IT is 7am on a chilly winter morning and as my travelling alarm clock starts chirruping, I find myself most reluctant to leave the sumptuous warmth of my bed at Eastwell Manor in Ashford, Kent.
But my mission is to test the new Iveco Daily HPI range with its second generation common rail diesel engines and we are heading this very day towards the upmarket seaside town of Deauville in Normandy.
My chosen co-pilot for the trip is Sharon Clancy, editor of hi-tech telematics magazine M.Logistics. Knowing that I am committed technophobe, hating computers in general and satnav systems in particular, Iveco product manager Jon Stokes hops aboard with us at the last minute in a bid to persuade me that the CompuDaily system is worth the £1,500 or so it will cost when the van goes on sale this month (January).
He is understandably enthusiastic about CompuDaily and he's already raving about it as we head towards the waiting line of shiny vehicles – panel vans, tippers and lutons are all here to be driven.
Our first drive is a short wheelbase panel van Daily. All the vans on test are 2.3-litre 116bhp versions. I notice that unlike on most van launches where the test vehicles are empty to show off how fast they are, Iveco has loaded a tonne of sand in each vehicle. They must be pretty confident about the amount of power on offer.
After much twiddling and muttering, Jon announces that the CompuDaily is programmed to take us to the EuroTunnel entrance at Folkestone and we set off. A few yards down the road, a voice tells us to take a right turn into a narrow country lane and we – somewhat unwisely as it turns out – decide that we know better and carry on along the main road. Later we are told this is a classic mistake among 'satnav virgins'. As with the Nazis in the Second World War, you MUST follow orders!
Once back on track, we are told this time to turn left and end up in a cul-de-sac full of builders' lorries and rubble. Jon defends the system by pointing out that this road has obviously been built after the map card was created. Sharon nods knowingly but I am not quite so convinced.
At EuroTunnel there is – surprise, surprise – a delay. I suggest that instead of dead leaves, there may be a horde of asylum seekers on the line. Jon uses the wait to show me the other uses of the CompuDaily system and after half an hour or so I am finally convinced that it is indeed a real boon for a busy van fleet operation.
For starters, it is a stand-alone unit so when you sell the van, you can keep the computer and put it in your new vehicle. In addition to the satnav function, the unit continuously monitors the van's speed, miles per gallon and distance travelled. The fleet manager can download this information to a PC, so any speeding, fuel pilfering or general lollygagging can be immediately identified.
In another mode the unit can be used as a phone. In yet another it becomes a bar code reader so a driver can deliver a package, scan its bar code and get the customer to sign on screen for the goods. There is even a device for calling for help, such as a doctor or breakdown vehicle. It's not until you actually see a system like this in use that you realise how brilliant it is.
Sharon is worried that the unit looks a little fragile and that a heavy-handed van driver might damage it easily. Later in the day I hit a bump on the French autoroute at high speed and the hand-held unit pings out of its clip on the dashboard and crashes on to the floor. It still works.
We are finally loaded on to the Shuttle – my first trip through the tunnel with a vehicle – and I am impressed with how easy it all is. During our 35-minute journey underground, Jon continues to twiddle with the CompuDaily unit like a man possessed, despite the fact that we seem to be cut off from the rest of humanity temporarily. I realise then that his enthusiasm is not just a sales pitch – he has genuinely taken this piece of kit to heart and I admire him for his verve.
Hitting French soil, the clouds roll in and the heavens open. Luckily, I am well-versed in driving on both sides of the road in left and right-hand drive vehicles and we press on towards Dieppe.
Iveco claims that noise in the cab of the new Daily has been reduced by 40% and I discover this is no idle boast. Jon, Sharon and I are chatting away merrily in quiet tones and I look down at the dashboard and discover – to my horror – that I am cruising at 95mph. I hastily throttle back to the legal limit.
The next couple of hours are spent rumbling through the hills and dales of Picardy and I am pleasantly surprised to find that the A16 autoroute is almost free of traffic, unlike Britain's crowded roads. Maybe paying to use motorways is not such a bad idea after all.
This fast, long-haul section of the journey also gives me plenty of time to appreciate the Daily's superb driver's seat. It is solid, supportive and adjusts in all directions. I feel I could drive all day and climb out at the other end as fresh as a daisy. Handling is safe and sure and the ride is smooth and car-like, thanks to that tonne of sand in the back. Vans may have better acceleration unloaded, but a good dollop of cargo in the rear makes for a much more comfortable drive.
Our satnav system takes us off the autoroute to Dieppe and we prepare to change vans at the village of Eu.
The Iveco press boys are waiting in the appointed layby and we prepare to say goodbye to Jon. His next 'victim' is Colin Barnett of Commercial Motor magazine. I notice that the Daily's side door seems to take an almighty effort before it slams shut and am amazed to find that Jon has the exact answer – the Ford Transit's side door takes 10kg of pulling power to close while the Daily takes 15kg and it is because a) the Daily's door is heavier than the Transit and b) it has double catches to the Transit's single ones. Translated into English, Jon is telling me this door is going to last a lot longer in real life. It seems typical of this van – the whole thing appears immensely strong compared to some others I could mention.
Sharon and I climb aboard a Daily tipper (again loaded down with sand) for the cross-county part of the run and this time I am in the passenger seat. We head for Fécamp on the D925 and again I am able to marvel at the Daily's seats – this time the passenger ones. Many panel vans have appallingly bad second and third seats but the Daily's are almost as good as the driver's, with back and sides that mould to the body.
The tipper's ride seems harsher than that of the last van we drove and as we hit some particularly rough patches, Sharon wonders if we have a flat. We stop and check but all is OK underneath, so we put the harsher ride down to the different suspension set-up. After all, most tippers are built for short-haul work so maybe we are being a little too critical. You wouldn't normally expect to drive 150 miles in one go in a tipper.
Later, approaching the magnificent Pont de Normandie (whose style and grace makes our Dartford bridge look like a pile of Meccano), we are hit with a toll for a third time on the péage and I begin to change my mind about French motorways. They may be fairly free of traffic but at what cost? Imagine how the bills would add up for a UK fleet operator if all Britain's motorways were like this.
We finally catch a glimpse of the Atlantic ocean and are soon nosing our way through the narrow streets of Deauville. Our hotel, the Royal Barriere, is on the seafront and we join the other Iveco vans in the car park.
Sharon and myself choose the long wheelbase panel van for the long haul back to Calais and this proves to be the pick of the bunch. It's powerful but a real smoothie and built exactly for the type of run we have ahead of us – hard, fast and definitely not sparing the horses.
We decide to skip the back roads and blast straight back on the A29.
The rain is lashing down but the Daily never puts a foot wrong and Sharon politely keeps quiet as I watch the speedo needle rising. She need have no fears – I settle down to a long drive and think to myself that maybe the Iveco designers have managed to engineer a bit of DNA from a mountain goat in here somewhere!
Passing Boulogne on the péage, we are pulled over by three mean-looking customs men dressed in black and packing pistols. They ask if we have anything in the back and Sharon (who has A-level French to my O-level) replies: 'Sand – you know, err la plage'. The gang's swarthy leader asks in broken English: 'Why are you carrying the beach?' Sharon replies: 'Nous sommes journalistes' but this only seems to make them more suspicious.
They climb into the back and start prodding our bags of sand, as though they expect to find a horde of illegal Algerian immigrants hidden underneath. I get the sneaking suspicion that they are trying to pay us back for their defeat at Agincourt in 1415 and reflect that if this is indeed the case, they have got the wrong people. My ancestors come from Hanover and all Sharon's mob hail from Ireland!
After a conversation in which we hear the word 'fou' mentioned several times, we are allowed on our way and after the obligatory stop at Carrefour in Calais where we stock up with wine, beer, cheese and coffee, we are back aboard the Shuttle, this time with no hold-ups. Back in England, the motorway assumes its more normal appearance, with traffic tailing back in both directions. We crawl slowly and painfully back to Eastwell Manor, where the sojourn ends.
What's new in the Iveco Daily HPI
IVECO has turned up the pressure in the panel van market by launching a new set of engines for the Daily, along with enhanced specification and a new Combi range. At the heart of the development is a new 2.3-litre Unijet HPI engine, which will be offered in either 96bhp or 116bhp guises. The smaller version has 177 lb-ft of torque and the larger version 199 lb-ft.
Unijet is Iveco's name for common rail and the new engine – second generation technology – turns up the pressure to 1,800 bar, leading to finer atomisation of the diesel fuel. This, in turn, means better fuel economy, more power and lower emissions.
The Daily's old 2.8-litre engine will still be available, offering a choice of 125bhp or 146bhp. The new range is on sale from this month (January).
In addition to the new engines, a Combi version is available for the first time, with seating for up to nine people plus a generous space for luggage or cargo. This version features the more powerful 2.3-litre unit and two roof heights and wheelbases are available.
In the cab, the noise level has been reduced by two decibels, which means a 40% reduction in perceived cab noise. The cab is further enhanced by a new range of colours and finishes and extra sound-proofing has been added under the dashboard. There is also a locker for sunglasses and a mobile phone. Suspension has also been improved and gearchanging has been made slicker with the addition of a synchronised reverse.
On the technology front, Iveco has leapfrogged the opposition to offer a unique computerised system which is sold to the customer, rather than coming as an added option on the van. The CompuDaily is a removable unit that is a combined telephone, pocket PC, barcode reader, trip computer and navigation system.
On maintenance, the new engine needs an oil and filter change every 25,000 miles and a timing belt change every 150,000 miles. The 96bhp unit is designed for urban use, where the torque curve means fewer gear changes are needed.
Iveco sees this model as particularly useful for door-to-door deliveries, hotels, restaurants, florists, greengrocers and bakers et al. The 116bhp unit is for longer haul use for cargo or people and with nine seats, it can be driven on a standard driving licence. Here, Iveco sees sales to couriers, ambulances, logistics services and – for the Combi – hotels, holiday centres, taxis and for the disabled.
The warranty for all models is three-years/ 100,000-miles.