Battle of the vans: Toyota vs Renault vs Hyundai vs Ford

By: Matt Wood


The mid-sized van market is a tough battlefield. Here we compare two of the market leaders with two Euro competitors to see which one comes up trumps.

The four contenders (clockwise from top-left): Renault Trafic, Hyundai iLoad, Toyota HiAce, and Ford Transit.

 

If model names were a part of vehicle judging criteria I’d make this a very short article indeed.

When sanity finally prevails and I am eventually elected president of this great country, one of my first acts will be to make the use of random capital letters in product names illegal.

But in all seriousness, there’s certainly nothing boring about van sales figures of late. They’re booming, the light delivery van segment of the Australian market has grown over 20 per cent since 2014.

While truck sales have languished and to a point probably normalised, final-mile delivery vehicle sales continue to grow. So you may think that vans are just a big yawn fest. But if so, it’s a contagious one.

The Battleground

In the mid-sized van segment some relatively recent arrivals have been seriously challenging the Toyota HiAce’s traditional sales supremacy.

The hugely popular Hyundai iLoad for example has had a recent update, Ford launched an all-new Transit about 18 months ago, and an all-new Renault Trafic arrived last year.

Do the European-engineered Transit and Trafic have what it takes to pose a threat to the Asian sales domination of the iLoad and HiAce?

We drove all four vehicles recently to see whether the market leaders are lunching on reputation alone or whether they really do have the goods to see them maintain the top of the sales score board.

 

Toyota -Hi Ace
 

First contender: Toyota HiAce TD Auto

The HiAce pretty much qualifies as a light duty elder statesman in this market.

It’s the last forward control style van left on the Aussie market yet has shown the longevity, durability and tenacity of a mountain mule.

And despite the fact that it’s showing its age somewhat, it continues to dominate sales in the mid-sized van market.

Details

Our long–wheel-base TD Auto had a load capacity of 6 cubic metres and could lug a load weighing 1,160kg. And it’ll tow a braked trailer load of 1200kg. A 3 litre 100kW/300Nm turbo-diesel moves the back wheels via a 4-speed auto.

A 118kW 2.7-litre petrol powerplant is also available.

There’s no mistaking the utilitarian nature of the HiAce from any angle. The big white bread box is functionality expressed in its most basic form. But it’s that unashamedly spartan approach that also lends the venerable Toyota a certain honesty.

Toyota -Hi Ace -TD-Auto ,-Review ,-Van -Comparison2

 

It still gets a few mod-cons including a reverse camera, electronic stability control, hill start assist on manual models, a couple of air bags and brake assist.

You don’t so much climb into the HiAce as swing into it.

The forward control lay out of the Toyota means that the front wheels are parked under the driver’s seat.

This means that the rear-wheel-drive HiAce has an excellent turning circle.

However, it also means that you’ll have to take speed humps at a steady pace as you’ll  be bouncing down the road wearing your latte, and/or anything else you may have floating around the cockpit, if you don’t!

Access to the load area is via a sliding door on the left hand side and through the lift up tailgate at the rear. Barn doors aren’t an option which limits forklift and pallet access.

It seems to be a Toyota thing, but the huge popularity of Toyota vehicles in Australia means that there’s a familiarity on getting behind the wheel of the HiAce.

It’s pretty basic but you don’t have to go hunting for anything. Basic stereo and Bluetooth functions are within thumbs reach on the steering wheel and cruise control is accessed via a stalk on the steering column.

A skinny console sits between the front seats for storage and is home to a couple of cup holders.

Toyota -Hi Ace -TD-Auto ,-Review ,-Van -Comparison4

 

There’s some storage dotted around the cabin but none of it is really big enough for everyday work items like clipboards and paper work.

I suspect most of this would end up on the passenger seat and consequently the floor during a real world shift. And the cup holders sit too far back on the console which makes for a twist and reach to get to your latte, provided you haven’t already thrown it all over the cabin at the last speed hump.

With the advent of new and well-priced competition in the mid-sized van segment, the HiAce is very much generationally lagging. Especially when you flick the ignition key.

This common-rail 3 litre oil-burner was also standard fare in the previous generation HiLux ute, it’s a coarse sounding, modestly performing, yet admittedly reliable unit.

The coarseness of the powerplant is only amplified in the HiAce as it has a whole van cargo bay to resonate though. A mesh cargo barrier is an option, but a bulkhead separating the load area and the cockpit is not.

The 4-speed auto, is a good performer, though, and the option of a torque converter auto isn’t as common in this part of the van market as you may think.

Toyota -Hi Ace -TD-Auto ,-Review ,-Van -Comparison3

 

Performance

Around town the HiAce is nimble enough and really this is the best environment for it. It’s easy to park, visibility is good and the chatter of the diesel donk isn’t too intrusive.

The only fly in the ointment in this role is the uneasy feeling that there’s little between you and the outside world in the advent of a frontal accident.

While the Toyota does have some safety kit, your feet are effectively just behind the front bumper. It’s a little unnerving.

On the open road, the HiAce is loud whether empty or loaded.

Though a lack of load in the back only amplifies the drivetrain rumble and road noise. The best kind of load for the HiAce would be a load of mattresses and bedding. Or maybe some egg cartons.

Verdict

The meat and potatoes Toyota does, however, have an enviable reputation for reliability and durability.

Yet in terms of comfort and performance it’s starting to feel more than a bit long in the tooth.

Our HiAce LWB TD Auto had a list price of $38,490 and comes with a 3-year 100,000km warranty.

Specs

Engine: 3.0-litre turbo-diesel

Power: 100kW/300Nm

Transmission: 4-speed automatic

Capacity: 6 cubic metres

Payload: 1,160kg

 

Renault ,-Trafic ,-Review ,-Van -Comparison 

Second contender: Renault Trafic L2H1

The current incarnation of the Renault Trafic arrived in Australia mid-2015. Renault has never been one to shy away from a styling statement and the Trafic is no exception.

I happen to think it’s quite a nice looking van.

Renault’s advances on the Aussie LCV market have been something to behold over what amounts to be quite a short period of time.

Details

The front wheel drive Trafic uses a 1.6-litre turbo-diesel for power, which is available in single-turbo (66kW/260Nm) and twin-turbo (103kW/340Nm) guise.

Not bad from an engine that is nearly half the size of the HiAce’s 3-litre unit.

In Australian terms, however, what does hamstring the Trafic is the lack of an automatic transmission option.

That said, the Trafic is equipped with a very slick shifting 6-speed manual tranny.

Clearly the Trafic needs a torque converter auto to fully take the market by the horns.

But at least Renault didn’t go down the track of trying to use an automated manual and the inherent compromises that go with those types of ‘boxes.

More than one manufacturer has tried to pass off an AMT as a real auto option and regretted it.

Renault ,-Trafic ,-Review ,-Van -Comparison2

 

The Trafic has a payload of 1,200kg and our LWB twin-turbo L2H1 variant had a load area volume of 6 cu m. And somewhat refreshingly it also wasn’t white.

There’s no denying that the Bamboo green colour stands out a little, maybe too much as I found out after being egged in peak traffic one evening. Maybe it was a contract hit.

The L2H1 gets a steel bulkhead which virtually eliminates any driveline rumble from the cargo area. Plus being front wheel drive there’s no diff driving away under the load area floor.

The bulkhead also has a load through flap that makes room for long skinny items up to 4.1 metres in length. It will also tow up to 2-tonne braked.

Barn doors at the rear make for easy forklift access and an Aussie-sized pallet will fit between the wheel arches.

The sliding door isn’t quite wide enough to take a pallet however.

This is one of the challenges of a European van that has been designed to take skinnier Euro sized pallets.

Ideally you’d want the load to be balanced between the front and rear axles not sitting right at the back of the van, especially a front-driver.

Renault ,-Trafic ,-Review ,-Van -Comparison3

 

Dual sliding doors are also an option for those wanting access the load area from the right hand side. And there’s a handily placed 12v outlet standard in the rear cargo hold.

The cockpit is a very pleasant place to step into. Our van was fitted with the optional Premium Pack which for an extra $2,390 you get climate control, touchscreen multi-media and sat nav and smatterings of chrome and gloss black in the interior.

There’s also heated seats and patterned cloth upholstery. Optional 17-inch alloy wheels also help make the Trafic look a little more spiffy.

Safety kit includes driver and passenger air bags as standard while lateral air bags remain an option.

The expected electronic stability gizmos are also standard as are auto headlights and auto wipers on twin-turbo vans. These also get cornering lights which use the fog lights to illuminate in the direction that the van is turning when the lights are on. Daytime running lights are standard on all models.

Renault ,-Trafic ,-Review ,-Van -Comparison4

 

Performance

The little 1.6-litre diesel is a smooth unit.

There’s slight turbo-lag which is probably understandable given the engine’s modest displacement and its dependence on turbo-charging. But once the revs climb it happily pulls between gears.

As mentioned previously, the manual ‘box is a slick shift which makes the most of the power on tap.

The centre seat flips down into a handy console and clipboard and there’s an abundance of storage for paper, pens and coffee. A universal smartphone mount rounds out the premium office feel of the Renault.

Verdict

Even though I’m not generally a huge fan of front-wheel-drive vans out on the open road, the Trafic handles quite well.

There’s little in the way of torque steer when putting the foot down and the whole van feels quite balanced on its feet. And the ride is surprisingly supple and un-commercial like even when empty. It’s a classy little unit to drive.

The L2H1 Trafic has a list price of $39,490 and ours had the $2,390 Premium Pack to make for a total of $41,880 less on-roads. The Trafic comes with a 3-year/200,000km warranty as well as 3-years roadside assist and 3-years capped price servicing.

Specs

Engine: 1.6-litre 4 cylinder twin-turbo-diesel

Power: 103kW/340Nm

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Capacity: 6 cubic metres

Payload: 1,200kg

 

 

Hyundai ,-i Load ,-Van -Comparison ,-Trade Trucks 

Third contender: Hyundai iLoad Series 2

The Hyundai iLoad and van and iMax people mover copped an update earlier this year resulting in the Series 2 version of this popular platform.

Details

Thanks to the update, a 7-inch touch screen with voice activation is now standard as is a rear view camera on models with a lift up tailgate.

Side airbags are also now standard fare for the Hyundai and cruise control is also now standard on diesel auto versions. And it also copped a few bits and pieces to pretty it up a little on the outside.

A 2.4 litre petrol engine mated to a 6-speed manual is available but as a commercial proposition we’re more interested in the diesel variants.

So our iLoad was fitted with a 2.5 litre common rail turbo-diesel donk which makes 125kW and 441Nm when sitting in front of the optional 5-speed automatic.

Manual versions with the same CRDI engine use a waste-gate turbo instead of the auto’s VGT and create 100kW and 343Nm.

The iLoad has a payload of 1098kg as an auto and 1113kg in manual guise. But it only has a load volume of just 4.42 cubic metres and is only available in the one wheel base.

It’s kind of a one-size fits all approach that means it has less space than some competing SWB models.

Hyundai ,-i Load ,-Van -Comparison ,-Trade Trucks3

 

Dual sliding doors are standard and barn doors are an option on the rear. However as is typical of this segment, an Aussie pallet will only fit into the rear of a barn door equipped iLoad as the side door opening is just 970mm.

It’s worth noting though that you lose the reverse camera if you go for the swinging rear doors.

The auto will tow a braked load of 1500kg while the stick shift will tow 2000kg.

Our test vehicle was the iLoad CRDi auto and was fitted with the optional mesh cargo barrier and parking sensors.

The iLoad doesn’t have the option of a bulkhead between the cabin and the load area.

The Hyundai’s cockpit is roomy enough and there’s a centre seat that flips down into a small console with cup holders.

In iLoad guise, there’s more a sense of simple functionality around the instrument cluster and controls.

Storage is adequate much in the same vein as the HiAce, you’ll probably still end up with stuff floating around the cabin anyway.

That said, the centre stack and touch-screen give the grey interior a bit of a lift and everything is well-placed and easy to reach.

Once behind the tilt-adjustable wheel, it’s easy to see why this van is running a close second behind the inexplicably market leading HiAce.

The driving position in the cloth trimmed seats is commanding and comfortable. And like other vans on the market that share a people mover platform it feels less commercial than it actually is.

Hyundai ,-i Load ,-Van -Comparison ,-Trade Trucks2

 

Performance

The 2.5-litre diesel is reasonably quiet but is a very willing performer with little lag once the go-pedal is pushed, and it works very well with the 5-speed auto.

The decent whack of torque comes on tap at a very usable 2000rpm which again matches with the auto nicely. 

The lack of a bulkhead between the cabin and the load area means that there is quite a bit of road rumble from the rear-wheel-drive platform, though a decent load in the back hushes things down quite a bit.

Unlike the Toyota, the Hyundai is equally happy on the open road and around town and it handles twists and turns very well, even when empty.

Verdict

The iLoad is a comfortable and easy van to spend a working day in. It’s a ripper little van to drive even if it lacks the flair of its Euro rivals. 

There are floor mounted tie down points in the cargo area, however, these tie downs and their mounting bolts sit above the surface of the floor which makes it easy to gouge and tear boxes and parcels when shuffling freight around.

Our test vehicle had a list price of $40,122.72 with options and comes with a 5-year, 160,000km warranty

Specs

Engine: 2.5-litre turbo-diesel

Power: 125kW/441Nm

Transmission: 5-speed automatic

Capacity: 4.42 Cubic metres

Payload: 1,098kg

 

 

Ford ,-Transit ,-Van -Comparison ,-Trade Trucks 

Final contender: Ford Transit Custom

Apart from my already stated bias toward the Ford because it has a properly spelt name, I do have to admit to being rather impressed with the little Transit when it first lobbed onto the Australian market.

In fact I’m more perplexed that Ford doesn’t sell more of them.

The Transit name was once a huge presence on the Aussie lcv market, yet in sales terms these days it’s not exactly setting the world on fire.

Details

The Transit Custom uses a 2.2 litre turbo-diesel engine that makes 92kW and a decent 350Nm from 1450rpm.

Like its other European competitor the Trafic, the Ford is only available in 6-speed manual form. And like the Renault, the Transit is also front-wheel-drive.

Our SWB Custom had 5.95 cubic metres of room in the back and could carry a payload of 1,032kg.

It will also tow a maximum braked trailer load of 2,500kg.

Ford ,-Transit ,-Van -Comparison ,-Trade Trucks2

 

The Transit is available with only one sliding door on the left, and is equipped with barn doors at the back.

There’s enough room for an Aussie pallet between the wheel arches but as with the competition, not through the side door.

The Ford comes with a pretty decent array of standard kit, including 6-airbags, the full suite of electronic stability gizmos to stop you crashing and trailer sway control. Again, to stop you crashing your trailer.

Our test vehicle was fitted with the $1500.00 City pack which adds parking sensors and a reverse camera to the parcel carter.

Another nifty standard feature is the flip up roof racks which are rated to 130kg.

And like the Renault there’s also a flip up flap in the cargo bay bulkhead to allow long items to be loaded though into the storage bin under the passenger seat.  This means that long skinny objects up to 3 metres long can be poked through the bulkhead.

Ford ,-Transit ,-Van -Comparison ,-Trade Trucks3

 

On stepping into the Transit, you are greeted by an interior that will be familiar to anyone who has sat in a new Ford vehicle.

Controls and layout are all Ford global family and have a car-like feel to the layout. The Transit also uses Ford’s Sync multi-media system, which will also call 000 in the advent of a severe accident.

A lidded storage tray with 12-volt outlet sits above the analogue instrument cluster.

A handy cup holder sits beside it within easy reach and a good-sized bottle holder sits off to right of the steering column.

The middle seat also flips down into quite a usable console. There’s lots of smart, usable storage in the Transit.

Ford ,-Transit ,-Van -Comparison ,-Trade Trucks4

 

Performance

The 2.2-litre turbo diesel has the lowest power output of all the vans in this comparison yet driving them all back to back you’d be hard pressed to notice it.

Peak torque comes on tap at a relatively low 1450-2000rpm which has the little Ford pulling quite well from a standstill loaded or empty.

The 6-speed manual has an easy shift that’s light in the hand.

On the open road or around town the Transit is a very pleasant little vehicle to drive.

Verdict

The Duratorq engine is a smooth and reasonably quiet powerplant that delivers grunt in a smooth usable way.

In fact the Transit is really quite a zippy little number.

The Ford Transit Custom has a list price of $37,490, add another $1500 for the City Pack. The Transit is also covered by Ford’s 3-year, 100,000km warranty.

Specs

Engine: 2.2-litre 4 cylinder turbo-diesel.

Power: 92kW/ 350Nm

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Capacity: 5.95 cubic metres

Payload: 1,032kg

 

Picking a winner

If space isn’t your final frontier then it’s hard to go past the iLoad as a business proposition.

The availability of a torque converter auto widens the appeal of the Hyundai for fleet customers, and what it lacks in flair it makes up for in understated functionality.

Image aside, it really is an enjoyable little van to drive.

The Toyota HiAce is a perplexing vehicle, it really does feel ancient in comparison to the others.

Yet it remains the biggest selling van in this market segment, with the iLoad a close second.

I can only put this down to the Toyota’s image of durability and reliability as it really is outclassed by virtually all others from behind the wheel.

Trying to pick the better van between the Transit and the Trafic, however, is a tougher ask.

It’s like trying to decide which is the healthiest glazed donut.

Both vehicles are virtually neck a neck on drivability and appointments.

The Transit gets brownie points on the standard safety kit front.

But from a business perspective the Renault has a pretty attractive warranty 200,000km over three years versus Ford’s 100,000km over the same period.

Plus Renault’s claimed fuel figures are marginally better that the Ford’s, 6.2l/100km versus Ford’s 7.1l/100km.

Both the Ford and the Renault are seriously hamstrung by the lack of a full automatic transmission.

While Europe’s preference for stick shift vehicles remains, it’s not likely that we’ll see an auto in either of these vans anytime soon. Both manual transmissions, however, are excellent to operate.

The iLoad’s long warranty and capped price servicing regime also make it an attractive proposition. Most commercial operators however, will burn up warranty kilometres before they reach the 5-year warranty expiration. And it’s a great van to operate.

If you can handle the lack of space in the back and are after an auto this is your machine.

A long wheelbase iLoad, if it existed, would be a huge boon to Hyundai locally. But if you want more space then I’d recommend reacquainting yourself with a gearstick.

Out of this bunch, both the Transit and the Trafic are excellent vans to drive with levels of equipment, comfort and safety equivalent to most family cars.

 

You can also follow our updates by liking us on Facebook