Forget the Ranger or Hilux - vans are way more interesting, right?
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Light commercials uses to be basic workhorses, but now they are loaded with comfort/convenience equipment and safety technology. More to the point, thanks to perky, powerful engines they’re also fun to drive.
We could be talking about utes of course. But we’re not this time, because the same could be argued for the latest vans, which can serve as anything from work vehicles to MTB/canoe carriers to people-movers.
The Hiace is a Kiwi icon and the biggest-selling van in New Zealand by far. It’s also the third most common vehicle of any kind on NZ roads new or used (behind Corolla and Hilux).
The latest generation has made huge strides in performance (the Hilux engine makes it the most torque-abundant van on the market) and quality, with an interior that wouldn’t be out of place in a Toyota passenger car.
Upgrades for 2020 include a “premium exterior package” option for the ZR models that includes body-coloured bumpers and extra chrome. Very car-like.
All Hiace models also now have Apple and Android phone projection.
The passenger options: Toyota offers a five-door half-panel van with five seats in ZR trim, as well as the supersized minibus.
New to the range is a 10-seat ZX minibus that’s 650mm longer and 290mm taller than the existing ZR model.
Ford Transit Custom
If you want a sports van, you can have one! The Transit Custom range has been expanded with a 320S Sport model; it has racing stripes and machined 17-inch alloy wheels, but more importantly it has more power than the standard model: 136kW/405Nm, with a six-speed automatic.
So you can go sports, but you can also go eco: Ford NZ has launched the Transit Custom in plug-in hybrid configuration, with a 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine acting as a generator for electric power to drive the wheels.
The passenger options: Ford has always offered a Tourneo people-carrier version of the Custom, but that’s also now available as a PHEV.
There’s also now a Transit Custom model to match the Hiace “car van”: the Double Cab-in-Van (DCiV), which seats up to six but retains a large load area at the back. It gets the same 136kW engine as the Sport.
Hyundai splits its van into iLoad and iMax models – the former for work and the latter focused on passengers.
Even the iLoad has always been pretty well kitted-out, with phone projection and reversing camera standard across the range. It’s strong on performance, with more torque than any other van save the manual Hiace.
The passenger option: The iMax takes things up a notch with a more upmarket appearance, plusher interior, parking sensors, dual-zone climate control and space for up to eight passengers. Hyundai Australia even made a "drift bus" out of one last year; what more enthusiast cred do you need?
Okay, we’re over-reaching a bit on size here: the Sprinter is a full-size van (the equivalent to a Hiace or Transit Custom would be a Vito), but we wanted to have it in here, because in its 25th anniversary year the Sprinter is truly high-tech.
It’s got the full-on Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) digital dashboard with intelligent voice assistant, and it’s strong on active safety equipment.
The passenger options: Beyond the Sprinter panel van, you can step up to the “Sprinter options” range and choose from a vast range of minibus configurations, up to 12 passengers. Free access to bus lanes awaits!
Volkswagen Transporter 6.1
The Transporter is an LCV icon and recent generations have been particularly fun to drive, with perky diesel engines and quick-shifting dual-clutch gearboxes.
The new “6.1” Transporter upgrade brings a new look and new technology, including an expanded range of active safety systems.
The passenger options: Historically, the Transporter is just as famous for carrying people as it is for carrying cargo. There’s the Multivan, which offers a higher level or trim and various seating options, or the even more upmarket Caravelle.
And don’t forget you can actually go all the way and live in your Transporter, with the awesome factory designed and built California campervan. You could even do a cheesy family portrait with it.