The best small vans 2021
The small van sector is booming, so which one should you buy?...
Towns and cities are increasingly busy places, so having the right light commercial vehicle to get you in and get the job done is ever-more important.
Small vans, or city vans as they’re often called, need to be compact in length to fit into tight spaces, but feature plenty of rear storage and a hefty payload allowance. The interior also need to be comfortable for when you’re stuck in traffic, while it also helps if they have an option for an automatic gearbox.
Furthermore, a good small van will have a reasonably powerful engine with plenty of low down torque to make pulling away from a standstill easier. As with all commercial vehicles, running costs need to be sensible along with the overall visibility.
We’re taking a look at the eight best small vans on the market, as well as the ones that should be avoided.
9. Fiat Doblo Cargo
Fiat updated the Doblo Cargo some years ago, adding a new engine and an updated interior. Further engine improvements have since followed but, disappointingly, the all-new interior never made it out of Europe and to the UK. Sadly that leaves the Doblo looking a little tired.
On the plus side, it was the first small modern van to top a one-tonne payload and continues to lead the pack in its carrying capacity, especially if you can stomach the looks of the challenging Doblo Cargo XL variant.
8. Nissan NV250
The Nissan NV250 is the replacement for the oddly proportioned but very practical Nissan NV200. Also a small city van, the NV250 isn’t quite as tall as the NV200 was, but it makes up for it by being a more up-to-date van. Don’t be fooled into thinking it is new, though. The Nissan NV250 is actually based upon the Renault Kangoo, which you’ll find in our section on vans to avoid.
That’s not because either are a bad van, but the Renault Kangoo will soon be replaced with the launch of a newer version, which is scheduled for mid-2021 and on sale here by the end of the year.
The primary difference, and reason why the Nissan NV250 isn’t in our list of vans to avoid, is that Nissan supports its vans with a five-year warranty. So while it might be out of sync with what Renault are doing - the NV250 is unlikely to be updated anywhere near the same time as the new Kangoo - it will offer you an improved total cost of ownership over the current Renault Kangoo.
7. Ford Transit Courier
Not quite the smallest van in the Ford range (that honour falls to the Ford Fiesta Van), but the Transit Courier is certainly the smallest traditional looking van on sale in the UK.
It shares is underpinnings with the Fiesta, which makes it a first-rate van to drive, but more importantly its loadspace is three times the size of the car-derived Fiesta van. Excellent build quality, and particularly low fuel consumption make this microvan a great choice for anyone requiring only a small payload.
As a diesel van, it has had few obvious rivals since the Citroen Nemo and Peugeot Bipper were discontinued. There is the Fiat Fiorino compact van which continues to be sold as the 2008 model – albeit with a facelift in mid-2016 and the addition of new Euro-6d engines in 2018. The electric Renault Zoe van could be seen as a competitor and short-wheelbase versions of the Renault Kangoo, Mercedes Citan and Nissan NV250 all are close in overall size, but look and feel bigger.
4= Vauxhall Combo
The new Vauxhall Combo is one of the best vans currently on sale. Aside from being a great van to drive, with an economical engine and plenty of performance, it’s also well advanced for safety and comfort too.
It shares a platform with the Citroen Berlingo, Toyota Proace City and Peugeot Partner but bundled packages make choosing the right specification of Combo far easier, and there are also options of advanced traction models and a superb automatic gearbox. A Vauxhall Combo Cargo 4x4 model has also been introduced – a real rarity in the small van sector.
4= Citroen Berlingo
Like the Vauxhall Combo the Citroen Berlingo is a city van of the highest order. It regularly appears in the top ten most sold vans in the UK ahead of its siblings the Vauxhall Combo, Toyota Proace City and Peugeot Partner.
Of the four shared-platform vans it is arguably the best looking, and certainly fits in well with the rest of the Citroen van and passenger car range. Overall it feels dynamic to drive and is packed with excellent safety equipment.
4= Toyota Proace City
A new name to the small van segment, the Toyota Proace City is another variant of the small PSA Group van, meaning it shares its platform with the Citroen Berlingo, Peugeot Partner and Vauxhall Combo.
Like the others it has its own unique exterior styling, but copies the interior of the Citroen and Vauxhall almost identically.
In order to differentiate the Proace City, Toyota has run through the options list and bundled together what it thinks are some of the best bits, including plenty of airbags, tyre pressure monitoring and other safety systems. It’s a little pricier than its siblings as a result.
It has the same 1.5-litre engine and range of connectivity and infotainment options, and is of course just as good to drive as the others.
3. Ford Transit Connect
Like all Ford light commercial vehicles, the Ford Transit Connect is a well-rounded and impressive van. It is easily the best van to drive in the segment and has excellent payload and volume levels.
However, while not exactly let down by its interior, it is not to everyone’s taste due to its wealth of buttons. It is comfortable and on the whole ergonomic, though. Build quality is also exceptionally high and the 1.5-litre engine is an excellent engine for the city.
Buyers can also select an automatic gearbox option as well as a 1-litre petrol engine, which is ideal for users moving lighter loads around the city.
2. Volkswagen Caddy
The Volkswagen Caddy has gone from being one of the oldest and out-dated vans on the market to the most modern by some distance.
Based on the Volkswagen Golf 8 platform, the new Caddy 5 has a wealth of safety and driver assistance features that make it enjoyable, safe and relaxing to drive.
It feels well built, is slightly more practical than the older model and an awful lot more refined with it. Touchscreen controls for many of the basic functions like heating or volume will take some getting used to, and are perhaps not ideally suited to all walks of van life.
1. Peugeot Partner
Despite being almost identical to the Citroen Berlingo, Toyota Proace City and Vauxhall Combo, the Peugeot Partner is worthy of standing in isolation, not just because it looks different but because Peugeot has also morphed its celebrated i-Cockpit design to fit into the small van.
In a segment where the driver is often the sole occupier, and therefore the centre of attention, the i-Cockpit elevates the Partner above its siblings - plus the VW Caddy and Transit Connect. It’s comfortable, stylish and like the other two models, great to drive as well.
Its 1.5-litre diesel engine or 1.2-litre PureTech petrol option are both well matched for city environments and stop-start traffic or deliveries.
And the ones to avoid...
When Mercedes partnered with Renault to build a city van the result was - understandably - rather upmarket.
However, little has been done to update the Citan since its creation and as a result they’ve declined in popularity.
Odd quirks like the horizontal handbrake don’t enhance its appeal either, but it does ride better than its Renault Kangoo sibling. Mercedes pricing and Mercedes parts prices andlabour are also another reason to avoid the little Merc van for the time being.
It might still be one of the best-selling small vans in Europe, but we’d avoid the Renault Kangoo until a new model is launched. While it does offer good value for money, almost everything about the little French city van feels dated.
Larger Renault vans are much more accomplished and when the Kangoo gets its update it will once again be a model worth mentioning.
Until the new Volkswagen Caddy 5 becomes the only option on VW forecourts you’ll likely find a range of attractive deals for the outgoing model. While the Caddy van has been a stalwart of the small van sector we would recommend that you wait. The difference between them is like night and day, so unless the offer is similarly contrasting, our advice is to hold your nerve.
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