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Car reviews - LDV - V80 - Van range

Our Opinion

We like
Forgiving ride, strong VM Motori diesel engine, cabin space and storage, bigger cargo area than price-point rivals, standard dual sliding side-doors, relatively well-made interior
Room for improvement
Flimsy rear barn doors, bizarre cruise control, ergonomic headaches such as the central speedo and central locking button, no Bluetooth (yet), engine noise, lack of brand image, no ESC

LDV logo24 Jan 2013

By MIKE COSTELLO

ONE of the most common questions asked of Australian motoring journalists by the public is whether the increasing number of Chinese vehicles sold here are any good.

It’s a mixed bag, frankly, in these early days. But what we can say is that the LDV van is thoroughly decent, and of the five Chinese brands sold here, arguably in possession of the best pedigree.

LDV, formerly the UK company Leyland DAF Vans, is owned by state-owned SAIC, which has taken its time to enter the Australian market but is China’s largest vehicle manufacturer.

Among SAIC’s portfolio is the famed MG group, as well as joint-venture deals with heavyweights Volkswagen and General Motors.

The V80 range is better-specified and larger than key rivals – the Hyundai iLoad and Toyota HiAce – for the SWB, and the Ford Transit and Volkswagen Crafter for the LWB – and undercuts them by at least $1500 on price.

Ok, so this is less of a price differential than may have been expected from a new Chinese brand. The fact is, the LDV isn’t super cheap. But then, it’s not nasty either.

For $32,990, the short-wheelbase version is noticeably larger in the back than the $34,490 iLoad and $36,990 HiAce – you could say it almost straddles the line between a traditional medium and full-sized van.

The 180-degree rear barn doors and twin sliding side-doors provide forklift access from both angles, and the wheelbase is wide enough to swallow a pallet. Its 1300kg payload is at least 180kg better than class rivals.

LWB versions can accommodate two stacked pallets and ups the payload to 1800kg. The high-roofed version is priced at $39,990, which makes it at least $4000 cheaper than similarly sized European rivals such as the Transit, Crafter, Fiat Ducato and Renault Master.

However, all versions of the LDV are front-drive, which can limit traction under heavy load. Many rivals offer rear-drive for this reason.

Both variants have at least four tie-down points and sound insulation, and despite the lack of a bulkhead (as in the Master) the cabin is quiet and free of booms and echoes.

However, the steel on the rear barn doors felt worrying thin and flimsy, and closed with more of a whimper than a thunk.

Still, those rear doors are one of the few quality bugbears, with the panels gaps otherwise homogeneous on our test cars, and the cabin plastics – while hardly a lesson in soft-touch refinement – relatively consistent and well screwed together and no worse than the Renault, for instance.

The cabin is wide and tall, with ample room for two big bodies and a smaller one in the middle (plus all three get lap-sash seatbelts), while visibility is good via the huge side mirrors.

There is a respectable amount of adjustably on the tough fabric seats, although the steering wheel has no reach adjustment.

On paper, the standard features list is good, although the absence of Bluetooth is a big omission – how often do you see a delivery driver taking calls mid-drop? Constantly.

LDV importer WMC says Bluetooth will come on-stream within months, as the Chinese factory makes running changes. But it’s the smaller details about the cabin that proved more irksome.

For instance, LDV hasn’t bothered to switch the speedo over to the proper side of the central-mounted instrument binnacle following the right-hand-drive conversion, making it hard to read (watch those cost savings vanish when the speeding fines start building up!).

The cruise control is operated by a dash button, only engages under throttle and is non-adjustable, and there’s no overhead grab handle for the passenger.

Perhaps most annoying is the auto door-locking mechanism: to get out of the car, the driver has to hit a switch near their right knee each and every time. Pulling on the handles does nothing. We imagine that may get tiresome for a delivery driver in-and-out of their van on a constant basis.

But that’s where our list of complaints ends, because the LDV is entirely pleasant to drive.

The 100kW/330Nm diesel engine is made under license from respected Italian diesel specialist VM Motori, and while it lacks the absolute low-down grunt of say, the Transit or iLoad, it feels strong beyond 2000rpm and dealt with stop-start commuting and steep hills with equal comfort.

It’s not the quietest engine around, but the drive is less raucous than the Peugeot Expert, and the five-speed gearbox made the best of it. Again, the gearbox is no paragon, with some vagueness and an offset clutch, but in the context of its rivals quite acceptable.

More impressive was the ride and handling, thanks to tuning from British group MIRA. Commendably, WMC provided us with a challenging drive route containing some exceedingly shabby country roads, and the big V80 handled both the corrugations and the bends deftly.

Tyre noise was subdued, suspension travel was fine – thank the 500kg weights in the back, which no doubt flattened things out – and the hydraulic steering had some feel and feedback. It’s no dynamo like a Mercedes Sprinter, but it felt safe and planted.

The eventual addition of a ZF automatic transmission, a petrol engine and safety technology like stability control and Bluetooth by the end of 2013 will up the desirability stakes.

Of more concern are less measurable things (at least at this early stage) such as residuals. Because, while you may save a few thousand dollars when new, poor resale value could wipe this advantage out overnight.

To us, the V80 makes more sense in LWB guise, where the price differential between it and key rivals is more pronounced. The $1500 difference between the SWB V80 and the Hyundai iLoad is too small, despite the V80’s larger dimensions.

Still, we’re here to measure this van on its merits, and we came away pleasantly surprised. The V80, in most respects, holds its own against more established rivals. And remember, for SAIC, this is just the beginning.

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