What Car? says...
If you’ve been to London at any point over the last two years, the face of the LEVC VN5 electric van will probably be familiar to you. That’s because it’s based on the TX electric taxi, and shares that machine’s front-end design. Rather than transporting commuters and tourists around city streets, though, the VN5 is designed to haul cargo instead – and all using electric power.
Just like rivals that include the Renault Kangoo ZE, Citroen Berlingo Electric and Nissan eNV200, the VN5 runs on electric power all of the time. Unlike those vans, though,the VN5 also has an ace up its sleeve for when its battery runs out of juice. That ace is a small, 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine that can act as a generator for the battery. That engine never directly powers the car’s wheels, so the VN5 is, in fact, a range-extender van, making it a unique proposition for city-based drivers.
Indeed, LEVC envisions the VN5 as being perfect for companies that are located close to major cities where clean air zones could make delivering to urban centres using a non-electric van prohibitively expensive.
And don’t go thinking that practicality has been overlooked, either; the VN5 can do everything that its conventionally-engined and electric rivals can do too, such as take two Euro pallets in its cargo bay. You can even load it from the side, thanks to its sliding door.
Could the VN5 be Britain’s next top electric van, then? Read on to find out.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The VN5 is powered by a single 148bhp electric motor that’s mounted at the rear and drives the rear wheels. It offers decent pace once you’re on the move, but you’ll find yourself pressing the accelerator pedal all the way to the floor to get a decent turn of speed away from traffic lights.
The 0-62mph sprint takes 13.2sec, but unlike some vans, the VN5 doesn’t run out of puff accelerating at higher speeds. Indeed, motorway overtakes are a breeze thanks to the van’s instant acceleration. Its top speed is capped at 80mph.
Braking is well managed, too. You can select from two levels of regenerative braking by flicking the gear lever to either side, and on its highest setting the VN5 slows down predictably and smoothly while the brakes channel some of the energy that would otherwise be wasted as heat, converting it into electricity and feeding it into the battery.
The regenerative braking isn’t so strong that you could drive the VN5 using only one pedal, but it’s strong enough that, with a little patience, you’ll be reaching for the pedal a lot less than in conventionally engined rivals.
The VN5’s ride can be a little fidgety, especially on faster roads, but we reckon a decent load of cargo in the back would help in this regard. And while the steering could be lighter, it is at least accurate so you don’t have to make any wheel adjustments mid-corner.
What’s especially impressive is the VN5’s taxi-style turning circle of just 10.1m. That’s far smaller than rivals such as the Citroën Berlingo Electric, Peugeot Partner and Nissan eNV200 and makes manoeuvring the VN5 around tight city streets an absolute doddle.
As with other electric vans, you won’t hear much from the VN5 when it’s cruising around on electric power, aside from a whine from the electric motor when you’re really pressing on. On the motorway, the absence of any engine sound heightens the wind and road noise, but the latter i’s never distracting. And when the 1.5-litre petrol engine is running to generate electricity, all you’ll hear is a steady thrum from up front.
The VN5 has three driving modes to help you maximise your range, too. Save mode switches on the range-extender petrol engine, burning fuel to keep the battery topped up, while Urban switches the engine off and allows the VN5 to draw energy solely from its battery for as long as possible. Smart mixes the two, and in our experience does a good job of keeping the VN5 in purely electric mode around town, before switching the engine on at higher speeds.
The interior layout, fit and finish
The influence from LEVC’s owner, Geely, which also owns Volvo, is immediately apparent in the VN5. There’s the same portrait-oriented 9.2in touchscreen infotainment system, and the same gear lever and centre console buttons that you’ll find in most of Volvo’s road cars.
The infotainment system runs Volvo’s Sensus software, but a slimmed-down version that’s less graphically impressive but responds quickly to inputs. It’s still a shame that you need to dive into the touchscreen to change the temperature, but fans of minimalism will appreciate how few buttons there are inside the VN5. There are also two USB charging ports and a 12V charging socket in a central cubby between the two front seats, so you shouldn’t have any problem with charging your devices. Unlike its rivals, the VN5 has a fully digital instrument cluster that allows you to see all the most relevant information – including directions from the sat-nav – in one place.
There’s an impressive amount of storage space inside the VN5, with a deep tray below the centre console with a rubberised mat, a deep cubby between the two front seats, and a recess in front of the front passenger for you to store your odds and ends. As well as there being two cup holders on the centre console, both of the door bins will take a couple of 500ml bottles.
The materials used inside the VN5 aren't the last word in visual appeal, but are mainly hard-wearing plastics and feel built to last. The seats, meanwhile, are comfortable and supportive, so even after hours at the wheel you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable. Even the most basic VN5s come with six-way electric adjustment for the driver’s seat so you should be able to find a good driving position quickly, and the seat, steering wheel and pedals are all well aligned.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Starting with passenger space, neither driver or front passenger should have any trouble covering long distances in the VN5. The interior is wide enough that won’t spend your journey rubbing shoulders with your passenger, and even taller drivers should have enough head and leg room. A central armrest wouldn’t go amiss, though.
Now, don’t go thinking that because of its hefty battery pack and range-extender engine, the VN5 can’t still carry enough to be useful. In fact, with a maximum gross payload of 830kg, the VN5 can carry comfortably more than its rivals. The loadspace measures 5.5 cubic metres, enough for two Euro pallets, and those pallets can be loaded from either the side or the rear thanks to the VN5’s side door.
There’s only one configuration of the VN5 for now, but LEVC says it’s been designed to be as easy as possible for aftermarket fitters to perform modifications such as installing racks and shelving inside for various business uses.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The VN5 has a WLTP-certified range of 61 miles on a fully-chagred battery, but with the range-extender engine also working to constantly top up the battery, that range increases to 304 miles total. CO2 emissions are rated at 21g/km, and fuel economy from the petrol engine at 314mpg. The VN5 can recharge in as little as 30 minutes using a 50kW charging point, and can use both CCS and Chademo connections. Using a 7kW wall charger, the total charge time increases to a little less than four hours.
But here’s the rub: the VN5 is an expensive van, and even with the government’s grant for plug-in vans takeninto account, you’ll pay far more than you would for one of its electric rivals.
On the other hand, a full charge can be very cheap, depending on your tariff, and the VN5 can cover more miles – and therefore make more deliveries – than rivals, with less downtime for charging. You might find that these numbers add up for your business.
It’s certain, though, that the VN5 won’t leave you wanting for kit. The basic Business version comes with dual-zone climate control, the touchscreen infotainment system we mentioned earlier, two USB ports, keyless start and a DAB radio as standard, plus cruise control and an automatic emergency braking system that can recognise pedestrians and cyclists. City models add a heated windscreen, front and rear parking sensors and a safety pack that includes lane-departure warning and an intelligent speed limiter, while range-topping Ultima models come with sat-nav, a rear-view camera and heated front seats.
The VN5 comes with a five-year, 150,000-mile warranty for the vehicle, and an eight-year, 150,000-mile warranty for the battery. Service intervals are every 25,000 miles.
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About the author
George Barrow is one of the leading van and truck reviewers, and is the UK’s only representative on the prestigious International Van of the Year jury. He has written about vans and commercial vehicles for the past 15 years, and can be found in titles including The Sun and What Van?, alongside What Car?.
Barrow is well regarded in the commercial vehicle industry, securing access to the latest models – and the people who made them – long before other titles.