You wouldn’t normally put up with a car that had a lazy, agricultural diesel engine, a sky high driving position and very little in the way of what most of us would consider “handling”. Yet give that car a huge load area, chunky controls and a sprinkling of bloody-mindedness and curiously you suddenly have a vehicle that even the most ardent of sports car fans still loves to drive.
I am of course talking about a van. Vans are great. They may not handle but there’s a brutal honesty about them that you can’t help but love. And with examples like the 58-reg Vauxhall Vivaro I’ve been driving for the last few days, you don’t even feel short changed by the standards of modern cars.
It’s not the first time I’ve been White Van Man. The joys of student living have brought about the necessity to move frequently between flats. It’s a pain in the backside, but the saving grace is getting to knock around in a van for a few days. Last year it was a long wheelbase, high roof Transit. The previous year it was a Volkswagen Transporter.
The Vivaro compares favourably. Though difficult to draw direct comparisons with a year in between each van, the Vauxhall seems typical of modern vans. The turbodiesel engine is punchy and not entirely unrefined, and despite only 2.0 litres beneath the bonnet and only 90 PS there’s plenty of torque to crawl along with, making it almost as easy to punt around town as an automatic.
It may not perform like a modern diesel car but it never feels particularly slow either. Motorway cruising is pleasant enough with a handy dash-mounted six-speed gearshift ready to make the most of that engine.
Shedding speed is as easy as gaining it, although the brake pedal itself has so little feel you may as well be pressing against a Tesco bag full of air. Whilst we’re peeved about pedals, there’s no clutch footrest. This drives me spare. Lacking a clutch footrest is as big an ergonomic failing as an offset steering wheel or unreachable heating controls. I’m blaming this one on Renault, since the French marque co-developed the Vivaro. On the plus side, Renault has seen fit to style both inside and out with impressive flair.
Steering? Ride? Grip? Yep, it has those. Levels of each vary within acceptable parameters.
Vans aren’t about hitting apexes and rev-matching though (unless you want to, of course). Where they score are the areas that regular cars simply can’t match.
Cargo space is the obvious one. An MPV with no seats might seem pretty big inside, but you can’t realistically walk about in the back. With a van you can, and with plywood panels everywhere there’s no carpet to worry about. I’m no van expert but in terms of pure volume the Vivaro coped admirably with my flat-moving needs.
The cabin is great too. Loads of space, three comfortable seats and you can walk right through should you park too close to a wall. The door pockets will hold a large bottle of cola, there are cubby holes inside the cubby holes and despite the bulkhead behind, visibility is great, thanks to the huge windscreen and Dumbo-ear mirrors. And plipping the central locking results in a sound like Fort Knox being locked down.
The economy shouldn’t be sniffed at either. Over the 211 miles of the test, I averaged 37.6 miles per gallon. Sure, 180 miles of that was driving on the A1 at 70 and a chunk of that was a 50mph limit, but we’re still talking nearly 40mpg from somewhere north of two tonnes of brick-like metal.
So, I enjoyed the Vivaro. Is it as good as a Volkswagen Transporter or Ford Transit? Who cares? They’re all vantastic. I’m not about to start calling hardcore van drivers big softies, but they’ve certainly never had it so good.
There’s one last thing that’s great about vans though. Whatever car you drive afterwards will feel like a supercharged go-kart. Want to improve your car’s handling and performance? Rent a van. Your car will never feel so quick as when you get back behind the wheel…