As Britain’s heavy van market continues to rocket, manufacturers are increasingly turning up the heat in a bid to scrabble for extra market share. Latest to push back the boundaries of power and safety is Iveco, which has revealed a raft of improvements to the Daily range for next year. Iveco has seen increased demand among European fleets recently for higher-powered vans and so to oblige has replaced the old 2.8-litre engine with a 3.0-litre unit, offering either 136bhp or 166bhp, making the Daily the most powerful heavy panel van on the roads. The title was previously held by the Volkswagen LT 158 which – unsurprisingly – has 158bhp on offer. Volkswagen does, however, retain the overall honours with the T5 Transporter, which has a blistering 174bhp variant at the top of its range. The Daily is offered in gross vehicle weights of between 2.8 tonnes and 6.5 tonnes and it is in the upper echelons of the range that the 3.0-litre unit will make its appearance. The common rail engine is capable of injection pressures of up to 1,800 bar and features double overhead camshafts with four valves per cylinder. Iveco reckons on savings of around 10% over the old 2.8-litre unit. Firstly, the HPI version will have 136bhp and torque of 264lb-ft while the HPT unit has 166bhp and 280lb-ft of torque. The new engine should prove a money saver for fleet operators as all the components are designed for heavy duty, prolonged work. For example the timing chain only needs to be replaced after 220,000 miles and oil changes are due every 25,000 miles instead of 18,000 miles on the old engine. The motor is mated to a new six-speed gearbox which has been developed in conjunction with drivetrain specialist ZF. As maximum torque is available as low down as 1,250rpm, Iveco reckons fewer gearchanges will be necessary, making for a more relaxed drive and less wear and tear generally. Meanwhile in the cabin, noise has been further reduced because the engine only generates half as much noise at top speed as the old 2.8-litre and a third as much when idling, leading to an improvement in the cabin of 30%. Iveco’s other big launch next year is the new AGile model, which sees the introduction of an automatic gearbox on the 2.3-litre 96bhp and 116bhp models. The box can be set in fully automatic or sequential mode and will be available in the first quarter of 2005 for a cost of around £700 over manual box models. Meanwhile on the safety front, Iveco will be offering an electronic stability program (ESP) for the first time for around £300 extra, which is linked to the ABS brakes. This system works by constantly comparing the theoretical trajectory of the vehicle as set by the steering angle against the real vehicle trajectory and then makes any corrections necessary by applying the brakes to individual wheels. Also if the unit considers the vehicle speed is too high for the surface grip conditions, it reduces the throttle and over-rides the engine control, even if the driver is accelerating. It sounds complicated but most of the time the driver won’t even realise the unit is working. The Daily also gets minor improvements to the front end for next year, with a redesigned grille and white indicators to replace the old orange ones. Mighty mover is an impressive performer YOU’VE only got to look at the Iveco Daily to see it is different from most other panel vans on the roads. It sits on a monster ladder chassis and looks like a cuckoo among the other sparrows in the LCV next. This heavyweight build quality may have its advantages but it has its drawbacks too. For example, Iveco’s salesmen are hardly likely to score a success among the types who deliver flowers, bread and feathers, so the firm’s sales expectations are limited to the big fleet hitters. But in that area Iveco is buzzing. In the first six months of the year, around 5,060 vans up to 3.5 tonnes were sold compared to 3,950 last year. And with the improvements for next year listed above, Iveco’s fleet sales story can only be enhanced. I joined a party of journalists testing the new vehicles at Juan Les Pins in southern France and the terrain proved perfect to show off the Daily’s new-found muscles, with a good mix of fast autoroutes (which you have to pay to travel on) and narrow twisty mountain tracks. I headed straight for the new 3.5-tonne 166bhp version, figuring that I might as well start at the top and work down. And the first thing I noticed after firing up the powerplant was a great deal of nothing. But that was actually a good thing. Whereas I had expected a meaty growl to go with that championship performance, all you hear in the cabin is a quiet thrum. As we accelerated away and up to motorway speeds, my co-pilot and I were able to converse in hushed tones with ease. With all that torque on offer, you can almost pick any gear at any speed – it didn’t seem to make a scrap of difference to this vehicle, even though it was three-quarters loaded. In a fast hour-long thrash we simply left every other commercial vehicle on the roads standing, although whether or not that is a good thing for a fleet van to do is questionable. Next up was the 136bhp version and I’d say this must be the fleet choice. It may have felt a little more excitable than the more powerful unit but at 3.5 tonnes, there is never going to be any serious shortage of power, even on steep hills. Maybe the 6.5-tonners will need the top engine but we didn’t have one of those to test. I was eager to try out the Daily AGile for no other reason than that I had previously tested a Ford Transit DuraShift and a Mercedes-Benz SprintShift – both automatics – and had been left unimpressed by their jerky changes. There were no such problems here. The AGile proved smooth and sure, if not entirely seamless. The good news is that it is an ‘intelligent’ unit and can alter its change patterns to suit individual driving styles. It also changes down as the driver decelerates, rather than going into idling mode as most automatics do. Before getting our hands on the vans, the journalists present were shown a demonstration of the new ESP’s powers, with a stunt driver first performing a series of manoeuvres with the system switched off and then with it switched on. The safety benefits of ESP are clear – the big problem will be that many penny-pinching fleets just won’t fork out the extra cash to keep their drivers safer.
The same problem will surely arise with the splendid automatic gearbox. If I was a city-based delivery driver I would just love a van like this. Whether my employer would buy me one is a different matter.