How we test vans at What Car?

What Car? Has more than 50 years of experience testing new and used cars, and our testing of new vans is just as rigorous...

Citroen Berlingo van interior

When What Car? reviews a van, it does so with the same experience, expertise and authority as we’ve applied to our new and used car reviews for more than 50 years.

Our team of reviewers know the van market inside out, and understand the people and businesses that buy them. We understand that reliability and practicality trumps driving thrills – and also that comfort and refinement is key if you’re spending hours on the road.

To help you make direct comparisons, we give each van an overall star rating, plus ratings for driving, interior, practicality, plus running costs and reliability. All of which means that What Car? has the best van reviews in the business.

What our van review ratings mean

5 out of 5 – Outstanding

Vans receiving What Car?'s five-star rating must be outstanding in key areas, beating their rivals at the things that matter most, without disappointing in the less crucial areas. If a van has a five-star rating, it should be at the top of your shortlist.

4 out of 5 – Above average

Four-star vans are excellent choices, and should be on your van-buying shortlist. They might be more expensive or not quite as good as the class leaders in some key areas – but they won’t have any major shortcomings.

3 out of 5 – Average

Unlike some websites, a three-star rating isn’t a mark of condemnation, rather it’s an indication of being par for the course in most key areas, or impressing in some and disappointing in others. A three-star rating means they’re average in their class and are worth considering once you’ve exhausted four and five star models, or if you can find one with a good discount.

2 out of 5 – Below average

A two-star rating means that van is a long way off the standards set by the rest of its rivals, and disappoint in too many areas to be considered merely the class average. That means they may be significantly more expensive to buy or run than rivals, or may be compromised when it comes to interior quality, refinement or cargo capacity. We think two-star vans are best left off your shortlist.

Rated 1 out of 5 – Poor

Vans receiving a one-star rating are rare and will have serious shortcomings in a number of important areas. These vans may be poor value for money, cost more to run, or depreciate far more quickly than rivals. They fall well short of the standards we – or you – should expect, so are impossible to recommend.

Ford Transit Custom side profile with side door open

Driving and performance

We spend hours behind the wheel of every new van, driving them for hundreds of miles on a wide variety of roads to give you the best indication of what a van is really like to live with. 

We consider the amount of body roll a van has, and how much grip it has when cornering as well as how firm or soft the suspension is. We’ll also assess the van’s performance: not merely in terms of 0-60mph acceleration times, but also as an indicator showing how capable it will be when fully loaded. This is an important safety consideration as much as it is about comfort.

Each van’s manoeuvrability and turning circle is considered to give you a firm idea of how easy it will be to drive on congested streets, park in small spaces, and negotiate yards and depots. And we’ll consider its general refinement, remarking on engine, road and suspension noise and vibrations as well as how easy – or otherwise – automatic and manual gearboxes are to operate.

All of this is essential to help you choose a van that truly fulfils your needs, providing the performance to safely carry your cargo, and ensuring you’re able to spend long hours in a van in a relaxed environment. To ensure this is a fair assessment, we drive vans over the same tried and tested routes to give us comparable data on how each model feels and performs. 

Interior and comfort

For many buyers their van is their mobile office, lunchtime canteen and sometimes even their rest area. That’s why we look at all the practical elements of a van’s interior as well as its aesthetics. 

Although vans often provide a good view of the road ahead, their driving position and visibility vary wildly. We consider everything from the seat you sit on to the position of the pedals and mirrors. 

Having to rely solely on the wing mirrors means that blindspots are a naturally occurring hazard in a van, which is why the layout of interior, the size of mirrors and active safety systems are all vitally important. Similarly, supportive seats providing a wide range of adjustability are key to ensuring drivers and passengers can spend hours travelling in comfort. 

A van’s infotainment system is an equally important element; unlike in your car, van drivers can often spend the entire day behind the wheel, which is why a properly functioning and intuitive infotainment system is important. 

Finally we’ll also assess interior quality against each van’s rivals. Good material quality helps to provide the driver with a pleasant experience during their time in the van, but of equal importance is build quality to ensure it’s up to the rigours of daily use.

VW ID. Buzz Cargo interior front seats

Practicality and usability

Knowing how a van performs as a working tool is one of the most critical elements of testing. That's why we consider the different ways each might be used. We'll examine the practicality of the loadspace from the step height to the lighting, as well as the all-important strength and location of the lashing points. 

We’ll assess each van’s load volumes and payload capacities against its rivals, and we’ll look for novel and helpful features such as a folding front passenger seat, load-through bulkhead or electrically-opening side doors. We’ll also consider general access including the height of the cargo floor, the size of the doors and the angles to which they open.

Vans are as much about the driver as they are about the cargo compartment, so extra marks are given for interior storage such as cup holders, cubby holes, trays and door bins.

Buying and owning

Like an impact driver, disc cutter or circular saw, a van is a tool and as such it must do its job efficiently and cost effectively. 

We look at the starting price for a van, but also the costs of its engines and the other trim levels before deciding what are the must-have specifications for your van. Fuel economy is of vital importance, especially because it is often a forgotten cost for many when it comes to operating their vehicle for work. Where our own data is available, we’ll report on how reliable each van is, and we’ll tell you how long the manufacturer warranty lasts for.

Although we’ll quote the official WLTP fuel economy figures for a vehicle as a way of comparing like-for-like, we also monitor fuel usage during our testing and will point out if the fuel figures are vastly different to real world use. The same applies for electric vans, too, and we’ll also quote official charging times.

Passive and active safety systems are also considered (and where safe to do so, tested) to ensure that van drivers and other road users stay safe on the road.

And we’ll also comb through the manufacturer’s equipment lists to deliver our recommended trim, which will be the best balance of equipment, capability and price.

Re-evaluating verdicts

Once a review appears on, the work of our testers doesn't end there. We’ll reassess every review on the website on a regular basis to ensure the review reflects the van as you’d buy it today, and our ratings are updated to reflect this.

This is most apparent in our rundowns of the best vans, which provide simple, at-a-glance guides to the best small, medium and large vans, along with the best electric vans and best pick-ups on the market.

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