Best small vans to buy 2020
Affordable, practical and cheap to run, these 10 small vans are low-cost load-luggers
Small vans are big business in the UK. Most van makers fight for sales in the sector, and there's a surprisingly wide range of fans on offer, with many of them offering the maximum amount of space in the smallest package possible.
A small van has to offer a range of talents to van buyers, which the latest models, like the Citroen Berlingo Van, are more than up to the task of delivering. A compact shape does wonders for driver confidence at the wheel in built-up areas, but the best vans don't sacrifice payload capacity as a result. Makers are offering small vans for sale in a variety of sizes and shapes, too. There are short and long panel vans with standard and high roof options, crew vans and even conversion options starting to become available on some vans. Innovative carrying solutions are available, too, such as through-loading bulkheads designed to accommodate longer loads.
Many small vans only come with a single sliding side door, with a second door offered as an option, and you can even get ones with no side doors at all, if security is your ultimate concern. The rear doors are usually asymmetric to help with opening in tight spaces, and some vans come with the option of a hatchback-style top-hinged tailgate. Most small vans come with solid steel doors that promote security, although window glass is available for the side and back doors if visibility is more important to you.
Some vans come with a steel bulkhead to separate the load area from the cabin, while others have open backs, or a mesh bulkhead as a compromise. Moving forward to the cab, a two-seat layout is the usual arrangement in a small van, but more are coming with the option of three seats across the cab. Because small vans aren't any bigger than a conventional car, as you'd expect these offer more of a 1+2 layout, with two narrow seats for the passengers. These aren't usually very roomy, but at least it adds some versatility to a small van if they're fitted.
Another highlight of the latest small vans is the way that they drive. Vans like the Peugeot Partner and Ford Transit Connect use more car-based running gear than ever, and as a result they handle well, offer decent comfort and also come with the latest safety kit. Rear cameras, blind spot monitoring and even adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency braking can be found on the latest models, while USB and 12-volt connections help to keep your work devices charged.
Under the bonnet, diesel power is still king, with greater power and efficiency offered than ever before. While petrol power is available, you have limited options here. If you want to cut costs and emissions, then there are electric small vans on offer, and these are perfect for local deliveries. They have enough range to spend a day driving around, while the Government's Plug In Van Grant knocks up to £8,000 off their list price, making them more affordable than ever.
Most vans are front-wheel drive, while some makers offer special upgrades that add switchable traction control and all-season tyres to give some added off-road ability. If you need something more capable off-road, then an SUV-based commercial 4x4 might be for you. Models such as the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Commercial and Toyota Land Cruiser Utility Commercial deliver all of the off-road ability of their SUV counterparts, but have only 2 seats and a large, flat load area in the back that's more secure than a pick-up truck's load bed.
Read on to find out how we rate 10 of the best small vans for sale today…
Best small vans 2020
1. Citroen Berlingo/Peugeot Partner/Toyota Proace City/Vauxhall Combo
There's a four-way tie at the top of our best small vans countdown, because they are all largely the same van. Development was led by the Citroen Berlingo and Peugeot Partner which arrived in 2018, with the Vauxhall Combo arriving in 2019 and the Toyota Proace City arriving in 2020. They all use the same running gear and are largely identical from the leading edge of the bonnet all the way to the back doors.
That platform mixes the spacious cargo volume of the last Berlingo/Partner with the latest engine and safety technology seen in cars such as the Peugeot 3008 and Citroen C4 SpaceTourer. That means they're all practical, with a payload of up to a tonne available on some versions, while tech such as adaptive cruise control, lane assist and blind spot monitoring are all available.
You can have two or three seats - there's a clever through-loading bulkhead available with the latter - and an optional switchable traction control system is available to boost traction on the building site. All vans get excellent cabin storage, while you have a choice of L1 or L2 body lengths or a Crew Van, which is a sort of stepping stone to the Citroen Berlingo/Peugeot Rifter/Vauxhall Combo Life MPV variants.
The choice between the four vans pretty much falls to you and which version you like the look of: the design-led Berlingo, rugged Partner, sharp Proace City or traditional Combo, although the Toyota does have a five-year warranty to the three years offered on the others. Thanks to more attractive finance deals, the Vauxhall Combo Cargo narrowly edged the Berlingo and Partner to become our 2019 Van of the Year, but none of these small vans will disappoint.
2. Ford Transit Connect
The Transit Connect is still the driver's choice in the small van market, thanks in no small part to the fact it shares its running gear with the Mk3 Ford Focus hatchback. In addition to fun handling, the Transit Connect feels very grown up to drive, with comfortable suspension and interior quality that puts rival vans in the shade.
Like rivals, Ford offers the Transit Connect in standard and long wheelbases, while the double cab version has a second row of seats and sliding side doors to improve access. Under the bonnet is Ford's latest TDCi diesel, or you can choose the excellent 1.0 EcoBoost turbo petrol three-cylinder.
You can get Leader, Trend, Limited and Sport trims, with the latter being designed to offer a sportier look than the rest of the range. Top models benefit from Ford's latest SYNC3 touchscreen infotainment with voice control, and all vans feel very car-like inside. Overall, the Transit Connect is a good-looking machine with easy access to its load area and great standard safety kit.
3. Volkswagen Caddy
The Volkswagen Caddy has the kind of quality that wouldn't look out of place within VW's car range, and as a result it's one of the most comfortable small vans on the UK market. Like most rivals, there are standard and Maxi long-wheelbase options, a five-seat Kombi crew van, plus the Caddy Life MPV.
While the Caddy was updated in 2015 to get a sharper look similar to the VW Golf and Polo, in reality it was just a change to the metalwork, as the Caddy's running gear is the same as the Golf MkV. However, that's no bad thing as it is a comfortable and refined van with car-like handling.
Unlike some rivals, there's a petrol engine offered alongside the more conventional diesel versions. And the options list is extensive, with as many extras available as you'll find on any of VW's passenger cars.
4. Fiat Doblo Cargo
The Fiat Doblo used to have a platform sharing partner in the shape of the Vauxhall Combo. But with that model now part of the PSA Group, the Doblo soldiers on alone. However, in many ways the small Fiat is still a good choice in the small van sector. It already has class leading payload and cargo volume figures, thanks in part to the fact that it comes in a versatile range of body styles.
Fiat offers long and short body versions and a high-roof option, while there's also a chassis cab version that was briefly offered in the shape of the Doblo Workup pick-up. Once you've chosen the right van, you can pick between barn doors or a liftback tailgate at the rear.
Whichever version you choose, the interior doesn’t feel as high quality as you'll find in some rivals, but carrying capacity in the rear can be huge if you choose the longer wheelbase, high-roof versions.
5. Renault Kangoo/Nissan NV250
The Renault Kangoo, was launched in its most recent guise in 2013, but it has had a series of updates over the years. It was sold as a budget MPV for a while, but that was dropped as Renault concentrated on its core models, which included the Kangoo Van. And in 2019, the Nissan NV250 arrived as a sister model to the Kangoo with a tweaked look but a similar engine and payload range.
The Renault is a versatile urban delivery van that majors on being good to drive and delivering impressive fuel efficiency. It's also great value for money, and shares much of its engineering with the Mercedes Citan, although the Kangoo is significantly cheaper. Unlike the Citan, there's just two versions, the standard length and the Kangoo Maxi.
One highlight that marks the Kangoo out from the Citan is the availability of an electric version. The Kangoo Z.E. uses the same electric drive system as the Zoe supermini, and that means it can take eight hours to be fully charged from flat, so that's easily achievable overnight. Bigger batteries mean you can expect a range of 125 miles (more like 75 miles when cold), and the range is the same if you go for the standard van or the longer Maxi Z.E. That's more than enough for a day's work.
6. Mercedes Citan
The Mercedes Citan was co-developed with the Renault Kangoo, but the two models are priced far apart. The other two big differences between them are that the Citan is offered as a people carrier - the Kangoo is not - but the Kangoo is the only one of the two offered as an electric vehicle.
The Citan comes in Compact, Long and Extra Long body styles, and is offered either as a panel van or crew van with five seats, although the latter's seats fold to create even more space. Even better is that the Citan Sport adds some style to the class, replacing the standard van's black bumpers with body coloured ones and fitting alloy wheels as standard.
Power comes from Renault's 1.5 dCi diesels, so they're not the most powerful, but have enough oomph to haul big loads around. One area where the Citan is a bit of a letdown is the quality of the materials on board. This isn't like Merc's cars with plush materials everywhere, instead the cabin has the look of its Kangoo counterpart, with lots of hard plastics and Renault switchgear present - not something you'd expect considering the Citan's higher price.
7. Fiat Fiorino
The tiny Fiat Fiorino is getting on a bit now, and it used to share its part of the market with the Citroen Nemo and Peugeot Bipper, but these are no longer for sale. The Fiorino continues as a smaller alternative to the Doblo, and its one-box design scores well for load space and practicality, with up to 2.8 cubic metres of load space on offer if you specify the folding front passenger seat. That's pretty impressive for a van that’s just 3.8 metres long, while a 660kg payload is also pretty good, and easily beats any supermini-derived van, such as the Ford Fiesta.
Under the skin, the Fiorino uses a development of the Fiat Punto platform, and while that means it's getting on a bit, the handling is lively. Add in a range of diesel engines that major on running costs and power, and the Fiorino is an attractive proposition for small businesses.
Thanks to that 660kg payload, the Fiorino gets a stiff suspension set-up, but that gives the van a bouncy ride when empty.
8. Nissan e-NV200
While the diesel-powered NV200 has been replaced by the Renault Kangoo-based NV250, Nissan's all-electric e-NV200 hasn't yet been awarded the same fate. And that's a good thing, because the e-NV200 is one of the most viable small electric vans for sale in the UK at the moment.
That's because the e-NV200 benefits from the electric technology that's been developed in the Leaf hatchback, so it gets the same 40kWh lithium-ion battery that appeared in the Leaf Mk2 that arrived in 2018. That means Nissan quotes a range of around 170 miles for the e-NV200, and you'll easily be able to cover 120 miles without the need to charge up - ideal for short-hop local delivery companies.
There are downsides to Nissan's electric van. Aside from the hi-tech running gear, the rest of the van is pretty dated, with plenty of hard plastics and a basic layout inside, and it's not the most exciting drive, either. If you want luxuries, you'll need to go for the top-spec Tekna trim, although there is still a plug-in van grant to take the sting out of the purchase price.
9. Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Commercial
Small vans are all well and good, but they're not exactly stylish. If you want a work vehicle that has a reasonable amount of space, but need some off-road ability and a different image than a small van offers, then an SUV-based commercial 4x4 might be the answer. And if eco-driving is of importance to you, then the only option available to you is the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Commercial.
The Outlander PHEV Commercial is exactly the same as the plug-in hybrid SUV under the skin, so it gets the same 2.4-litre engine and additional kit that was introduced to the passenger model. The big difference between the Commercial model and the standard Outlander PHEV are that the back seats are removed completely, and in their place is a large, flat-floored load area.
Commercial 4x4s also get blanked rear windows to qualify for their classification, but that means the load area is more secure than a pickup truck bed, for example. Up front, the cab is as plush as you'll find in the front of an SUV, although that does mean the Outlander Commercial is just a two-seater. The biggest downside to the PHEV Commercial is that the tax breaks aren't quite as favourable as they are for the SUV variant.
10. Renault Twizy Cargo
Vans don't come much more niche than the Renault Twizy Cargo, because you can barely call it a van in the first place. This electric model is classed as a quadricycle, so you can drive it on a motorcycle licence, while a theoretical range of 56 miles on a full charge should cover most local trips that you might need to do each day.
The Twizy Cargo is a single seater, because the rear seat of the standard Twizy has been replaced by an enlarged boot, which is accessed from the rear. This has a 180-litre capacity, which is bigger than most scooters with a top box, and this is the kind of vehicle that the Twizy Cargo is designed to go up against.
With no weather protection, flimsy 'doors' and a super-stiff ride that crashes over bumps in the road, the Twizy is more like a scooter than a car to drive, while unassisted steering undoes some of the usefulness of the car's tight turning circle.
Still, as an advert for your business, the Twizy is pretty unique, and it stands out from the crowd when compared to the average small van or scooter.
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