Whether it’s a standard short-wheelbase with a one-tonne payload, a refrigerated 3.5t long-wheelbase high-top, or a high-roof combi with crew seats, sliding side doors and four-wheel-drive, the panel van in all its various formats is the backbone of Britain’s commercial vehicle market.
If you need a van for short-haul city trips, long-distance multiple-drop delivery driving, or simply transporting you, your colleagues and your tools from job to job, there’s a panel van to suit.
It’s a crowded market though, with well-known names like the Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter, Renault Trafic, Vauxhall Movano and Volkswagen Transporter all vying for your cash – and that doesn’t make choosing the right one any easier.
Economy and running costs, specification, availability of specialist conversions or racking options, and of course driver comfort and wellbeing must all be factored-in, by fleet managers and owner-drivers alike.
So to help you start your search for a new panel van, here’s our top 10 list of vans on sale in the UK today. Check it out, and then click through for the full Auto Express review of each of the models listed.
The latest VW Transporter has upped its game across three key areas – engines, interior and technology. As a result, the van has rocketed to the top of our best panel vans top 10.
Upgrades to the familiar Euro 5 spec diesel engines include standardisation of the BlueMotion package with stop-start, regenerative braking and more efficient tyres. 15 per cent fuel savings are claimed.
On the technology front, the Transporter is available with a full house of safety and assistance kit including adaptive cruise control, hill hold assist and driver alert system. Inside the hewn-from-solid interior there’s standard DAB radio, Bluetooth and a 5-inch touchscreen, as well as electric windows and heated mirrors. Optional luxuries include climate control, heated seats and a leather-rimmed steering wheel.
Handling is sure-footed, and you can order more powerful models with a DSG gearbox and 4Motion all-wheel drive.
The 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 a match for any of its rivals when it comes to the driver’s working environment, laying on a cabin with plenty of car-like features included as standard.
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.
Battling for Britain at number four is the Luton-built Vauxhall Vivaro. It’s also battling for France as the Vivaro was designed by Renault as a joint venture, and shares everything but its badges with the Renault Trafic sister-model.
Advanced common-rail diesels provide punchy performance and efficiency, with up to 47.9mpg available from the 118bhp BiTurbo. It’s the duo's ride and refinement that impress the most though, turning both the Vivaro and Trafic into excellent motorway cruisers.
The popular pair also come with an EcoMode button on the dash, which reduces power and torque but improves efficiency. Great for owner/drivers who are paying their own fuel bills, and who might also be interested in the Renault’s four-year warranty. The Vauxhall only gets three years cover.
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 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 hardwearing 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 exterior isn’t as pretty as the Sprinter, either.
The flexible Vauxhall Movano and its Renault Master sister model 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, refinement and well thought out cabin certainly makes it very comfortable for long journeys.
The Nissan NV400 is the third product of this Renault/Vauxhall joint venture, but as it’s only available as a single trim level on all but the smallest, least powerful models we don’t think the range quite cuts the mustard.
Unique in the large panel van class for its old-school body on chassis approach, (its contemporary rivals all use unibody construction), the Iveco Daily is one of the toughest panel vans around. Its ladder-frame construction gives it a class-beating 7-tonne max gross vehicle weight, and it’s popular with conversion specialists too.
Iveco makes big trucks, while most of the Daily’s rivals come from makers who specialise in cars. This shows in the Daily’s interior, which, while extremely practical and comfortable to sit in, is a little less cosseting than others. The Daily’s rugged build means it drives with a little less finesse than a Transit or Sprinter too, but it’s a good-looking, gritty truck that does the business and comes back for more.
Now check out our verdict on the top 10 best small vans on sale...