Iveco is confident the introduction of the eight-speed automatic Hi-matic transmission into its 3.5t Daily will be a game-changer for the van in the UK market.
The brands’ two big supermarket customers, Tesco and Asda, have already ordered the system as a replacement for the far more rudimentary six-speed semi-auto Agile gearbox they currently use.
The supermarkets prefer automatic transmissions because they cut down on workshop bills caused by the battering clutches take from drivers using manual gearboxes.
Tesco currently has 4200 Daily vans on its fleet – while Asda has just over half this number.
Iveco claims more than 50% of Dailys sold in the UK will feature the Hi-matic transmission, which it says delivers fuel savings of 4% compared to Agile.
The manufacturer is offering Hi-matic with its 2.3-litre diesel engines with outputs of 106 and 126hp but, curiously, not with the more powerful 2.3 146hp derivative.
It is, however, available with both the 170 and 205hp versions of the larger 3.0-litre engine.
Iveco’s UK product manager Martin Flach reckons nearly all home delivery fleets will opt for Hi-matic vans over the six-speed manual alternative and says the technology also gives Iveco a chance to get the Daily into blue light sectors, which favour autos. Flach predicts that in a year’s time the system will be the default choice, with only a minority of customers specifying manual versions of the Daily.
Developed with ZF, the Hi-matic transmission is the first eight speed automatic to be offered with a large van but Iveco is keen to point out that it has already been utilised in premium brand cars from Jeep, Maserati, Bentley and Rolls Royce.
Himatic comes with a choice of Eco or Power modes, the former is designed to be suitable for the majority of assignments while the latter holds on to gears for a fraction longer to enhance performance and may be handy, for example, when climbing steep hills with a heavy load on board. A third option, manual mode, permits sequential shifting via the gear stick.
We put the Himatic through its paces in the medium-wheelbase, medium roof height (H2) Daily 35S13 model, which is powered by the 2.3 126hp unit and, in common with the rest of the line-up, is rear-wheel drive.
The van’s 1420kg payload was loaded to half its capacity and we found the engine’s power output coped perfectly well with ECO mode selected. If you do feel the need, switching to Power Mode is simply done by tapping the shift lever, which resembles a manual gear stick, and the slight increase in responsiveness and heightened ability to change gears at high speeds could be reassuring when overtaking.
We found Iveco’s enthusiasm for Himatic to be justified – the system is consummately smooth with the shifts between gears seamless. There is none of the lurching that can accompany the changes between gears on semi-auto systems. The eight-speed unit performs serenely in all conditions and it proved to be impossible to knock our test van out of its comfort zone whether we were crawling along in urban traffic, slowing and accelerating across roundabouts or driving on dual carriageways.
Putting the ‘box in manual mode is as easily done as slipping between the Eco and Power options and you then use the shift lever to change up or down. However, unless you needed to hold onto a gear in icy conditions, for example, we can see no reason why manual would be the preferred choice. Sharp and precise steering compliments the excellence of the automatic transmission and, combined with the sure-footed lack of roll when cornering, the Himatic Daily can claim to be among the best models to drive in the large van sector.
Before testing the new auto transmission we drove a 3.5t Daily tipper with the six-speed manual ‘box. While we found the system adequate, despite some notchiness changing between second and third, and would work well for a builder driving a load to a site in the morning and returning to base at the end of the day, it would be much harder work for a delivery driver making drops and pick-ups for hours on end.
In our view, the £1500 step-up to Himatic from manual would be money well spent.
The cab in our test van came with useful storage under the middle passenger seat for jackets and tools and a seatback that pulls forward to create a table. These features come with the Daily Plus option pack that for £330 (all prices exclude VAT) also includes cruise control, fog lights and heated electric mirrors.
The doors contain decent sized bins for drink bottles and there are three lidded compartments for paperwork on the dashboard top. The USB plug, however, is awkwardly located almost at foot level under the, otherwise simple and well layed out, instrument panel.
Noise levels in the cabin are generally well suppressed, allowing conversation without raised voices, although wind-whistle did intrude at higher speeds.
The load bay came with full height lining for an extra £350 and a phenolic coated wooden floor, also an additional £350.
Automatics remain a rarity in panel vans but an obvious rival for the Himatic Daily is the RWD Mercedes-Benz Sprinter with seven-speed 7G-Tronic transmission.
The 313 CDI MWB standard roof 129 Auto, with a 2.1-litre 129hp diesel engine comes laden with Merc’s renowned safety kit but has a £28,540 price tag to match compared to the Daily Himatic tested here, which costs £24,030, including options.
The Sprinter’s payload of 1302kg falls short of the Iveco van’s 1420kg while official CO2 emissions are 210 versus 202g/km and fuel consumption 35.3mpg versus 36.7mpg.
The Daily is fairly sparsely equipped however, so if you want features such as air conditioning, a suspended driver’s seat and the Comfort Dash with extra central draws, cup holder and glove compartment you’ll have to fork out £1190 for the Daily Top Pack.
The excellent eight-speed automatic Himatic transmission will make the Daily van an even more compelling proposition for hard working delivery fleets.