Fleet News

Road test: LDV Maxus

The new Maxus range is the result of five years hard work and £500 million of money and the story behind the launch is almost as fascinating as the finish product itself.

LDV, Britain’s only dedicated van manufacturer, came into being in 1993 after a management buyout and it soon became obvious that replacements were needed for the aging Pilot and Convoy.

After a long search, LDV finally teamed up with Korean manufacturing giant Daewoo and the Maxus range began to take shape. However, disaster loomed when the Daewoo parent company went bankrupt at the turn of the century and LDV faced the prospect of losing its new baby.

But when General Motors bought out Daewoo, bosses weren’t interested in the new van and the project was handed over to LDV.

With the rights to the Maxus now firmly in British hands, the next task was to bring the tooling to this country. Daewoo had planned to build its model in Poland and it was up to LDV bosses to buy up the equipment and ship it over to England.

In the past two years, LDV has been playing cat and mouse with the world’s van press. At the CV Show in March 2003, the van made its first public appearance but was half hidden under an army camouflage net.

The following year, chief executive Allen Amey officially unveiled the as yet unnamed van again, but this time it was packaged behind a wobbly Perspex screen, so no-one could photograph it properly.

Dark words were muttered among Britain’s van journalists and some even suggested that maybe LDV didn’t actually have a van to launch.

All these fears were finally dispelled on January 19, when – with a huge fanfare of trumpets – the press was let loose on the new Maxus at a launch in Rotherham, ahead of the range going on sale later in the month.

No-one at LDV is under any illusions about the importance of the new Maxus. Its old vans are hopelessly outperformed by some of the hot new opposition and although LDV has a loyal customer base, its sales team will have a hard task persuading fleets who run Ford Transits and Mercedes-Benz Sprinters to try this new home-grown product. Putting it bluntly, the new Maxus will make or break LDV.

From launch there will be two wheelbases, gross vehicle weights of bet wen 2.8 tonnes and 3.5 tonnes and three roof heights. Minibus and chassis cab versions are planned for the following year but fleets wanting these models will still be able to buy them in the old Convoy format.

Load volumes range from seven cubic metres to 11.4 cubic metres and payloads range from xx to

The vans – all front wheel drive – will be powered by Italian VM 2.5-litre common rail turbodiesel engines as seen in vehicles such as the Jeep Cherokee and Voyager. There will be two power outputs – 95bhp and 120bhp – and a 140bhp version will follow later in the year.

Standard equipment will include power steering, driver’s airbag, electric windows and mirrors, a CD player, driver and passenger seatbet pretensions, remote plip locking, engine immobiliser, height adjustable driver’s seat, tachometer ad a pollen filter, while paid-for extras include ABS brakes, a passenger airbag, alarm, slamlocks in the rear, plywood flooring and trim, a fully adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar adjustment and full steel bulkhead.

Warranty is either three years/100,000 miles or four years/60,000 miles and servicing intervals are 20,000 miles.

Prices will range from £12,995 to £18,495 ex-VAT.

Speaking at the launch of the Maxus range, LDV chief executive Allen Amey said: ‘This vehicle will compete head-on with the best in the industry for years to come. Our customers will benefit from inrivalled performance across every aspect of our business from product specifications to factory-fit option programmes, service and parts back-up bespoke warranty programmes and an unrivalled dealer network. LDV now has a totally new range of LCVs developed to set a new benchmark in the industry.’

Sales and marketing executive director Tony Lewis added: ‘The LDV Maxus is a British manufacturing triumph – one that the whole team is proud of. Our aim now is to use our new range to reach professionals throughout the UK and Europe.

‘We are extremely proud to be part of this industry and want to now challenge the over-hyped stereotype of the UK van operator as either a cowboy or white van man and elevate how our industry is currently perceived. We are all dedicated professionals and we know that operators are highly professional in their own right.

‘We will carry our proud professionals strategy through in everything we do, be it in manufacturing, customer service, our dealer network or our aftersales service. These are definitely not just empty words.’

Much time and effort has been put into the development of the Maxus. The new model was tested in temperatures from -23 degrees in the Arctic Circle to 45 degrees in western Australia and there have been more than one million kilometres of road testing, including two vehicles each exceeding 250,000 kilometres. Meanwhile a total of 16 vehicles were crashed to prove its safety credentials. Ease of repair after a crash has also come under the spotlight, leading to class-leading low insurance groups of 10 for the SWB model and 12 for the LWB.

Last year LDV sold a total of 8.314 vans in Britain. This year the aim is to sell around 10,000 new Maxus models.

OUTSIDE

The first thing to note about the new Maxus is that both in short and long wheelbase formats, it is a stunning looker. Most of the opposition have opted for function over form, but the Maxus manages to cut a stylish dash as well as offering good loadspace and payloads.

The front end still has that distinctive LDV snub nose while the rest takes on a kind of Asian slant which makes the van a fusion of east and west that works a treat.

There is a large plastic front bumper and plastic rear corners but sadly no protection at all for the side panels or the wheel arches.

Some of the paintwork on our test vehicles was decidedly dodgy, but we were told these were pre-production models which had been hastily put together for testing purposes. There were also a few raised eyebrows about fit and finish of some of the panels, but again we were promised better when the van goes on sale.

In the front

Entry to the cab is via standard remote ‘plip’ locking and climbing aboard reveals a light, airy and stylish area and a dash with all the dials contained in a large central console, leaving extra leg room for driver and passenger. This arrangement also allows for left hand drive models to be built without creating a whole new dashboard.

Some of the journalists present didn’t like the fact that the dials were not directly in front of the driver, but it’s an arrangement that works well in a lot of modern cars and I personally like it.

Top marks for the standard CD player and electric windows and mirrors, although some of the plastics used in the cab feel a bit cheap and nasty, especially the pull-out twin coffee cup/can holders which feel as though they could snap off at any time.

No such problems with the large cola bins in each door pocket, which should keep white van man happy guzzling away while on the move.

All the drivers’ seats in our test vehicles were the paid-for height, rake and tilt-adjustable variety with lumbar support. They proved flat, firm and supportive, although they all seemed to wobble on their mountings, which doesn’t sound too healthy.

It’s a pity that ABS brakes are a paid-for option, but at least a driver’s airbag is standard, unlike in the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.

IN THE BACK

The business end of the Maxus features the usual sliding side door and double rear doors which open to 180 degrees. The doors feel rather on the flimsy side compared to some of the opposition but maybe it could be argued that the rivals are over-engineered for the purpose.

It’s also worth noting that even on high roof versions, the rear doors go right up to the top of the body.

Buyers would certainly be advised to opt for the ply lining and flat plastic floor which allows the load-lashing eyes to be countersunk. Loads can then be slid in and out easily.

ON THE ROAD

Whatever the shortcomings of this van might be, LDV has picked a winner with the common rail 2.5-litre engines, which are smooth, powerful, quiet and efficient.

I was able to test both the 90bhp and 120 bhp versions and although the more powerful engine was obviously the better unit to drive, there would be shortage of pulling power for fleet purposes with the weaker unit.

All the vans we drove were unladen and the damping felt rather on the harsh side. I would have liked to have tried a vehicle fully laden but that will have to wait until a later date.

The steering wheel looks dinky and rather too small at first glance but it’s a clever trick to give the van a more car-like feel. It works too and all my test drives showed this vehicle to be a cracking performer on the roads – comfortable, sure-footed and with a nicely-weighted power steering.

The gearstick moves up from the floor to the dash on the Maxus, as is the norm now in this size of van. However, it isn’t the smoothest in its class and the box made an audible clunk when changing gear on several occasions.

VERDICT

Let’s give a big cheer for the local lads – against all odds and facing tremendous opposition from the bigger players, LDV has produced a van which it can be proud of. Current customers will be delighted in the quantum leap forward over the current models, while buyers of rivals would be advised to take a look.

However, LDV must improve on its quality control from the models we tested before it can hope to achieve success. On our pre-production test vehicles, there were just too many niggling little faults.

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