Until then panel vans had been largely utilitarian and little thought was given to style and panache.
But the Vivaro looked different from any other van that came before it and it took comfort and drivability to new heights.
In a nutshell, the Vivaro was the first panel van that truly drove like a big car. The holy grail of van designers had finally been found.
At launch, only one model was available – the short wheelbase. It was powered by one engine – 1.9-litre common rail diesel – offering either 80bhp or 100bhp.
Since then new models have been rolling off the production line at regular intervals.
A 2.5-litre motor gave a power boost up to 140bhp and a long wheelbase version upped the gross vehicle weight and load carrying capacity.
Now come the niches. The long wheelbase crewcab on test here appeared at the back end of last year and this spring fleets will have the option of a dropside truck. Where will it all end?
But back to our test vehicle. The crewcab has been with us for two months now, being shared between the testers at Fleet News and Fleet Van and so far, there has been nothing but praise for its dynamic driving style and sheer usefulness. It boasts the 1.9CDTi engine offering 100bhp and comes with a six-speed gearbox as standard. There is ample seating for six people and a driver’s airbag, ABS brakes and remote central locking come as part of the package.
Rather meanly, the CD player costs £75 extra. Our test van has this ‘luxury’, together with an electric pack featuring power windows and heated mirrors at £275. The van costs £16,315 (all prices ex-VAT).
The Vivaro arrived at our offices with just 104 miles on the clock and for the first two months, much of its mileage was short-run stuff. You’d be amazed how many people need a van for carting bits and pieces about.
The first big test came two weeks ago. A friend of mine had bought a farm near Roscommon in Eire and asked if I could take a stack of furniture over for him. That’s more like it.
The trip was completed in five days and in addition to all the gear, I took along my son and another friend. All in all, we must have been pretty close to the maximum load carrying capacity of 1,091 kg.
It was while loading the van that the first problem arose. The second row of seats means that the load length in the back is restricted to 6ft. As my pal wanted a wooden framed settee measuring 6ft 3in taking over, it soon became clear that it wouldn’t fit.
We eventually shovelled it in by dismantling the framework. But it’s a point worth making for any fleet planning to buy this vehicle – if you have any lengthy loads to transport, the Vivaro crewcab is not for you.
Once on the road, on that long drag from Peterborough to Holyhead, I was surprised to find that all the weight made not a scrap of difference to either the power or the handling of the van.
The only give-away that we had a full load aboard was that the Vivaro rode over the bumps a little less skittishly than before.
The van had just over 2,000 miles on the clock when I left home and as the journey wore on I could almost feel the engine loosening up. By the time we got back home the odometer was reading 3,300 and there was a noticeable amount more oomph on tap. That wonderfully supportive driver’s seat was a dream. Not once in the whole trip did I suffer any twinges – and it was the same for the front passenger too.
However, things in the back were not so rosy. My son complained that the seats were too hard and upright, although to be fair to Vauxhall, this van is hardly designed for six-up motoring over such long distances. For shorter journeys things should be fine – and there is certainly no shortage of legroom.
To cap it all, at the end of the trip I calculated that the Vivaro was returning a creditable 28.1 miles per gallon.
I could only find two complaints. Firstly, for some bizarre reason, the rear windows don’t have any wipers attached to them. And secondly the front wipers could do with a bit more power. They don’t squirt enough juice up to the upper reaches of the screen.
THIS trip left me feeling that surely there can’t be a better medium panel van on Britain’s roads today. Safe, comfortable, stylish, economical – what more could you want?
Gross vehicle weight (kg): 2.9
Payload (kg): 1,091
Load volume (cu m): 4.2
Max power (bhp): 100
Max torque (lb ft): 177
Price (£ ex-VAT): £16,315