First Drive: Vauxhall Vivaro 1.6 CDTi

Date: Wednesday, August 06, 2014   |  

The big launches keep coming in 2014 with the arrival of Vauxhall’s new Vivaro, developed along with Renault, which also allowed the press access to its new Trafic van last month.

The new Vivaro replaces the first-generation model that has been on sale since 2001, albeit with revisions along the way, and comes with a bold new front end and efficient BiTurbo engines that set new levels of efficiency in the medium van segment.

Arriving on UK roads in September, the new Vivaro has been designed to have “a lot more presence and modernity” than the outgoing model, and though bold, it’s maybe not as pretty as its Renault Trafic sibling.

The new Vivaro range covers two roof heights and two wheelbases, with the L1H1 and L2H1 models arriving in September, and the high roof L1H2 and L2H2 following in January. Double cab, Combi and, for the first time on the Vivaro, platform cab derivatives will also be offered, the latter to try and take a larger share of the conversion market.

The big news for the new Vivaro comes in terms the four-unit engine line-up. While the outgoing Vivaro had a choice of 2.0-litre 90 or 115hp diesels, all the new units are 1.6-litres, with regular 90 and 110hp turbo diesels, as well as the 120 and 140hp BiTurbo units that are more efficient, though more expensive than the less powerful siblings. Downsizing the engine capacity means the two lower-powered engines are more efficient than their predecessors, with an official figure of 43.5mpg being a 2.6mpg improvement. The step-up from 90hp to 115hp is £600, with the lower-powered BiTurbo, likely to be the most popular, an additional £400 on top. The range-topping 140hp BiTurbo is another £800 up. The 90hp diesel also has an Ecoflex version for an additional £195 which adds stop/start, improving the economy figure by 2.8mpg.

Looking at the low-roof models that arrive a few months ahead of the high-roof alterative, the 120hp BiTurbo engine is the most efficient of the line-up, with an official fuel economy figure of 47.9mpg, which only Volkswagen’s Transporter Bluemotion can currently beat in the UK medium van marketplace. Both non-BiTurbo diesels are 4.4mpg worse off, so the £400 price gap from 115hp diesel up to 120hp BiTurbo will find itself swallowed up by high-mileage drivers. Some crude What Van? maths put the 120hp BiTurbo costing around £600 less on fuel over 60,000 miles.

An Eco setting button is standard on all models, which reduces engine power and torque, the accelerator response and the air conditioning effectiveness in the interests of improving efficiency, and there’s also the orange/amber/green drive indicator bar in the instrument cluster that flags up how efficiently the vehicle is being driven. The BiTurbo models fitted with optional satnav get further eco assistance courtesy of the Eco Scoring feature, with an assessment of each journey’s efficiency.

There are two trim levels to the Trafic’s three, and a range of extra equipment is added over the outgoing model. All Vivaros now get reach and rake steering column adjust, ESP anti-skid control, powered windows, DAB radio, driver’s armrest and lumber support and a 12-vol socket in the load area. The higher Sportive trim, for an extra £1200, adds park assist, CD player, cruise control, foldable central seat, leather steering wheel and gear lever, LED running lights, bulkhead including the clever load-through hatch and external improvements that replace some of the cheaper-looking black plastics with a body-coloured finish. It’s a sizable step-up between the two trim levels, but the extra kit will be worth it to a whole variety of users, from those worried about how their van looks to those that will find the extra functionality of the load-through hatch useful.

It’s a shame it’s not standard on all models like Ford’s pioneering version on the Transit Custom, but the clever load-through hatch in the bulkhead goes further than Ford’s version as it also opens out the front under the passenger seat to utilize the footwell, so longer loads such as piping can go through the bulkhead, under the passenger seat and all the way through to the front of the cab, an extra 1213mm of length.

But another clever little innovation that is standard on all is the angled mirror on the sun visor that means drivers can see to pull out of angled junctions where over-the-shoulder visibility would normally be impossible. It does though mean passengers get a full wide-angle view of themselves as they travel, which many won’t be comfortable with.

The cabin betrays that it’s Renault that is the driving force behind this joint project, with the French firm’s switchgear evident the whole way across the interior. Everything from instrument binnacle to switchgear is Renault, including the leather gear lever with harsh stitching that grates against the palm after a few shifts. That’s only on the higher Sportive trim that also gets a more attractive and user-friendly stereo.

Interior quality is improved, though it’s still a very dark plastic-dominated arena. A couple more smaller oddment storage spaces would be useful, for stashing mobile phone and the like, but the door bins are a reasonable size and there’s a large space on the top of the dashboard for dropping paperwork or clipboards into. The central third seat is narrow and compromised for legroom by the gear lever, so going three-up for any lengthy distance won’t be a welcome journey for the two on the passenger side. The central seat is more useful in what Vauxhall describes as “portable office” mode, where it folds to morph into a laptop holder and clipboard, angled towards the driver. That’s standard on Sportive trim, and optional on the base spec. Overall the cabin is a big improvement, but doesn’t have the clichéd but true car-like quality of a Transit Custom.

The driver will be happier, especially if the Vivaro is one of the new BiTurbo engines. Refined and punchy, the torque figures promise power low-down in the rev range and that’s exactly what is delivered. The 120hp version driven here feels more powerful than it says on paper, and given the almost class-leading efficiency it’s very impressive. It should certainly be the engine of choice. Though the 140hp is more potent still, there’s a pretty big price gap of £800 to consider, when the 120hp alternative is so good. The ride is comfortable without compromising body control, and only steering that’s a little on the light side compromises the package, though that turns into a benefit when maneuvering in urban spaces. All in all, it’s a big step on from the old one, and snapping at the heels of the Transit Custom.

The new model is longer than its predecessor, offering an additional 122mm of load length in short- and long-wheelbase form, even before the little bulkhead trapdoor for longer loads. Payload does though drop, coming down by 21kg on the 2.7-tonne model, 14kg on the 2.9-tonne L1 and by 41kg on the longer wheelbase model.

The new Vivaro impresses in a series of ways, especially the new BiTurbo powertrain and the way the new medium van drives. Equipment levels are pretty good, and pricing is competitive, undercutting its admittedly better-looking Trafic sibling and looking competitive with key rivals.

If Vauxhall is serious about its aims to double European LCV volumes in the next eight years, the Vivaro is a decent start



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