Fleet News

Road test: Ford Fiesta van

WITH all the razzmatazz that has accompanied the string of new panel van launches in the past year or two, it is easy to forget a small but important sector of the LCV market – the microvan.

In case you hadn't noticed – and you probably wouldn't if you don't use these vehicles – Ford has not been selling the Fiesta van since early last year, leaving a gap in its LCV armoury to be filled by the likes of the Vauxhall Corsavan, Renault Clio van and Peugeot 206 van.

True you could opt for a Ka van, but that model was originally built specially for British Telecom and Ford has never really marketed it as a credible fleet alternative. But now Ford is back with a vengeance. The new Fiesta van, on sale now, is bigger and better than the old model and Ford is aiming for an astonishing 65% market share this year.

Commercial vehicle marketing manager Jon Fisher said at the press launch: 'This is a big step from the old Fiesta van and we believe we can sell 4,000 in a year. The segment was 6,285 units in 2002 so it's a big target to aim for.'

Traditionally, old Fiesta van was sold to couriers, mail delivery firms, florists, plumbers and electricians. Fisher reckons the lion's share of sales will be to major fleets such as BT and contract hire firms, although 33% are still expected to go to retail buyers.

With a class-leading load length and load height, Fisher believes Ford can steal sales from some fleets which at present use larger vans such as the Renault Kangoo and Citroen Berlingo. And there is another string to Fiesta van's bow – Ford's Backbone sales network, which has seen specialist van dealerships set up across the country offering expert knowledge and service that Ford's car dealerships just don't have.

There are 88 at present and this figure will rise to more than 100 soon.

This model is being marketed as 'the perfect urban workmate' and Ford believes that with new long and short wheelbase Transit Connect now on sale, its line-up is complete.

Two engine variants are available – a 1.4 TDCi common rail diesel and a 1.3i petrol – and although LPG versions will be possible as an aftermarket conversion, Ford won't be making them.

The recent announcement that PowerShift, the Government body which gives grants for conversions, has run out of grant money for this financial year and the revelation that the Chancellor will increase tax on the fuel at the next Budget, seems to have forced Ford to take a major rethink on LPG, although Fisher stressed that it was carrying on regardless with offering the LPG-powered Transit Connect.

Prices (ex-VAT) are £8,000 for the petrol model and £8,350 for the diesel. Corsavan is head-to-head with the Fiesta at £7,790 for the 1.2i petrol and £8,350 for the 1.3 diesel, while the diesel Clio van costs £8,200 and the 206 is £8,000 for the 1.9D naturally-aspirated version and £8,115 for the turbodiesel.

Outside

The latest incarnation of the Fiesta car was a quantum leap forward from the old model, so it stands to reason the van will shine too.

From the outside, it looks every bit a scaled- down Ford Focus, with the familiar grille and headlights and that stylish shape.

Bumpers front and rear are colour-coded, which make the van look dead smart but I fear careless drivers may leave these bumpers a mass of knocks and scratches before long. Personally, I would have gone for big black plastic ones. There are small side rubbing strips on both sides but no protection for the wheelarches.

Metallic paint is an option at £250 and a heated windscreen is £75 – these screens are a great safety aid and should be considered seriously by fleet buyers. Those who want a sporty look (not many fleets, I fear) can go for alloy wheels and low profile tyres at £400 while front foglights add £75 to the price.

In the front

Standing 6ft 3in in my bare feet and boasting legs which should, by all accounts, be found hanging out of a nest, I am always a little cautious about getting into small vehicles. I well remember a couple of years back being given a Citroen Saxo to test and having to hand the keys back immediately as I could not physically get in and drive the car.

I was surprised and delighted to find that not only was there sufficient leg room for me and my co-pilot but that there were acres of room to spare. Quite how the Fiesta's designers have managed this feat with such a small van is a mystery to me but the net effect is that I felt I was driving a much bigger vehicle.

The problem with a lot of smaller vans is that in a bid to squeeze those last extra millimetres out of the load area, they place the bulkhead too near the driver's seat, thus restricting legroom in the front.

But here, the standard half-height bulkhead was set well back and the seat could even recline to a good degree.

There is not exactly a plethora of storage spaces in the front, but then again, there never is going to be in a van of this size. The usual door pockets are supplemented by one can holder on the centre console and a smallish glove box. Some vans add a couple of can holders in the lid of the box, but Ford has not done so. Another gripe was the standard radio/cassette player, which really should be a CD player nowadays.

One of those comes as a £175 option and I wouldn't mind betting that the vast majority of fleet buyers won't choose them. Other options include air conditioning at £400, a 'smoker's pack' consisting of an ashtray and lighter at £10 and a convenience pack featuring electric windows and mirrors at £150.

##Fiestavan--none##

In the back

If the Fiesta van lacks a bit of 'padding' round the outside, this shortcoming is made up for in the load area, where the sides of the van are carpeted to half height and the floor has a rubber cover. There are two lashing eyes countersunk into the floor at the front of the area and two more on the back panel under the hatch.

Load length and height are claimed to be best in class at 1,320mm and 977mm while payload is 494 kg and load volume is 1.01 cubic metres, bang on head-to-head with Corsavan while Cliovan boasts 535 kg and 0.9 cu m while Peugeot 206 van has 515kg and 1.1 cu m.

On the road

The press launch featured only diesel-powered vans for driving and took place on a rainswept morning at the Ford College in Loughborough. It was enough to put a damper on anyone's big day, but the perky little 1.4-litre common rail diesel motor proved such a delight that we (almost) forgot about the weather.

It offers a comparatively modest output of 67bhp at 4,000rpm and 118 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm, but driving around the traffic-clogged streets of that university town, it proved a willing and able performer.

The gearshift seems enormously chunky for the size of vehicle and it helped give the van that 'big vehicle' feel. Power steering was nicely weighted too and ABS brakes come as a welcome standard fitting. And talking of safety, the van also features twin dual stage airbags which go off at different rates depending on the force of the impact, so won't blow you and your passenger out of the rear hatch when you hit something at 10mph. Side airbags are an option at £150.

Fuel economy is a claimed 45.6mpg and warranty is three years/60,000 miles and servicing intervals are every 12,500 miles.

Verdict

As car buyers have already been won over by the Fiesta's willing ways and superb driving experience, so Ford should have little problem persuading van buyers to get out their cheque books. Providing your loads will fit in, your drivers will just love getting behind the wheel of this cracking little performer.

Fact file
1.3i 1.4 TDCi
Power (bhp/rpm): 67/4,000 69/5,500
Torque (lb-ft/rpm): 118/2,000 86/2,800
Load length (mm): 1,320 1,320
Load height (mm): 957 957
Load width: 1,345 1,345
Load volume (cu m): 1.013 1.013
Payload (kg): 494 494
Price (£ ex-VAT): 8,000 8,350

How the rivals shape up

Vauxhall Corsa van
Little differentiates all the rivals in this sector. Corsa van is available with 1.3-litre diesel and 1.2-litre petrol engines and load volume and price exactly match the Fiesta van. Expect the Ford to be a slightly better driving experience though.

Renault Clio van
There is only one Clio van on sale, featuring Renault's 1.5dCi common rail diesel engine. It is the usual chic, stylish offering from the French maker and undercuts Fiesta van by £150. Payload beats Fiesta van at 535kg but load volume is slightly smaller.

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