created by solid side walls, will not only boost safety, it will make driving a van much less intimidating to those much more used to driving a car.

2019 Company Van Today Awards - Light Van of the Year / Van of the Year - Peugeot Partner

Peugeot Partner

This trio won’t just appeal to those looking for the latest gadgets, though, because they are wonderful vans to drive. The new PSA engines are all excellent, but the new 1.5-litre diesel particularly so, as it keeps noise down to a level that is really impressive in a commercial vehicle. The eight-speed automatic gearbox is something else that will feel like a huge leap forward in modernity for those that are coming out of an older van.

2019 Company Van Today Awards - Light Van of the Year / Van of the Year - Vauxhall Combo

Vauxhall Combo

Sure, there are differences between the three, but the things that set the trio apart from one another will attract and repel buyers in equal parts. The small steering wheel in the Peugeot will put off plenty, but it will appeal to many that don’t want the conventional layout of the other two. The three vans have many avenues covered, either through their physical offering or their dealer network, but there is so little between them that it’s highly unlikely that anyone would rue their choice when picking between the three.

Even without the new innovations there would be a strong case for the Berlingo/Partner/Combo trio to be named the van of the year anyway, but adding them in makes their position at the top of their class, and the best overall, undeniable.

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