Fleet News

LPG first drive: the Verté Tempest, a truck that's a gas, gas, gas...

SOME pick-ups are utilitarian affairs often seen bruised and battered on Britain's highways loaded down with bricks and rubble like old worn-out donkeys.

Others are big and macho and have names like 'Animal' to prove how tough they are.

But for sheer style and panache, there is nothing to touch the smooth, svelte lines of the Verté Tempest, a new addition to Britain's fleet pick-up parc that boasts a storming 4.0-litre straight six powerplant and guzzles liquefied petroleum gas and nothing else.

Fleet operators could be forgiven for being in ignorance of the Verté marque - it is a new name being launched by Alan Lubinsky, chairman of AC Motor Company, and James Smith, who has been involved with importing and distributing high performance sports cars for many years.

The Tempest is a rebadged Ford Falcon which hails from the outback of Australia and brings a style of truck to this country totally unknown until now. For fleets wanting a vehicle that will turn heads at 200 paces, this is the baby.

The Tempest comes in two guises - XL and XLS. Both have a one-tonne payload and feature power steering, air conditioning and twin airbags, while the higher spec model adds alloy wheels and a smart CD player. Prices are £15,950 and £17,950 ex-VAT. The truck tested here is the XLS.

Later, Verté plans to import the Tempest XR6 and XR8 sport saloons and the company is currently in the process of setting up a dealer network for servicing, aftersales and repairs.

Outside

After a few days of driving the Tempest, I sort of got used to being stared at. The fact of the matter is nothing on Britain's roads looks anything like it.

Whether you'll like the particular style of the Tempest is another matter. Some colleagues thought it looked fat and ugly but speaking as an ex-resident of California, the sweeping American-style lines were right up my sidewalk.

The Tempest is long, low and mean, sitting on massive 215x16in alloy wheels. It promises performance and doesn't disappoint. It's a deceptively big truck and has a massive loadspace at the rear which will carry a Europallet, with a smart tonneau cover as standard. Unfortunately, there is nothing to stop the local lowlifes from unfastening said cover and selling it at the nearest car boot sale.

Inside

The cab is typically American too - with massive squidgy seats built with Yankee burger-bloated backsides in mind, rather than the more diminutive British bum. Driving position is lazy and laid back and the massive dash sweeps around the driver, adding to the big feel of the truck..

There is remote control central locking, electric windows and mirrors, air conditioning (a standard feature in the baking deserts of Oz) and a terrific sounding CD player.

Maybe audio thefts aren't a problem Down Under but this unit didn't have a removable front. Consequently I refrained from parking the vehicle outside my city centre home, where such crimes are rife. It's a point worth mentioning as this truck will act as a magnet for all types of curious onlookers - and some of them will be jealous. Not only does this lack of security leave you at risk of losing your CD player, but I can imagine the reply when you call Autoglass to enquire whether they stock side screens for the Verté Tempest.

Space in the cab, meanwhile, is greater than you'd imagine. There is a large parcel shelf behind the seats which will easy hold a week's food shopping for a family of four, as I discovered to my surprise after buying a load of groceries at Sainsbury's without stopping to think whether or not I had the means of getting them home again in one piece!

On the road

Firing-up that meaty powerplant is a joy in itself. First there is a loud rumbling, then a couple of coughs and finally a kind of roar that we Brits don't seem to get with our home-grown engines.

Slam the autobox into drive and it's very much a question of hanging on to your hat. If you want to risk losing your licence by blasting down the road at speeds in excess of 100mph, then the Tempest will oblige.

If the truck used petrol, it would return about 20–24mpg depending on driving style, but with LPG at 38 pence per litre, it should fare better than the average diesel pick-up. Suspension is rather on the soft side for European tastes but cornering is neat for such a large vehicle, and the truck has an amazingly tight turning circle, which makes parking a doddle.

My main problem with this vehicle is the fact that it only runs on LPG. True, I filled the tank for just over £20 during my test week and true, there are now more than 1,000 LPG filling stations in the UK, but I would still question whether such a vehicle is a viable fleet proposition at present. After all, if you get low on gas and there isn't a station around, you're right in the kangaroo casserole. You can't carry a spare gas canister around, can you?

Verdict

I spent a fantastic week behind the wheel of the Verté Tempest and was most reluctant to hand over the keys to the delivery man when he came to collect it. It is dashing, feisty and so completely different that it would make an ideal vehicle for any high profile fleet which wants to be noticed. Add a few decals and you can imagine the effect.

My only concern would be the LPG tank, but fleets can make up their own minds on that score. Engine: 4.0-litre SOHC
Power: 191bhp @4,500 rpm
Torque: 267lb-ft @ 2,750 rpm
Tank capacity: 110 ltrs, 88 ltrs useable
GVW XL/XLS: 2,470/2,190kg
Load carrying capacity:
XL 1170 kg manual, 1,150kg auto (rear axle 1,700kg max)
XLS 620 kg manual, 600kg auto (rear axle 1,260kg max)
Wheelbase: 3,095.8mm
Load length at floor: 1,818.8mm
Load width between wheelarches: 1,204.5mm
Warranty: 3 years/60,000 miles
Service intervals: 9,000 miles

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