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A new LDV...on your bike

The first thing a colleague said when they saw the LDV V80 was “why is that Chinese van covered in Union Jacks?”

Which is a good question. For the answer you have to look at the history of the big silver van I am about to use to transport two (Japanese) motorbikes from South London and Kent to Donington Park near Leicester for a track day.

LDV (Leyland Daf Vans) was created in Birmingham back in 1993, and after going bust a few times was eventually bought by SAIC, the largest automotive company in China, in 2010. The LDV tooling was shipped lock, stock and barrel to China where SAIC now turns out a range of LDVs, including this top of the range V80, which are distributed by Harris Commercials of Ireland.

So far, so good – but what is it like to drive? The answer is ‘surprisingly good’. Of course it is basic and lacking the toys of modern European vans, but it does what a van needs to do very competently.

First things first – loading the bikes. The load bed is quite high – less than ideal if you are hopping in and out all day loading and unloading parcels and also not so good if you have to push a Jap four cylinder bike up a ramp. Once onboard, however, the load space is very spacious (it can take two standard pallets thanks to a load bay that is 1,380mm between the wheel arches) with plenty of head room.

Handy magnets hold the doors open 270 degrees which is useful when two blokes are trying to heave the aforementioned bikes into the back. There are the usual six lashing points that make securing the bikes a doddle.

Once loaded and on the move, the V80 is a real pleasure to drive. Between them the bikes and all our gear probably weighed no more than 500kg, so the 136hp 2.5-litre four cylinder turbo-charged engine barely broke in to a sweat. With two fragile and expensive bikes onboard we weren’t exactly testing the limits of acceleration, braking or cornering, but the torquey (330Nm) engine pulls well from just above 1,000rpm and there is rarely any need to rev it beyond 2,000rpm before shifting up. That is just as well, as the motor gets noisy above 3,000rpm, and it felt wise to stay well away from the 4,000rpm redline.

In normal use the engine emits a pleasant enough truck-like growl and on the motorway at legal speeds wind noise was more intrusive than the engine which was only turning over at 2,250rpm, at an indicated 70mph. The power is transmitted via a superbly slick six-speed gearbox whose ratios were perfectly matched to the engine output. Who needs an auto ‘box when a manual is as easy to use as this?

We didn’t get through enough diesel to do a proper check on fuel consumption – SAIC claim a combined efficiency of 30mpg.

Brakes and handling were certainly adequate but were not thoroughly explored on this trip. The steering felt a bit vague at times on windy motorway stretches and the suspension is on the firm side with a light load, but overall it felt like a secure drive despite the appalling road surfaces we encountered.

The driver’s seat doesn’t look much but with it pushed all the way against the bulkhead it was comfy enough for this 5’ 10” driver. It adjusts for tilt and seat back angle but taller drivers might suffer from a lack of leg room. The steering wheel and square gear knob feel nice and tactile in the hand which helps off-set the cheap and cheerful impression made by the acres of grey and silver plastic on the dash and doors.

If your drivers like lots of toys to play with in the cab this isn’t the van for them. There is no stop-start, lane departure warning or trip computer which does feel odd these days – there are only two buttons to switch between trip and odometer and to zero the trip. There was also no clue how to reset the clock so it stayed five minutes slow. There is a basic FM radio which does feature a USB port to plug in a music device, and while the speakers are not the best they once again proved adequate for listening to Radio 2 or 4.

There is a basic cruise control that is turned on and off with a simple push button – it works OK but there is no way to increase or decrease speed once set. When on, a small, dim green light illuminates on the dash.

The centrally-mounted instruments may be great for making a van that is easy to build in both RHD and LHD, but in bright sunlight when waring shades they are hard to read. They get better when the van lights are turned on and the dials light up.

In some area simple is better and this applies to heater controls. Why do vehicle manufacturers insist on trying to reinvent the wheel with climate control? The LDV V80’s simple but effective three knob heater controls are all you need. The four-speed fan is however a bit on the noisy side on anything above the first position.  

The glove box is tiny and was pretty much full once the satnav was stowed away but apart from that there is a good amount of storage space in the doors, on top of dash and over the windscreen. There is a very handy double cup holder that pulls out of the dash between the driver and passenger.

The two stalks controlling lights, indicators and wipers are again simple but effective, though they feel flimsy, while the large silver dash push buttons are easy to use but look tacky. To be fair though, nothing had broken in the 7,200 test miles the van had covered when we got it.

The driver gets a good view through the wide windscreen and side windows, although the A-pillars are quite wide as they have to support the useful grab handles that make getting up into the van a doddle. The large, easily adjusted double mirrors give a good view behind and to the sides while a handy smoked glass bulkhead means you can keep an eye on valuable cargo in the load space. The van interior is lit by a huge pair of roof mounted lights that would not look out of place in budget hotel bathroom.

So would I have one? Based on this 500 mile drive the answer is ‘yes, for sure’. The van feels reassuringly solid and as if it will give long and reliable service – as long as none of the flimsy looking switches and controls pack up. There isn’t much to go wrong which is always a good start. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and compared with its modern European and Japanese rivals parked up in the paddock at Donington the V80 looks either a bit on the chunky side or muscular depending on your point of view.

The only real giveaway as to the van’s Oriental origins are the large asteroids-style (a video game popular in the 1970s) SAIC logos on the steering wheel, head rests and bonnet. You pay your money and takes your choice; the V80 starts at £13,999 (ex VAT).

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