Best medium panel vans to buy 2021
There's plenty of choice available in the hard-fought medium-sized van sector. We rank our favourites
Of all the van classes for sale in the UK, the medium-sized panel van sector has to be the hardest fought. These vans are a mainstay of hard-working SMEs and fleets, because they offer more usable space than a small van can offer, while not being as big or bulky as a large van. What's more, the modern mid-sized van gets the kind of tech that was once only available in cars, which only makes them even more desirable. But which should you choose? We rank our 10 favourites.
Buy a medium-sized van, and you're buying a versatile set of wheels. There's usually space for three up front (and loads of room for two) while the payload area can carry at least two Europallets with ease. Cargo volume is useful, while payload weights can often be as good, or maybe even better, than those for large vans.
Manufacturers in this class include all the main commercial vehicle producers, including Citroen, Fiat, Ford, Mercedes, Nissan, Peugeot, Renault, Toyota, Vauxhall and Volkswagen. However, while that's quite a roll call, there are a number of joint ventures in that list, with many manufacturers offering what's essentially the same van in slightly different specifications.
In terms of body style, there aren't quite as many options for sale as you'd find in the large van sector, but there is still plenty of choice. While medium-sized chassis cabs are rare - nearly all vans in this sector are of unibody construction, which are therefore harder to strip back to a bare chassis - there are plenty of choices when it comes to panel van shapes and sizes.
Most medium sized panel vans come in at least two lengths – some add a third – while others also offer high-roof options. All will come with a steel bulkhead separating the cab from the cargo area, and there will be at least one sliding side door offered. Barn-style doors which lock open at 90 and 180 degrees, and can sometimes be fully opened to 270 degrees, usually feature at the back, with a top-hinged tailgate offered as an option, often at no extra cost.
There are five-seat double cab versions of these vans, too, which add windows to the sliding side doors and move the steel bulkhead back to make room for a three-seat bench behind the front seats. And if that's not enough seating for your needs, most medium-sized panel vans also come as either basic multi-seat vans (ideal for conversion to a taxi) or MPVs with up to nine seats and varying levels of comfort, from basic to palatial.
One area where there's more choice than ever is in terms of motive power. Diesel still dominates, and most medium-sized vans offer a variety of diesel power outputs, from modest to punchy. Some makers did dabble briefly with petrol power, but electricity is now finding its way into the class. Makers such as Volkswagen, Mercedes and the PSA Group (Citroen, Peugeot and Vauxhall) now offer fully electric versions of their medium-sized vans, while Ford offers its Transit Custom as a range extending (REx) plug-in hybrid (PHEV). UK manufacturer LEVC sells the VN5: a REx based on its famous TX taxi.
Best medium panel vans 2020
- Ford Transit Custom
- Volkswagen T6.1 Transporter
- Renault Trafic
- Vauxhall Vivaro
- Citroen Dispatch
- Peugeot Expert
- Mercedes Vito
- Toyota Proace
- Fiat Talento
- LEVC VN5
Read on to find out more about our favourite vans...
1. Ford Transit Custom
The Ford Transit is a mainstay of Ford's UK model line-up, and it's second only to the company's Fiesta and Focus models in terms of sales. It's such a big name for Ford that it went ahead and used the Transit name for all of its vans, so there's the full-size Transit, medium sized Transit Custom and small Transit Courier and Connect versions. It's the Transit Custom that sits at the top of our list here.
Updated in 2018, the Ford Transit Custom offers a great drive, great payload weights and decent cargo capacity. There are plenty of models to choose from, ranging from basic to the high-spec Sport, Active and Trail versions, and as well as diesel power with mild-hybrid assistance, it's also available with a plug-in hybrid drivetrain.
What's more, it's got the kind of tech that would've been unheard of even a decade ago. Top-spec vans feature Ford's SYNC3 infotainment, with touchscreen sat-nav, voice control and a host of connectivity options. If you drive a new Ford car, then you'll be more than familiar with this tech, as it's the same as you get in a Focus or Fiesta.
There's a familiar look outside, too, with the Transit Custom featuring a smart looking grille and daytime running lights up front. Go for a Transit Custom Sport and you get vivid colours, sporty stripes and a set of diamond-cut alloy wheels, while the Active and Trail versions add an off-road look inspired by Ford's Raptor models, as well as the option of a traction-boosting mechanical limited-slip diff.
This new tech doesn't come at the expense of practicality. Depending on which model you choose, Ford offers two lengths and a high-roof option, while the Double Cab in Van offers huge carrying ability for a family of five on the move. And if you need more seats, there's always the plush eight-seat Tourneo Custom to consider.
2. Volkswagen Transporter
You might be unfamiliar with Volkswagen's van range, but the Transporter has heritage that's almost as long as VW's itself. The T6 is the sixth-generation of mid-sized van produced by the firm, while the T6.1 that arrived in 2019 added a raft of kit that will be familiar to anyone who's driven a Golf.
Rivals offer greater load volume, but the T6.1 is more of a premium van in Startline and plush Highline trims, as well as standard and long-wheelbase variants. There are five-seat Kombi versions, as well as the multi-seat Caravelle, and of course there's the ubiquitous California camper version for those that enjoy the great outdoors.
While the T6 dabbled with petrol power briefly, VW's 2.0 TDI diesel comes in 150 and 199 outputs, the latter with a DSG auto box as standard and the option of 4MOTION four-wheel drive, while the all-electric e-Transporter has also joined the line-up, if you're after something more eco-minded. With the same running gear as the VW e-Golf, it has a driving range that's good enough for a day's work doing urban deliveries.
3. Renault Trafic
The Trafic is a proper old-school, no-nonsense van, but even Renault has added the latest tech to its workhorse with the van's most recent facelift. Like rivals, you can get long and short wheelbase versions, while the Trafic Passenger and Trafic Crew Van offer versatility, too. Renault also offers a range of ready-made conversions for businesses that need a specialist vehicle at short notice.
One great thing about the Trafic is its high-set driving position. With a commanding view of the road ahead, it offers one of the tallest seat heights of any van in the class. Add in the large rear-view mirrors and clever blind spot mirror set into the passenger side sun visor, and visibility isn't an issue in this van.
There are Business Edition and Sport variants of the Trafic, and you can even order one in lime green to really stand out from the crowd.
Under the bonnet, Renault has given all versions of the Trafic a 2.0 dCi diesel, no matter the power output. That means even the lowest-powered van has plenty of pulling power and doesn't feel strained when on the move. While the Kangoo and Master have spawned electric ZE variants, the Trafic ZE is still in development
4. Vauxhall Vivaro
Until a couple of years ago, the Vauxhall Vivaro shared its running gear and most of its tech with the Renault Trafic. But now that Vauxhall is part of the PSA Group, the Vivaro has 'switched sides', and is now partner van to the Citroen Dispatch and Peugeot Expert. The result is that while the new Vivaro is a little smaller on the inside than its predecessor, it's much more car-like to drive.
One thing that hasn't changed with the switch is where it's made. Yes, the Vivaro can continue to wear a 'Made in Britain' badge on its rear doors, because while it's all change mechanically, it's still built in the same factory in Luton.
The Vivaro comes in three lengths and has a through-loading bulkhead to help carry longer items. Up front, the three-seat layout is a little on the tight side, but the arrangement does offer a bit of versatility if you need it. There's good storage, while the van is comfortable on the move and has a host of safety features from the PSA Group car line-up.
Power comes from a set of efficient diesel engines, while the all-electric Vauxhall Vivaro-e promises to shake up the electric van market with potentially the longest range of any electric van on sale in the UK.
5. Citroen Dispatch
Along with the Peugeot Expert and Vauxhall Vivaro, the Citroen Dispatch brings a new level of car-sourced technology to the mid-sized van sector. Sure, it doesn't have the sheer cargo space of the Renault Trafic, but if you want a van that's car-like in the way it drives, then it should be on your shortlist.
One of the key features of the Dispatch that makes it so appealing is the comfort on offer in the cab. There's room for three, but it's a little tight, so it's at its best when travelling two-up and you have elbow room to spare.
There are safety features such as blind-spot assist, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control all offered, while the latest touchscreen infotainment makes an appearance, too.
Other useful features available in the back include power-assisted sliding side doors, which can also be opened by waving your foot under the door. Like the Vivaro and Expert, there's an all-electric e-Dispatch available if you want to slash your running costs.
6. Peugeot Expert
Part three of the PSA Group's mid-sized van range is the Peugeot Expert. It's essentially the same as the Citroen Dispatch and Vauxhall Vivaro, so which one you choose will depend entirely on whether you like the look of the smooth chevron front end of the Citroen, the restrained grille of the Vauxhall or the chunkier letterbox opening on the Peugeot. And if you can't decide, then there's also the Toyota Proace to add to the confusion.
There's nothing wrong with these vans sharing so much, because they are among the most advanced mid-sized vans for sale today. Cabin comfort is on a par with MPVs (the Expert is the sister model to the Peugeot Traveller seven seater), while touchscreen infotainment and plenty of soft-touch materials help the cab feel upmarket.
In the back, the Expert isn't the most spacious panel van for sale, but Peugeot offers a through loading facility that allows longer items to be carried into the front passenger footwell. There are two wheelbases and three body lengths on offer, so there should be a van to suit you, while a low floor boosts loading, too. Diesel power leads the wy for engine choice, but the e-Expert adds the option of electric drive for van users in need of a zero-emissions urban delivery vehicle.
7. Mercedes Vito
The Mercedes Vito is the commercial sister to the V-Class people carrier. But unlike that MPV, there isn't much of the way in luxury to be found. This is a workhorse with plenty of hard plastics inside, but what it does offer is the prestige of the Mercedes badge for users who need a van that doesn't live up to the typical van stereotypes.
There are three different panel van lengths, while Crew Van, Tourer people carrier and even Vito Taxi versions are offered (although the latter is only available to private hire licence holders). Progressive, Premium and Sport versions are available, with all offering an upmarket feel when compared to rival vans.
The engine range comprises four diesel units with up to 187bhp on offer, and front and rear-wheel drive layouts feature. For zero-emissions driving, the Mercedes eVito is a good choice, with a 93-mile range that's easily enough to do a day's work with.
Inside, kit across the range includes rear parking sensors, heated mirrors and a leather-trimmed steering wheel, while options include a rear camera, cruise control and sat-nav.
8. Toyota Proace
The Proace is the fourth van that's part of the Citroen Dispatch, Peugeot Expert and Vauxhall Vivaro platform sharing project. The major difference between the Toyota and the other vans is its sharper looks; nearly everything else is identical.
Power comes from diesel engines - none of Toyota's hybrid technology has made it across to the van just yet, and an all-electric variant hasn't been announced by Toyota yet - and there are Compact, Medium and Long panel van options, as well as a Crew Cab and People Carrier, which is a more basic option than the Proace Verso full MPV.
Like its sister models, the Proace isn't the roomiest mid-sized van, but it offers a more car-like driving experience than some rival vans. Options include blind spot detection, lane departure and a head-up display, while the interior is more upmarket than you might expect. On the move the Proace is a smooth drive, with the mid-spec diesel and above offering refinement and smooth pulling power.
9. Fiat Talento
In the van spotting world, you'd be forgiven for confusing the Fiat Talento for the Renault Trafic or Nissan NV300, because essentially they are the same vans. The Fiat is a successor to the Fiat Scudo, which it replaced in 2016. In fact, it's a bit of a swap with the Vauxhall Vivaro, because the old Scudo shared parts with the Dispatch/Expert, and the Vivaro with the Trafic, but now it's the other way around.
The Talento name comes from a short-wheelbase version of the Ducato that was sold in the 1980s, but the current van is light years ahead of that model. There's a single van body offered in long and short wheelbases, while power comes from a choice of two 2.0 MultiJet diesels. Like the Trafic, there's a system called Traction+ that gives the Talento modest off-road ability in place of conventional four-wheel drive.
And like the Trafic, there are basic versions of the Talento, or racy looking Sportivo and higher spec Tecnico versions, as well as Crew Van.
10. LEVC VN5
A newcomer to the medium-sized van market, the London Electric Vehicle Company (LEVC) is the UK company responsible for building the TX taxi. But now the firm is looking to expand its sales reach by branching out into the commercial vehicle market. Its first product is the VN5, a plug-in hybrid range-extender (REx) van that can travel up to 61 miles on battery power alone, and has a total range of around 300 miles once the petrol engine cuts in to drive the electric motor.
That's impressive when you consider that the Ford Transit Custom PHEV has a claimed range of around half that, and means the VN5 could be the perfect choice for business users needing a van that can do a day's work while pumping out zero emissions.
On board, the LEVC VN5 is packed with safety and driving tech, while a tight taxi-style turning circle will appeal to urban users. Downsides? Well, LEVC is a relative unknown in the van market, while the REx running gear means that there's a high load floor and not quite as much outright carrying capacity as its established rivals.