Best small vans to buy 2021
Small vans are affordable, practical and cheap to run, and this is our top 10 rundown of low-cost load-luggers
Nearly every commercial vehicle maker has a small van for sale in its range. These models are the most compact work vehicles you'll find for sale, but they still come in a variety of sizes, so they're still pretty versatile. Typically, they have a two-box layout, with a cab up front and a large load area behind. In the past, they've been pretty basic, but modern vans are more often than not based on car platforms, and have technology to match.
Big sellers such as the Citroen Berlingo Van, Ford Transit Connect and VW Caddy follow a formula which is standard throughout the small van sector. There is usually just a single sliding side door (a second door will be optional), plus barn doors at the back, usually in a 60:40 split (again, some vans offer the option of a top-hinged tailgate). More often than not there's a steel bulkhead dividing the load area from the passenger compartment – although some vans still only offer this as an option – while some vans offer a through-loading bulkhead to accommodate longer items.
Most small vans come in at least two body lengths, but high roof variants are less common, while conversions are virtually non-existent. Crew Vans usually feature a basic folding bulkhead with an integrated second row of seats. These are designed for work transport rather than being considered an alternative to an MPV, because the sliding side doors will usually only have glass if you add it as an option. Besides, the leading lights in the small van class are available as MPVs, which are far more suited to family life.
The vast majority of small vans are front-wheel drive, although some vans have the option of off-road packages that add switchable traction control and all season tyres that provide extra traction. If you want four-wheel drive, then you have the option of a commercial 4x4. These are based on SUVs, but have their windows blacked out, all the back seats stripped out and a long, flat load area put in their place. These models are an interesting stop-gap between a small van and a pick-up truck, because they offer nearly as much cargo volume and security as a small van, but with the off-road ability of a pick-up, if not the payload capacity.
Diesel power is the most common power source. There are a handful of petrol-engined small vans, but there are just as many electric versions on offer these days, which are ideal for short urban delivery routes and zero-emissions running. They often have enough driving range for a day's work at low speeds, while the Government's £8,000 Plug-in Van Grant takes some of the sting out of the initial purchase price.
Today's small vans deliver a driving experience that will be a surprise to most. Vans such as the Ford Transit Connect and Vauxhall Combo are surprisingly agile, while the level of kit on board is starting to match passenger cars. That includes safety gear, with assorted cameras, lane assist functions and automatic emergency braking on offer, although usually as an option.
Read on to find out how we rate 10 of the best small vans for sale today…
Best small vans 2021
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 offered.
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 grip 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 compared with 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/Transit Courier
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 wouldn't look out of place in a car.
Like rivals, Ford offers the Transit Connect in standard and long wheelbases, while the Double Cab In-Van version has a second row of seats and sliding side doors to improve access. Under the bonnet is Ford's latest EcoBlue diesel in three outputs with an auto gearbox option on some versions, or you can choose the excellent 98bhp 1.0 EcoBoost petrol three-cylinder manual in entry-level variants.
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. Ford has also launched the Active model with off-road styling as an alternative to the Sport. These 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.
If you need something a bit more compact, then the Transit Courier is smaller still. The range isn't as broad as the Connect's, with Base, Trend, Limited and Sport versions offered in a single body style (although there is a Kombi variant of the Base version) and either EcoBoost or a choice of two diesel engines.
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.
The fifth-generation Caddy arrives later this year, so expect prices for the current model to be discounted from their comparatively high levels when compared to small van rivals.
4. Fiat Doblo Cargo
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 and the unique 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/Mercedes Citan
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 panel vans, the standard length and the Kangoo Maxi, but there is also the Maxi Crew available, with a folding bulkhead and temporary rear seats.
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. 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.
One highlight that marks the Kangoo out from the Citan and NV250 is the availability of an electric version. The Kangoo ZE 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.
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 the Kangoo, with lots of hard plastics and Renault switchgear present - not something you'd expect considering the Citan's higher price.
6. Toyota Land Cruiser Utility Commercial
If you want something a bit different from the small van norm, then a commercial 4x4 might be the answer. These vehicles are based on SUVs, but replace the back seats with a flat load area and feature blanked-off side windows. Mitsubishi offers the Outlander and Shogun Sport Commercials (the former even in PHEV guise), while the Land Rover Defender Hard Top is available to order and the Suzuki Jimny Commercial is coming next year. But right now our favourite commercial 4x4 is the Toyota Land Cruiser Utility Commercial.
It comes in Utility trim, so there's a functional look and steel wheels which help the Land Cruiser stand out, while the cabin is decked out in velour trim and hard plastics. It's not as plush as the regular Land Cruiser SUV, but this ads to its appeal. It's more comfortable than most small vans thanks to its long-travel suspension, and it'll head further off road than almost any other car for sale. Unlike a pick-up truck, that cargo area is sealed off from the elements, although the Land Cruiser can't match the payload weights of a pickup. Still, if that's of no concern, then it's well worth a look if you want to stand out from the crowd.
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. Ford Fiesta Van
The supermini-based van is a dying breed. In the past there were small vans based on the Fiat Punto and Vauxhall Corsa available, but the former disappeared when the Punto stopped production, while the Corsavan hasn't made a return under the PSA Group. That leaves only two options now available, the recently announced Renault Zoe Commercial EV and this, the Ford Fiesta Van.
The Fiesta Van is based on the current Fiesta, so it'll run rings around any of our other small vans in terms of handling, but the trade-off is that there's not much cargo space on offer. Add in the fact it's based on the three-door Fiesta, which means you can only access the load area via the tailgate, and it's not the most practical van around. Still, if you only need a compact van for light loads, it'll deliver mightily when it comes to running costs as well as fun.
It comes in standard and Sport trims - the latter being a direct clone of the Fiesta ST-Line hatch – and power comes from Ford's excellent EcoBoost petrol engines, with a 94bhp motor in the standard van, or a 124bhp version with the option of mild hybrid tech in the Sport Van.
9. 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.
10. Renault Twizy Cargo
Vans don't come much more niche than the Renault Twizy Cargo, because you can barely call it a van at all. 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. But with a price of around £10,000, it's pretty expensive these days.
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