Panel vans are the bread and butter of the commercial vehicle market, and come in many shapes and sizes. Which one is best for you will of course depend on your specific needs, but whether it’s short-haul hops, long-distance multiple-drop delivery driving, or simply lugging you, your colleagues and all your tools from job to job, it’s likely to be a panel van of some sort that will be best for the job.
And however hard that job is, you can guarantee that the van will be up to it, as these are some of the most robust, unburstable commercial vehicles on the road.
Click on the links below to read our full in-depth review of each van.
The latest Ford Transit Custom combines all the load space and practicality you’d expect of a mid-sized van with the impressive driving and performance we’ve become used to from Ford’s passenger cars.
So as well as practical touches like a full-width steel bulkhead with a load-through facility, and long or short wheelbases, the 2.2-litre TDCi engine range offers up to 155bhp and up to 46.3mpg on Econetic models. The cabin is also impressively car-like, with options such as Bluetooth or DAB radio. The only downside is that the range doesn’t yet offer an automatic transmission.
No other large van comes close to matching the Mercedes Sprinter’s impressive breadth of talents - or its versatility. It’s available in nine different bodystyles on three wheelbases, four different body lengths and three roof heights.
Power ranges from 95bhp to 190bhp, with up to 35mpg economy available from the smallest diesel versions, delivering a good mix of efficiency and motorway hauling ability. An impressive ride makes Sprinters popular with those who cover high mileages, while the famous badge and premium feel can add a sheen of professionalism for small businesses.
The Ford Transit is Ford’s flagship large panel van and arguably the best known name in the whole light commercial vehicle world. The latest version retains the vast model range of its predecessor but adds significant improvements in terms of technology and quality.
Specific enhancements include a 10% boost in load volumes across the range, more powerful engines and a useful step up in terms of fuel efficiency. The Transit is also now a match for any of its rivals when it comes to the working environment it lays on in its cabin with plenty of car-like features included as standard.
The flexible Vauxhall Movano is one of the most versatile heavy vans on the market, with a gross vehicle weight ranging from 2,800kg right up to 4,500kg. It’s also available in four body lengths, three different heights and with 100bhp, 125bhp or 150bhp 2.3-litre diesel power. There’s even a full 17-seat minibus option available from the factory.
Just 150bhp is perhaps not enough power for a 4.5-tonne van, and its fuel economy isn’t the best in the class, but the six-way adjustable driver’s seat certainly makes it very comfortable for long journeys.
The big Volkswagen Crafter comes with a gross vehicle weight rating of 3,000kg, 3,500kg or a chunky 5,000kg, and shares its chassis and body shape with the Mercedes Sprinter. But VW uses its own 2.0-litre turbodiesel engines, with 109-163bhp. The most efficient of these offers up to 39.8mpg, with CO2 emissions of just 187g/km.
Inside, the Crafter is typically no-nonsense, with a durable hard-wearing feel to the materials in both the cabin and the load space. There’s a lot of dark grey and black plastic, though, which can make the interior feel rather sombre.
The big, boxy Fiat Ducato offers the best MPG and lowest running costs of any large van. Although its design is shared with the Peugeot Boxer and Citroen relay, the Fiat uses its own range of engines - based on the 2.3 and 3.0-litre turbodiesels found in the Iveco Daily range.
These offer between 110bhp and 148bhp in 2.3-litre guise and up to 177bhp in the 3.0-litre model. The van’s trump card is 45.6mpg economy, but long service intervals of 30,000 miles or every two years are also appealing.
The Renault Master impresses in most areas. It’s versatile, with up to 14 bodystyles, front and rear-wheel drive and three different power outputs. But the Renault’s trump cards are its refined engines and extremely well thought out cabin.
That smooth 2.3-litre diesel makes long journeys less tiring, while the plethora of door pockets includes space for a two-litre drinks bottle. There is even an optional integral clipboard and a folding centre seat with a swivelling top that can act as a laptop table.
Nissan’s big panel van is similar to the Renault Master and Vauxhall Movano, so it’s flexible, versatile and practical, and offers a wide ranges of load spaces and body styles. It’s also a decently refined performer, although its Renault-sourced 2.3-litre engines aren’t the most powerful, particularly if you opt for the heavier styles that are available.
But what puts the NV400 behind its Renault and Vauxhall cousins is the fact that it’s only available as a single trim level on all but the smallest, least powerful models. On the other hand, it has standard stability control on most models, unlike the Renault and Vauxhall.
The Boxer, along with the Fiat Ducato and Citroen Relay - with which it shares its body, chassis and engines - features the widest load space of any large panel van. Its tallest body has the highest load space, too.
But as well as impressive load-carrying capacity and flexibility, the Peugeot offers a decent range of engines, with between 109bhp and 174bhp, and the possibility of over 40mpg in the most efficient versions. The only real downside is that there’s no crew cab version offered.
The Vito is a high quality product but its problem has always been persuading UK van buyers that it’s worth a premium over the mainstream alternatives. The latest model closes the price gap with front-wheel-drive models but it still feels more like a converted passenger car than a purpose-built van.
That’s great if you prioritize comfort, refinement, technology and a general classy feel. Where the Vito is lacking is in both its raw capacity and the practical features designed to make a hard day’s work pass that little bit more easily.