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Battle for 2015 International Van of the Year commences

While most of Britain is focused on a certain poll up in Scotland this week, us Vanoraks are embroiled in discussion about which van is going to emerge the successor in this year’s International Van of the Year poll.

OK, the future of the “Union” might not be at stake following the outcome of the voting in this poll, but there will be a few reputations on the line when the votes from the 23 jury members, representing countries throughout Europe,  are made public. I’m the jury member for the UK and while casting my vote, I’ve run the measure over the candidates for the 2015 election – by general consent one of the most competitive years ever for this internationally acclaimed awards. Here’s how I see it going:

Vauxhall Vivaro/Renault Trafic

They won the award in 2002, and that same model barely changed at all during its lifecycle. There were a few upgrades here and there, new more efficient engines and some emission friendly technology, but essentially the Vivaro and Trafic remained the same – a testimony to the future-proofing of the design engineers back at the turn of the century. This new model, which will be built here in Britain, is a massive step forward in terms of design, ergonomics, comfort and technology. There are two load lengths and two roof heights creating load volumes from 5.2m3 to 8.6m3 and a maximum payloads of up to 1,269kg. But it’s the new more efficient engines with single and twin turbos that are the highlight of this pair. Both are versions of the 1.6-litre dCi common-rail, but four different outputs have been created with powers from 89bhp to 138bhp, the best of which is claimed to return fuel economy of 47.9mpg. The old model will be a hard act to follow, but those engines coupled with the modern ergonomic cab and eyecatching design make this product a stand-out candidate for glory this year.

Mercedes-Benz Vito

Mercedes early move into Euro-6 in this  mid-sized van segment probably helped it make the shortlist, but the headline for the new Vito is that there is now front-wheel-drive in the range. Rear-wheel-drive models will still be available and powered by Mercedes’ own 2.5-litre diesel unit, but the front-wheel-drive models will get their power from the 1.6-litre Renault turbodiesel used in the Trafic and Vivaro. This should allow Mercedes to compete at a lower price point for what has traditionally been a pretty expensive van. The range is still just as broad as the outgoing model with four wheelbase lengths and two heights, but volume and payloads have also been increased marginally. The cab hasn’t undergone too much of an upgrade, it just now sits more comfortably in appearance between the Citan and Sprinter. Undoubtedly the new front wheel drive options increase model appeal, and being first to the table at Euro-6 in the 2.8- and 3-tonne arena is a big positive, both of which will help give the Vito a real shot at the title.

Citroen Relay/Peugeot Boxer/Fiat Ducato

Like the Vivaro/Trafic partnership, the PSA and Fiat partnership have been considered as a single model for this award, and although many would consider the triumvirate outsiders to lift the title they are a dark horse. All three models are slightly different in look and specification, but to generalise the engines have been improved, making them quieter and more efficient, the design altered for each brand and a wealth of safety features either added as standard or made available. Fiat, like its PSA partners Peugeot and Citroën, has revamped the front end, with all manufacturers designing their own grille and bonnet, adding sleek headlights that can feature LED daytime running lamps. There’s also a long list of three-letter abbreviations include ROM (rollover mitigation), RMI (roll movement intervention), LAC (load adaptive control), ASR (anti-slip regulation), EBD (electronic brakeforce distribution) and MSR (drive torque control). The same models won the award in 1994, and again secured the title in 2008 and 2009 for the mid-sized and small van joint ventures. 2015 could well be a chance for the partnership to add to their haul.

Iveco Daily

With power from a choice of two four-cylinder engines both of which have been improved over the outgoing models, and two Euro-6 compliant outputs in the range, the efficiency and emission upgrades alone to the new Daily are a significant contribution to the model range. Couple that with a new design both inside and out, and two varying suspension layouts to allow 3.5-tonne models and the heaviest 7-tonne variants to both benefit from nimble handling and high payloads, the new Daily is a considerable advancement over the model it replaces. There’s also a new 19.6m3 load volume model – the biggest of any panel van. Economy is clearly at the forefront of the new Daily’s objectives, which is why it can also be specified with a choice of 15 rear axle ratios. So, it’s got bold looks, new engines and innovative suspension layouts, all across the largest weight range of any panel van, surely that will make it a contender. The Italians also have some pedigree in the competition too, so don’t bet against the new Daily taking the title.

Ford Transit

If the IVOY award was a horse race, then Ford’s new two-tonne Transit would be the odds-on favourite: Ford is the in-form make having won the past two years with Custom and Connect; Transit itself has won every time it’s made the shortlist in recent years and forward orders for the new model are 70% ahead of forecast. Not only that, new Transit is a very good van. The mid-Atlantic looks might not suit everyone, but engine performance, on-road handling and the wide range of body size and options ensures the new van retains the DNA which has made the product so popular here in the UK. The latest edition of all-wheel-drive to the line up, gives Transit another strong string to its bow. Surely the UK’s best-selling van is a shoe-in for gold this year?

It is a very close contest this year, but as a betting man, I would wager there should be two vans at the head of the market – the Vauxhall/Renault and the Iveco – with possibly the Iveco just shaving it in my opinion. However, the jury of fellow European commercial vehicle journalists is notoriously difficult to predict and this year’s election could go any way such is the strength of the competition. The result will be announced at the IAA Hanover Truck Show next Tuesday night and you’ll be able to get all the information here at Van Advisor. Stay tuned…

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