Why aren't more vans fitted with fully-automatic transmissions?
After all, specifying an auto box makes sound sense if you happen to be on urban delivery work. You don't get tired out by all the gear-changing associated with a manual box, you won't shorten the clutch's life and if you don't have to worry about which gear you should be in you are better able to concentrate on everything else that is going on around you.
As a consequence you are less likely to flatten that elderly gentleman on a push-bike.
Automatic gearboxes attract a substantial price premium however and it is not one that most light commercial customers are willing to pay. To that can be added fears about poor fuel consumption.
Some manufacturers have responded by making a half-way house available in the shape of an automated manual transmission which can be deployed in either automatic or manual mode. That option has not proven especially popular either however, attracts a price uplift, which is in some cases as steep as that for an auto box and automated transmissions are not always that pleasant to use.
The problem so far as light commercials are concerned is that they react badly to being rushed; and van drivers are often in a hurry.
Iveco is hoping that its decision to offer the latest Daily with an optional eight-speed Hi-Matic automatic gearbox sourced from ZF will be a game-changer however. Admittedly it adds a sizeable £1,500 to the final invoice for the vehicle, but Iveco contends that anybody who specifies it will benefit from a 4% cut in fuel usage and a 4kg weight-saving compared with the AGile automated manual box (one of the better ones) that was available in the previous model.
Introducing Hi-Matic means that Iveco is issuing a challenge to Mercedes, which has the only other fully-automatic panel van in town in the shape of Sprinter with the 7G-Tronic box.
It has already made inroads into several of the big home-delivery, parcels and ambulance fleets. Iveco is clearly hoping that Hi-Matic will prove to be equally popular.
The only other vans that can mount a challenge to the 7G Sprinter are models such as Vauxhall's Movano and Fiat's Ducato with their optional automated manual boxes.
Hi-Matic's availability is by no means the only change Daily has undergone.
It has been re-styled both externally and internally, its suspension has been re-engineered and it can now be ordered with a cargo area that goes up to a cavernous 19.6cu/m.
Both Euro 5 and Euro 6 engines are listed with power outputs ranging from 106hp to 205hp. Electric Dailies are produced as are models that will run on either compressed natural gas or compressed biomethane; and Daily is built as a 4x4 too.
We opted to tackle a Hi-Matic 3.5-tonne van powered by a 2.3-litre 126hp Euro 5 diesel with a 10.8cu/m cargo area. It should go without saying that the garish promotional stickers it was plastered with were not our choice of decoration.
The 10.8cu/m model is new to the Daily line-up. Iveco claims it is the best in terms of load efficiency, by which it means the relationship between load bed length and total length.
Access to Daily's cargo bay is by means of twin rear doors that can be swung through 270 degrees and doubled against the van's sides, or via a sliding nearside door.
Daily is rear-wheel-drive which makes the step up into the load area slightly more demanding than it is with some of the vehicle's rear-wheel-drive rivals, but Iveco has attempted to ensure the climb isn't too awkward.
A step aids access front and back and is positioned within the load area so far as the side door is concerned. The back step sticks out slightly, so be careful when reversing.
Both the side and rear door apertures feature grab handles to ease entry. In the latter case the handle is mounted on the offside and it would make sense to provide one on the nearside too.
With no less than ten tie-down points loads should be easy to secure. Anything that breaks loose should be stopped by the hefty-looking full-height steel bulkhead before it winds up in the cab.
A shelf above the cab accessible solely from the cargo box, which in our case had not been panelled out, looks like a handy place to stow load-restraint straps.
In the past payload capacity was never Daily's strong-point, but times have clearly changed. Our demonstrator boasted a gross payload capacity of 1420kg - more generous than we expected - and that was further boosted by substituting an inflation pump for the spare wheel; not an approach we can applaud though.
With a 3520mm wheelbase and an overall length of 5650mm, this Daily is 2580mm high and comes with an overall width of 2010mm.
The closest direct competitor to the Daily under test is the Sprinter 313CDI 3.5-tonner with a slightly-smaller 10.5cu/m cargo box and a slightly-more-powerful 129hp 2.1-litre diesel.
The load bay is taller and longer than Daily's but narrower, and payload capacity is not quite as generous. Build quality is however stunning: and the allure of the Three Pointed Star means that residuals tend to be healthy.
Cab and equipment
For your money Daily gives you a spacious, comfortable three-seater cab with plenty of storage space.
Pull up the passenger seat cushions and you'll find a roomy hidey-hole for power tools and other valuable items you would rather not lose. Three shallow lidded compartments are sited on top of the dashboard which boasts a cup-holder at either extremity, four shelves of varying sizes are positioned in its centre section and you will find a further shelf atop the lidded glove-box. There's a shelf on the bulkhead too.
Bins in each of the doors contain a moulding intended to accommodate a flask or a big bottle of water and you will find a lidded compartment beneath each of them which looks as though it might be useful but won't support much weight.
Electric windows are fitted along with a Bluetooth-compatible radio/CD player with USB/aux-in connections and remote controls on the telescopically-adjustable steering wheel. Good to see that the driver's seat can be altered for height, but pity the occupant of the inboard passenger seat.
The way the dashboard is designed restricts their legroom. In its favour however the switches for the heating and ventilation system are chunky and simple to use and the instrument panel's dials are clear and easy to comprehend.
ABS is standard as are Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Hill Holder, Anti-Slip Regulation (a traction control system) and an ESP9 electronic stability programme. Incorporating a variety of safety features including Hydraulic Brake Fade Control, Roll Movement Intervention and Roll Over Mitigation, it can be switched off if needs be.
A driver's airbag is standard too and disc brakes - ventilated at the front - are installed all around.
Pull down the centre section of the middle seat's back and it turns into a desk with a handy removable steel clipboard that is alas bound to get lost. The desk is a feature included in the extra-cost optional Regional pack along with heated and electrically-adjustable exterior mirrors with a fixed wide-angle lower section.
They give a clear view down the van's flanks.
The pack also features front fog-lights which come on automatically on bends to illuminate the road in the direction you are steering when visibility is poor, cruise control, an adjustable speed limiter and a trim panel for the bulkhead.
Employing EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation), Daily's four-cylinder 16-valve common rail intercooled Euro 5 waste gate turbo diesel pumps out maximum power across a 3200rpm-to-3900rpm plateau. Top torque of 320Nm bites across a 1800rpm-to-2750rpm plateau.
Intended for a mixture of urban and rural work, the Regional eight-speed box's shift lever offers two settings: Eco or Power. Choose the former if you want your gear changes optimised for fuel economy and opt for the latter if you are heavily-laden, tackling a few steep hills, and want to delay changing up for a little bit longer.
Opt for the Daily Hi-Matic Urban instead if you spend most of your time crawling through city centre traffic - it constantly adapts its gear-shifting strategy to the prevailing road conditions - while the Hi-Matic International is designed for extended high-speed motorway cruising with its long overdrive gear ratio.
Chassis and steering
Iveco's new Quad Leaf suspension with twin wishbones plus a parabolic transverse leaf is fitted at the front while parabolic leaf springs and an anti-roll bar are installed at the back. Our Daily sat on 16ins steel wheels with plastic centre trims and shod with Continental Van Contact 225/65 R16 C tyres.
Hydraulically-assisted rack-and-pinion steering helps create a turning circle of just over 12m kerb-to-kerb increasing to almost 13m wall-to-wall.
Our Daily handled surprisingly well, tackling corners smoothly and in a completely-unflustered manner with ample feedback through the steering. You can hurry it through bends with confidence; but as with any van, don't go hurrying too much.
Hi-Matic offers an impressively-smooth gear-change. You barely notice as it nips from one gear to the next with minimal fuss or noise and it comes close to being the best gearbox we've ever encountered in a light commercial of its size.
That said, Sprinter's 7G-Tronic box runs it very close and we should also say a word in favour of Volkswagen's dual-clutch Direct Shift Gearbox.
Performance was not an issue with Daily's 2.3-litre pulling strongly across the rev band.
It was delivered with 150kg on board to which we added a further 350kg evenly-spread, making half-a-tonne in all. Not surprisingly, this modest uplift in payload made little or no difference to its eager performance.
Progress was quiet with in-cab noise levels nicely-muted and Daily is easy to manoeuvre; a boon if you are delivering to premises that are awkward to enter and exit and are tight on space. Even at low speeds the gearbox is wonderfully-biddable, with no reason to worry that the van will suddenly shoot forward if your touch on the pedal is less than delicate.
The key drawback was Daily's poor ride. There were times when it was so ragged that we consciously slowed down when approaching stretches of road that we would normally tackle at higher speeds.
Things calmed down a little when we increased the load on board; but not enough to make us happy.
It was the only thing that marred an otherwise-impressive vehicle that was built to a far-higher standard than Iveco was able to achieve years-past.
Buying and running
Daily is protected by a three-year/unlimited-mileage warranty. Service intervals are tailored in line with the vehicle's individual duty cycle - some applications are more arduous than others - with up to 10% lower maintenance and repair costs promised for Hi-Matics compared with manual models.
As for fuel usage, we averaged around 35.5mpg; not far short of the combined figure quoted elsewhere in these pages.
Replaceable side mouldings should protect the bodywork from minor damage and a step in the front bumper makes it easy for the driver to climb up and clean the windscreen once in a while.
Anybody who doubts that an automatic box is a viable option in a 3.5-tonner should sample the Hi-Matic. It's a class act and one whose appeal should grow.
Iveco Daily 35S13 A8V Hi-Matic Regional 10.8cu/m
Price (ex VAT) – £23,000
Price range (ex VAT) – £20,500-£35,500
Gross payload – 1420kg
Load length – 3130mm
Load width – (min/max) 1317mm/1800mm
Load bay height – 1900mm
Load volume – 10.8cu/m
Loading height – 675mm
Rear door aperture – 1540mm x 1780mm
Side door aperture – 1100mm x 1780mm
Gross vehicle weight – 3500kg
Braked trailer towing weight – 3500kg
Residual value – TBA
Cost per mile – TBA
Engine size/power – 2287cc, 126hp @ 3200-3900rpm
Torque – 320Nm @ 1800-2750rpm
Gearbox – 8sp automatic
Fuel economy – 36.6mpg (combined)
Fuel tank – 70 litres
CO2 – 202g/km
Warranty – 3yrs/ultd miles
Service intervals – customised to duty cycle
Insurance group – TBA
Price as tested – £24,670
Regional pack inc cruise control, electric mirrors, speed-limiter - £1,590
Third stop light - £80
Daily's early history in Britain was a somewhat fractured one.
Arriving here in 1978, it suddenly vanished in the 1980s when Iveco joined forces with Ford's at-the-time-still-substantial heavy truck business to create Iveco Ford in the UK. Ford had no wish to see its dealers offer anything that might rival Transit.
The Italian manufacturer's need to maximise sales meant that Daily was never going to be excluded from Britain forever though and it eventually crept back.
It appeared with direct-injection turbo-diesel power in 1985 and was heavily re-styled in 1989, with an intercooler added to extract more horses from the engines. A further makeover was executed in 1996 - disc brakes were fitted all-round for the first time - while a Daily capable of running on compressed natural gas broke cover in 1998.
A comprehensive redesign in 1999 coincided with the introduction of common rail diesels.
The Daily HPI with a 2.3-litre diesel with a wastegate turbocharger and second-generation common rail fuel injection arrived three years later while Daily HPT and its 3.0-litre Variable Geometry Turbine engine appeared in 2004. The AGile automated manual gearbox popped up in the same year.
Further revisions were implemented in 2011 and today's re-styled Daily arrived in 2014.