Commercial vans are increasingly proving an important part of the Australian automotive landscape.
Vans of all sizes – small, medium and large – saw sales increases in 2015, and it’s that middle segment that takes up the majority of sales.
There’s a clear sales leader and, surprise, surprise – it’s a Toyota. The HiAce has been the best-seller for years, but it came last in our mid-size van mega test in 2014, and so little has changed that it doesn’t get a guernsey in this test.
Instead, we’ve brought along our new long-term Renault Trafic. It's a van we have judged equal-best in class with the Ford Transit Custom, and the French van also saw a recent equipment spruce with the addition of new safety gear.
The iLoad has just been updated with a slight facelift and added equipment including a touchscreen media system and revised interior elements and safety items.
The new-generation T6 Transporter may not look overly different to its predecessor but in fact it is a very different and much improved model compared to the one it replaces. There have been major improvements to the efficiency and interior quality of the VW van, and it matches the others for crash protection bits, too.
In terms of sales, the Hyundai is the segment’s second-best seller, while the Volkswagen ran third in 2015 even with old stock, and the brand new Renault ran fourth, but with a big dip in sales before the new version arrived.
The question is – which of these three should be commanding more commercial van buyer attention? Let’s find out.
Pricing and specifications
For this test we aimed for diesel models with a similar zone for pricing.
The fact we recently took on this Renault Trafic short-wheelbase model for our videography team was just a sweet coincidence of timing, but it fits the bill perfectly. Ignore, at your peril, its very handy optional steel ladder and roof-racking.
It’s the L1H1 dCi140 version, priced from $37,990 plus on-road costs. There is no automatic gearbox option and that could be a deal-breaker for some buyers. But you can get a long-wheelbase body for an extra $1500. 2016 Renault Trafic pricing and specifications.
Hyundai’s iLoad H1 diesel manual model starts from the exact same point – $37,990 plus on-roads – but there wasn’t a stick shift available, so we got the more popular automatic variant (from $40,990 plus on-road costs).
It comes in one wheelbase length only, but unlike the Renault there is a crew-van version with six seats (adds $2000), or if you really need to move people rather than packages, there’s the iMax people-mover model with eight seats (from $39,990 to $46,490). 2016 Hyundai iLoad pricing and specifications.
Our Volkswagen Transporter is the most affordable model on test, with this TDI340 short-wheelbase manual model kicking off from $36,990. Adding an automatic (dual-clutch ‘DSG’) transmission adds $3000 to the price. 2016 Volkswagen Transporter pricing and specifications.
The VW offers much greater scope to choose the exact model you want than the other two vans here, with 19 variants to choose from including short-wheelbase, long-wheelbase, front-drive, all-wheel-drive and cab-chassis (single- and dual-cab) variants, with the range topping out at $48,290 plus costs. Then there are the spin-off Caravelle and Multivan people-mover models…
So straight off the bat, the VW has the advantage in terms of available options.
But what about value for money? After all, buyers of these types of vans may be tradies who need to make ends meet, or fleet buyers after a sweet rig to keep their drivers happy.
Thankfully, all three vehicles tested here get passenger car-like niceties including Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, steering wheel audio controls, CD player, USB input, and cruise control (this is new to the updated iLoad). Note: if you buy a base model Trafic, you miss out on a CD player and audio controls.
Even in this version the Trafic misses out on a touchscreen media system, which is optional (at a cost of $890 on its own or as part of the $2490 Premium pack, as fitted to our vehicle, which includes other bits like auto headlights and wipers, heated seats, a leather steering wheel, a glazed bulkhead and 17-inch alloy wheels).
More on the media systems to follow…
The VW misses out on auto lights and wipers, but comes as standard with a leather steering wheel. The iLoad misses out on all that stuff.
The Hyundai misses out on a detailed trip computer screen, which makes keeping an eye on your fuel consumption a bit of a challenge, and it’s also the only vehicle here without a digital speedometer. The other two have excellent readouts with average consumption, and easy to read and extensive driver information screens.
The Renault and Hyundai come as standard with three seats, though the Hyundai controversially still has a lap-only middle seatbelt. That’s poor in this day and age. Renault buyers can option a single passenger seat at no cost. The VW has two buckets as standard, but a bench seat can be put in for a cost of $490, and that option includes integrated lap-sash seatbelts for all three occupants.
As mentioned previously, every van here has some quality safety inclusions, including dual front and side curtain airbags. Renault’s recent decision to make side curtain airbags standard is a move in the right direction, and the update of the iLoad also saw the inclusion of those potentially life-saving safety items. Compared with the previous T5 Transporter, the new T6 saw the addition of those ‘bags, too.
But the T6 misses out on one handy safety item that the other vehicles on this test have – a rear-view camera. No Transporter variant comes with the handy safety feature as standard, which is poor on VW’s part, but all van models have rear parking sensors (as do all Trafic models; it’s a $400 option on iLoad models). You can option a camera for VW vans with liftback tailgates for $590, but barn-door models miss out.
The base model Renault variant (L1H1 dCi110) still misses out on this tech, too, but the dCi140 version we have on test gets a high-mount camera as standard, which makes positioning the van very easy, though the fact it displays in the rear-view mirror, rather than on the high-resolution media screen, is perplexing.
The updated iLoad saw the inclusion of a rear-view camera as part of this update, but, as with the VW, only on the liftgate models. The camera relays to the iLoad’s new media screen, with a reasonably crisp and bright image display.
If you use your van as a mobile billboard, there are 12 colours to choose from if you buy a Transporter, 10 to choose from in the Renault, and just three from Hyundai.
Size and space
These three are all similar in size, but the tale of the tape measure cannot be ignored.
The shortest, narrowest van here is the Volkswagen, but it’s the tallest – watch that roofline in low car parks. The Renault is in the middle for length, width and height, and the Hyundai is by far the lengthiest but also the shortest in terms of height.
Here’s the breakdown:
Trafic: 4999mm long; 1956mm wide; 1971mm tall; 3098mm wheelbase
iLoad: 5125mm long; 1920mm wide; 1935mm tall; 3200mm wheelbase
Transporter: 4890mm long; 1904mm wide; 1990mm tall; 3000mm wheelbase
If that height isn’t enough for you as a potential VW buyer, there’s a high-roof version that adds a further 187mm of height (2177mm tall). The Renault and Hyundai only have one roof height option available.
Further, the VW has a long-wheelbase (LWB) version available, that adds another 400mm between the wheels and stretches the overall length to 5290mm. You can further add the high-roof option if required, which takes the already tall VW to a mammoth 2477mm.
If extra length is what you’re after, you could option up to the long-wheelbase version of the Trafic, which spans 5399mm and rides on a 3498mm wheelbase but retains the same body height.
As for the actual load space measurements, there’s a bit of difference between the three – and part of it comes down to ingenuity on Renault’s part as the Trafic has a clever load-through port that enables lengthy items to be pushed through the bulkhead to the passenger footwell.
Trafic: 2537mm long (3750mm through trapdoor); 1662mm wide; 1387mm tall
iLoad: 2375mm long; 1620mm wide; 1350mm tall
Transporter: 2572mm long; 1700mm wide; 1410mm tall
It’s clear there’s a load space winner here, then, and it’s the VW, but note those measurements are without a bulkhead or safety cage in place. In volume terms it nails it, too, with 5.8m3 of capacity, while the Renault runs second with 5.2m3 and the Hyundai bottoms out with 4.4m3.
The VW’s roof-lined cargo area featured an optional rubber floor and low-mounted step lamp ($450) and while it was bigger than the rivals, it has only six tie-down points on the outer edges of the cargo floor – the Hyundai has eight floor-mounted points that are located inboard from the walls, while the Renault has its bondage game down, with 10 hooks on the walls and six floor-height points.
That additional light in the VW was welcome, though, as the other two only have roof-mounted lights in the cargo area (one in the Hyundai and two in the Renault). The Renault, though, is the only one here with a 12-volt outlet in the cargo area.
The Hyundai featured a fitted rubber floor mat that wasn’t as high quality as the VW’s, and the ridges of the floor still protruded through, making shifting heavy items on the floor a more difficult task. It lacked roof lining but there is standard side lining boards up to the window line.
Van configuration requirements are different for most buyers, but one thing that cannot be ignored is the Hyundai’s standard dual sliding doors – the others here only have single kerbside sliders as standard. All three come with a liftback tailgate as standard, but barn-doors are available for each (Hyundai: $550 on diesel models only; Renault: $190; Volkswagen: $490).
Separating the parcels from the passengers could be a vital consideration for some buyers. The Renault, in this spec, has a steel bulkhead with window fitted as standard (but it can be deleted at no cost), where the Volkswagen requires buyers to pay $590 more for one, no matter what spec they purchase. The Hyundai doesn’t come with a steel bulkhead option, but the cage fitted to our test vehicle is offered as a genuine accessory for $740 fitted. And if you load up with lots of boxes, the iLoad’s exposed rear window washer bottle could cop some damage.
Door aperture widths are important in this class, too, as if you have too narrow a door opening you may not be able to load items in with a forklift.
In fact, none of these vans have side-load access suitable to the majority of pallets (Australian standard: 1165mm by 1165mm).
The door apertures of the Trafic are the narrowest here, at 907mm but they are tall, at 1284mm. The iLoad’s side openings are also on the narrow side at 970mm, and they are very much on the short side at 1180mm. The biggest side door openings of these three belong to the Transporter, at 1017mm wide and 1282mm tall.
While the Hyundai comes with dual sliding doors standard, there are options for that extra flexibility for the VW and Renault (for $1190 and $590 respectively).
The Renault can be had with dual glazed side doors for $990, and it even has doorcards on the side of the cargo area for extra passengers, despite the fact it's the only vehicle that can't be had in crew van form.
Glazing the VW’s doors costs $390 per side, or $790 per side if you need opening side windows. The Hyundai’s side sliding doors cannot be optioned with glazing from the factory – you’ll need to buy the glass and have it fitted professionally ($155 per pane). Oddly, the Crew Van model with six seats has glazing from the factory, so it seems odd that those doors can’t just be substituted at cost.
With side-loading limited to boxes and the like, pallets will have to be loaded in from the back. It goes without saying that all three have enough space to fit pallets between the wheelarches, with the Hyundai offering 1260mm of space, while the Renault has 1268mm and the VW has 1244mm.
The Hyundai’s rear door opening measures 1210mm high and 1340mm wide, where the Renault’s door size is 1320mm high and 1391mm wide, while the VW’s boot hole is in the middle for height – 1299mm – but at 1473mm wide it makes for much easier loading of broad items that its competitors.
If you carry a lot of weight, the payload rather than the load space could be more important to you, and all three are close in that regard.
The automatic iLoad’s payload rating is 1098 kilograms (1113kg for the manual); the Transporter is rated to 1236kg for the manual (1216kg for the DSG); and the Trafic is only just the winner for weight, as this spec is rated to 1237kg.
If towing is a consideration, the iLoad loses out. All three have unbraked towing capacities of 750kg, but the braked capacity of the iLoad with the automatic transmission is rated at 1500kg braked (manual: 2000kg), where the Trafic claims 2000kg braked capacity and the Transporter claims 2500kg braked for both the manual and DSG models. The only issue with the VW is that the Australian-spec towbar isn’t available at the time of publishing.
All three vehicles have full-size spare wheels mounted under the rear floor area, with the jack in the VW positioned annoyingly on top of the wheelarch, while in the Hyundai it’s under the driver’s door sill and in the Renault it’s under the driver’s seat.
The numbers don’t lie. The VW trumps these two in the majority of load-space facets, and the T6 Transporter’s vast array of configurations available means there’s probably something for every buyer, where the other two have some bigger compromises.
These types of vans need to put comfort and convenience high on the list of priorities, because for some drivers, this is where they’ll spend the majority of their time. It’s true – some van owners could spend more time behind the wheel than on their couch at home or even in their bed.
As such, the cockpit space has to be well thought out, and in all three vans there are some thoughtful elements.
The Volkswagen, for instance, has auto-up and auto-down electric windows on both sides (the Hyundai has auto-down on the driver’s side only; the Renault has auto-up and down on the driver’s side).
The VW, though, misses out on a middle seat, and the other two vehicles here show what flexibility can be built in to such an addition.
The Hyundai’s middle seat can be flipped down, and in the back of it there is a pair of cupholders and a small recessed storage area. The Renault goes one better, with its middle seat folding down to reveal a folder holder that can be positioned as such to display a delivery document or tablet to the driver.
All three have dashtop storage areas, with the Renault and VW’s folder-holders easily bettering the small basin-like bin of the Hyundai.
The VW has dual open dashboard bins, too, as well as a lockable glovebox, and there are two other small item cubbies and a pair of cupholders on either side of the top of the dashboard. It also has copious door pockets with bottle holders mounted down low, and a 12-volt outlet positioned alongside the gearshifter, with a small storage box next to it.
The Renault features a pair of gloveboxes, both enclosed, but the lid of the lower one intrudes on passenger knee space when open. It also has low-mount bottle holders in the doors, a pair of cupholders on top of the dash, and a very shallow flip-down cupholder on the dash. Its auxiliary and USB inputs are mounted on the media screen surround, close to the phone holster (which doesn’t fit large smartphones like the iPhone 6S Plus or Samsung S6) and it has a 12-volt outlet just below the screen itself.
Unlike the VW, though, our Renault had some fit and finish issues including misfitted pillar surrounds and some mismatched gaps around the cabin. There are some typically French button placements including a switch on the dash to activate the cruise control with complementary adjustment buttons on the steering wheel, and a stalk behind the wheel for audio controls.
The iLoad has less storage than the other two, with small dual gloveboxes, slim folder pockets in the doors, and a flip-down cupholder with capacity for two. A couple of other small storage slots line the dash, but the iLoad clearly loses this cabin baggage battle.
That said, aside from the 12-volt outlet being mounted low on the transmission surround and the no-man’s-land-positioning for the USB and auxiliary jacks, the placement of the iLoad’s controls is logical and the buttons and dials feel hard-wearing enough to cope with some punishment. The Renault’s knobs and such don’t have that same feel to them, and the placement of the controls is haphazard, while the VW nails both of the competitors, though some rubber mats in the storage boxes and pockets to stop things rattling around wouldn’t go astray.
Seat comfort is very much subjective, but to this tester the Volkswagen was the most comfortable, though its lack of any form of armrest or centre console put it behind the Renault in terms of long-drive liveability. But for those who get in and out of their van regularly, the Hyundai’s slightly lower slide-in point could be a massive help in keeping their lower back in tact.
The Renault’s seat and steering wheel stitching make it feel a little more car-like than the others – the VW is very much function over form, while the Hyundai’s seat trim was described by one member of the team as looking like it was picked from a 1990s curtain fabric catalogue, while its plastic steering wheel is a bit rough in the hand (the iMax gets a “premium material” steering wheel coating – why not this?
Trim bits aside, the Hyundai’s sliding bench seat makes for good comfort for big occupants, where the Renault’s bench doesn’t move fore and aft. And, unlike the other two, the Hyundai has a carpet floor in the cabin, rather than rubber.
No matter how amenable the iLoad is, though, we just can’t excuse that middle seat lap seatbelt. It’s 2016 for goodness sake.
Those aforementioned media screens are crucial parts of the cabin, with back-to-base communication for courier drivers and other workers an important consideration. On test, all three offered reasonable call quality, and the phone pairing was simple to connect. The biggest disappointment was the Renault’s audio streaming, which was glitchy and skippy across multiple devices.
While the Volkswagen’s media system (below) is on the small side (5.0-inch) and it lacks satellite navigation, it features a four-speaker stereo system that means it has two more speakers than both the rivals. None of them have great quality sound, though, with the iLoad sounding tinny and the Trafic and Transporter only slightly better.
Further, VW offers an optional ($1190) 6.3-inch media screen with what it calls App-Connect, which means you can plug your smartphone into the USB port mounted near the glovebox and, using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, the system will allow you to use your phone’s maps (data fees from your phone provider apply), as well as voice control to compose messages or emails, and even have your messages or emails read to you over the stereo. If you’d prefer a built-in nav system, one is available ($2190).
The Renault’s 7.0-inch media screen (above) is brighter and clearer in terms of resolution than the VW’s small screen system. It is, however, a little fiddlier in terms of usability. The maps, though, are a handy addition if you don’t follow a similar path on daily basis.
Hyundai’s system (above) doesn’t include mapping – maybe they’re banking on potential buyers using their own maps with back-to-base telematics – but it meets demands in other ways. The interface is clear, the menus are easy to use, and while the voice command system falls well short of the level of interaction of the VW’s App-Connect optional unit, voice control is always welcome if it works well.
On the road
All three of these vans have diesel engines, but other than the common fuel they’re very different powertrains.
The Renault, for example, has a downsized 1.6-litre twin-turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which sounds tiny for a vehicle of this size. And it is. But with 103kW of power at 3500rpm and 340Nm of torque at 1500rpm, it’s an engine that offers excellent flexibility across the rev range. As mentioned, though, you can only get this front-drive van with a manual gearbox.
The next size up is the Volkswagen, which uses a carryover 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit producing an identical 103kW (at 3500rpm) and 340Nm (from 1750-2500rpm) - we miss out on the more efficient and more powerful TDI350 offered in Europe (with 110kW and 350Nm). The front-drive - or all-wheel-drive if you option the 4Motion model - VW is fitted with a six-speed manual with the option of a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
The most old-school powerplant in this test belongs to the Hyundai, which has a 2.5-litre four-cylinder with a healthy 125kW of power (at 3600rpm) and 441Nm of torque (from 2000-2250rpm). The five-speed automatic iLoad is the only rear-drive van here, and it’s worth noting that the six-speed manual version cops a bit of a power penalty – it has 100kW/343Nm. If only we had the manual, it would have been so even...!
But with 77 per cent of iLoad buyers opting for the diesel auto combination, it's easy to see the appeal.
That said, it is a shame we couldn’t match manual for manual, because – as you can probably imagine – the power and torque advantage plus the ease of driving in the iLoad saw it claw back some ground in this test.
Its engine felt a lot more willing, and properly powerful, whether it was loaded up with weight or not. For our road loops we had about 350kg of boxed materials, and the iLoad barely noticed the extra mass in the back, and without the weight it was verging on quick.
Admittedly there is some lag below that 2000rpm mark, but it’s never annoying and certainly not as pronounced as some diesel engines.
Indeed, the engine was strong, the gearbox was smooth and smart, and the iLoad never felt flustered around town or on the highway, though the newly-added cruise control mustn’t have been thoroughly tested before being added to the equipment list, because it was the worst this tester has encountered in more than six years of van testing – lazy and slow to react to hills and incremental speed increases when demanded by the driver.
The Volkswagen’s engine wasn’t as strong as the iLoads, but it was more refined, and not as laggy down low in the rev range. The way it builds speed on the move is almost un-diesel-like, with smooth delivery in the low to mid range.
The slick six-speed manual gearshift may not be as easy to live with if you’re in and out of the van all day, but for light-duty operators it could be a revelation. The clutch is light, the shift action has a nice weight and it has a nice short throw.
The Renault’s six-speed manual isn’t quite as crisp as the VW’s, with a longer gear throw and a lighter clutch pedal action.
The Renault’s Eco mode really dampens the drive experience, but if you need to save fuel, it will help you do that. With that mode disengaged, the little 1.6-litre is a peppy unit.
It is refined but not quite as strong or flexible in the low range as the VW. Indeed, the Trafic felt the weight of the load more than the other vehicles, and while it wasn’t slow, it certainly didn’t feel as brisk as its rivals.
Because stopping is just as important as going – or maybe more important! – braking performance needs to be considered. Although we weren’t heavily loaded, it was clear the VW’s brakes were the most responsive of these three. There’s an element of grabbiness initially, but with smooth gradual travel. The Hyundai’s brakes were duller across the travel of the pedal, and the Renault’s brakes felt slightly less responsive than both the other vehicles.
Fuel consumption may be a big consideration for fleet van buyers, and the Hyundai’s extra grunt comes at a cost. Its claimed fuel use is 8.8 litres per 100km, and we saw closer to 9.5L/100km. The VW – which has stop-start, unlike the Hyundai – has the next highest claim, at 7.2L/100km, but we saw 8.7L/100km. The Renault also has stop-start, and an Eco mode that dulls the acceleration, and it claims usage of just 6.2L/100km from its smaller engine, but we saw 8.9L/100km over the same period.
On the topic of fuel use, the Volkswagen and Renault require the passenger door to be open in order for the fuel tank to be filled, where the Hyundai has a more convenient filler cap location.
In terms of dynamics, all of these vans feel like you’d expect – they’re big boxes on wheels, so cornering isn’t a high priority.
Ride compliance and comfort is important for vehicles like these – a rough-riding van could make for a cranky driver and, potentially, smashed items in the back.
And in this test, one van proved a standout: the Volkswagen Transporter.
With weight on board the ride was very good – the suspension was brilliant at isolating those in the cabin from bumps on the road at pace, but it tended toward firm at lower speeds when empty.
The steering of the VW was the best on test, too, with more precision than both the other models and a nice amount of weight to it.
The VW’s only real downside was the fact that it exhibited some minor torque steer – where the steering wheel tugs under acceleration. But it was barely noticeable unless you were ringing its neck.
The iLoad felt the most rigid over bumps with or without a load, though with weight in the back it did settle down somewhat. The suspension was quick to settle after big bumps like speed humps, but the suspension was a little noisy.
The iLoad’s steering is better at speed than it is when attempting parking manoeuvres, as it is quite heavy at low speeds when going from lock to lock.
The middle ground was the Renault, which had steering that was lighter at speed but turned quite heavy and dull during parking move. As such it was harder to judge parking manoeuvres, but that high-mount camera, the clever side-view mirror and the split side mirrors made it the easiest in terms of positioning the vehicle.
The Renault’s suspension coped with the load on board, gliding over speed bumps and the like quite well, but at lower speeds it was a little sharp over the front axle.
If you spend a lot of time with an empty van, noise is a constant accompaniment. And the iLoad, with its minimal cargo area lining, was quite loud inside – we saw decibel readings of up to 99dB on coarse chip, while the average on softer surfaces was 92dB. Surprisingly, that was a little better than the VW, which measured 100dB on the coarse surface and 94 on softer surfaces, while the bulkhead-equipped Renault’s extra insulation was noticeable – it did 96dB and 89dB respectively.
Knowing what your van will cost you over the years you own it could form an important part of your purchase process. Thankfully, all three makers have capped-price servicing campaigns.
Renault’s plan is the best-suited to long-distance drivers, with maintenance due every 12 months or 30,000km, whichever happens first. And they services are cheap, at $349. Renault also offers three years of roadside assistance.
Volkswagen requires that the Transporter be serviced every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first. There’s a capped price service program over a six-year/90,000km period, and the average visit over that time will cost, including consumables, is high at $651. And if you buy the DSG, you’ll average $714 per visit. VW also has three years’ of roadside cover.
The entire Hyundai range is covered by a lifetime capped-price service plan – yep, you read that right. For as long as you own the iLoad you will know what it will cost to service. And over the same period as the VW (six years/90,000km) the average annual cost is a fair bit lower for the auto: $396. For the manual, it’s the same. And if you service your iLoad with Hyundai, you get 10 years of roadside assistance cover.
As for warranty cover, the Hyundai wins – it has a five-year/160,000 kilometre program for its commercial model (passenger vehicles get unlimited kilometre coverage). Renault offers a three-year/200,000km plan, while VW’s plan also spans three years but is for unlimited mileage.
Ownership is the vindication the Hyundai has been searching for throughout this entire comparison. As a long-term proposition it would be hard to look past.
It’s clear the Hyundai falls short in many areas in this test, and it runs a gallant third here against newer, smarter competition.
The Renault is a really likeable van, one that is perhaps let down by nitpicky aspects in this company. Driven in isolation, it would be hard not to choose it. We’d understand why you would, if you didn’t have to have an automatic transmission.
The winner here, though, is the Volkswagen Transporter. In this specification it impresses, but the fact this new version is so diverse in the way it can be configured means it will be hard to ignore for buyers who need a specific size and shape of van.
It is considerably more refined and feels better engineered than the other two, and while long-term ownership could be an expensive exercise, if you turn your fleet over regularly, there’s no reason not to put it on your shopping list … and put it at the top.
Click the Photos tab above for more images by Mitchell Oke and Christian Barbeitos.