Who says so? A panel of expert judges (including yours truly), that’s who.
The Volkswagen Transporter was given this ultimate honour at the 2006 Fleet News Awards in March.
And in my humble opinion it was well and truly deserved.
The Transporter is not one of those vans that has any pretensions to style and fancy fangle-danglery – it is solid, practical and unfussy, which is just how a van should be.
In fact, if you go to Germany, you’ll find the word for ‘van’ is nutzfahrzeuge, which literally translated means useful vehicle.
Our test model is the top-rated 174bhp version, which is by far the most powerful engine in the range. The rival Vauxhall Vivaro, for example, only goes up to 135bhp.
It’s not going to be the biggest seller, obviously, but when we asked Volkswagen for any version and that’s the one they sent us we certainly weren’t going to complain too much!
As soon as you touch the Transporter, it’s obvious that this van is a bit special. The doors feel like they weigh a ton – they are the sort of thing you’d expect to find nailed on the front of Fort Knox – and everything inside reeks of durability and quality.
The seats are firm and hard, like most German vehicle seats, with height, rake and lumbar adjustment, and the dash is solid and functional.
But nestling in the centre console is – shock horror – a radio/cassette player.
Tut tut, Volkswagen, it’s the third millennium now – no-one plays cassettes any more.
Our test van has a CD auto-changer under the seat, but how many fleet operators are going to pay £235 for an optional extra such as this? None probably.
Our van as tested weighs in at £19,272 excluding VAT and has several options added, such as a solid bulkhead at £135, electric windows and mirrors with central locking at £295 and air-conditioning at £600.
Standard spec is generous for a van. You get a driver’s airbag, ABS brakes, engine braking control, electronic brakeforce distribution, traction control and an engine immobiliser.
Under the bonnet is a 2.5-litre turbodiesel unit offering 174bhp at 3,500rpm and 295lb-ft of torque at 2,000rpm. That translates to a top speed of 117mph and claimed combined fuel economy of 44.8mpg, a good figure but one which could well be ruined if the van’s mighty power is unleashed. Gross vehicle weight is 3,000kg.
Our van had just 116 miles on the clock when it arrived, but the engine didn’t feel particularly tight and was already giving its power freely.
I’m looking forward to getting a few thousand miles on the clock, by which time the power should be fully unleashed.
Under way, that dash-mounted gearstick must be one of the slickest there is – it snicks into place without a murmur and is a delight to use.
The engine is whisper quiet too, so driver and passengers can converse in normal tones.
The full bulkhead is a definite safety plus but on the minus side it severely constricts the amount of space for the driver’s legs.
The colour is worthy of mention. Officially it is called Inca blue but the residual value experts called it ‘doom blue’ because apparently dark blue vans don’t sell well at auction. I quite like it personally but it’s a point worth bearing in mind.
As usual when a new van arrives at Fleet NewsNews, there is already a queue at my desk of people wanting to borrow it.
We’ll be reporting on the team’s various views in the coming six months.
The manufacturer’s view
‘PRODUCED for more than 50 years and now in its fifth generation, the award-winning Transporter remains an extremely popular load carrier.
Drivers appreciate its comfort, practicality and impressive driving dynamics, while van operators continue to choose it for its competitive wholelife costs, flexible range, safety features and frugal engines.’ Paul Wiseman, national fleet sales manager, Volkswagen
Equipment and options
Total options: £1,315
Standard price (OTR ex-VAT): £17,957
Price as tested: £19,272
Model: Volkswagen Transporter T30 swb 2.5 PD 174
Price (ex-VAT): £17,957 (as tested £19,272)
CO2 emissions (g/km): n/a
Company car tax bill (2006) 22% taxpayer: £9 per month
Insurance group: 6
Combined mpg: 44.8
Test mpg: n/a
CAP Monitor residual value: £5,275/30%
Contract hire rate: N/A
Expenditure to date: Nil