DFSK EC35 review
The DFSK EC35 van offers all-electric drive and super-low pricing, but feels a little dated
If the DFSK EC35 looks familiar to you, then you're clearly a bit of a commercial vehicle aficionado. DFSK is a Chinese company that was active in the UK a few years ago with the Loadhopper, a small petrol-powered van that was most famous for sporting a nose that aped BMW's traditional kidney grilles.
Now DFSK is back with the EC35, an all-new model that ditches the lookalike grille, and swaps petrol power for an all-electric drivetrain. The EC35 is already a best-seller in China, and now UK firm Innovation Automotive (formed by ex-Mitsubishi UK staff) is distributing the model via direct sales to British customers.
The EC35 is a clear evolution of the Loadhopper, but is a bit bigger and has a more modern look. To our eyes it's reminiscent of another Chinese van, the Maxus V80, but has been shrunken down to half its size. It's a standard one-box van shape, and as a result there's 4.8 cubic metres of cargo space in the back. Twin sliding side doors and a top-hinged tailgate come as standard, too.
Power comes from a modest 39kWh battery and the DFSK EC35 has a range of up to 166 miles. It's fitted with a high-voltage CCS charging socket, and can take a DC charge rate of up to 40kW, so a flat battery can be fully charged in 90 minutes.
There aren't really any direct rivals to the EC35, since no other manufacturer builds such a van. A price tag of £21,000 (including the Plug-in Van Grant) means it's cheaper than the likes of the Citroen e-Berlingo by around £5,000, and it's roughly £10k less than the equally small Renault Zoe Van. In fact, the EC35's price puts it on a par with conventional small diesel vans, so it could be seen as a bridge for firms wanting to make the switch to electric.
The DFSK EC35 is off to a good start thanks to its super-low list price. It's the cheapest electric van for sale in the UK, and brings price parity with conventional diesel vans. You get a lot of kit for your money, too, although that is largely down to the fitting of an aftermarket 6.8-inch Grundig touchscreen media system. This adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth and a DAB radio, while a reversing camera and rear parking sensors are also fitted. Elsewhere, there's a USB port in the glovebox, electric windows, air conditioning and tyre pressure monitors, too.
The EC35's 39kWh battery is modest when compared with other electric vans (the Renault Zoe Van has a 52kWh pack), but then it's smaller than most vans, so it would be difficult to fit anything larger. DFSK offers two van specs, one with a top speed limited to 62mph and one limited to 50mph. The former has a range of 101 miles, while the latter ekes out the distance with a quoted range of 166 miles.
These are reasonable claims, but since the EC35 is unable to display a range figure in its trip computer, you won't be able to verify this. Instead you just get a percentage meter showing you how much energy is left in the battery, although if you sync the trip odometer with a full charge, then you'll be able to see how much actual range you'll get from a full charge.
Charging is one of the EC35 highlights. It comes with 40kW charging as standard and a CCS port, so high-voltage DC charging can be used. From a compatible source, a 0-80 per cent charge can take an hour, while charging from a 7kW AC wallbox is an acceptable six hours.
Load space and practicality
The DFSK EC35 packs a lot of space into its tiny dimensions. At 4.5-metres long, it's roughly the same length as a Citroen Berlingo Van, but it's around 10cm narrower and is nearly 2.0-metres tall, so it has some fairly unique proportions. It creates a cargo area of 4.8 cubic metres, which is a lot more than the 3.3 cubic metres on offer in the cheapest Berlingo Van, while the load length at the floor is 2.47 metres.
Access is decent via the twin sliding side doors and top-hinged tailgate, although the latter doesn't lift high enough if you're tall. DFSK claims that there's space inside for two Euro pallets with space to spare, although there are no lashing eyes or tie-down points inside. The EC35 comes with a full steel bulkhead with a window, while the tailgate can be had with glass, too.
Surprisingly, the EC35 has a maximum payload weight of 1,015kg, which is pretty substantial for such a small van. Of course, get anywhere near that payload weight, and you can expect the battery range to take a pounding.
Reliability and safety
DFSK will be something of an unknown quantity to many buyers, but Innovation Automotive is confident enough in the EC35 that it comes with a five-year/75,000-mile warranty, while the battery is covered for an industry standard eight years or 100,000 miles.
All vans come with three years of AA breakdown cover, while Halfords Autocentres have been signed up to take care of servicing, repairs and warranty work, mitigating the fact that DFSK is concentrating on direct sales without physical dealerships selling its products.
If somebody is interested in the EC35, then a call centre will be able to arrange deliver of a test vehicle, while the same centre will be the first port of call for any owners needing to get their vans serviced, repaired or any other issues that might arise.
Driving and performance
The EC35 starts much like any other electric vehicle - in silence, save for a beep letting you know that the van is running. There's a rotary drive selector where a gearlever would normally be, but be warned that you need to have your foot on the brake if you need to switch between drive, neutral and reverse - move the selector with your foot off the brake, and nothing will happen.
We tried two versions of the EC35, one unladen and the other with around 250kg of ballast in the back, and it's clear that carrying any weight boosts the van's ride comfort. With nothing on board, the DFSK bounces around a lot, especially at 30mph and above, while a lack of sound deadening means there's plenty of electric whine from the drivetrain.
The electric motor itself packs 80bhp and sends drive to the rear wheels, and off the line the EC35 is surprisingly quick. It also picks up quickly while on the move, although it does tail off the quicker you go. That bouncy ride means you won't want to be hitting the van's 62mph maximum too frequently. As we've mentioned, things get better with a load on board, and the ride does smooth out, so if you're going to be doing lots of carrying, then the EC35 will be a better proposition.
Light steering means the EC35 is easy to manoeuvre, while those compact dimensions mean it's a breeze to position where you want it. This isn't a van that's designed for longer distance work, and it's perfectly acceptable at low speeds, but those narrow dimensions mean it feels a little out of its depth on twisty roads.
Cab and interior
Those small dimensions mean there's only space for two in the cab, and the van's compact shape means the passenger compartment is relatively cramped. If you're tall, then the driving position will feel awkward, since the steel bulkhead means you can't move the seat far enough back and you will likely end up with your knees close to the dashboard on either side of the steering wheel. The pedals also feel slightly awkward, with the brake set higher than the accelerator.
The dashboard layout is definitely helped by the Grundig infotainment system, but overall it feels dated and you can really see where the EC35 is built down to a price. There are hard black plastics everywhere, flimsy feeling controls and the beige headlining and exposed frame for the bulkhead reveal where this van has been built down to a cost. Considering this is supposed to be a work vehicle, then that's likely to be acceptable, but it really shows where costs have been reduced.
Load area dimensions