Vans of the Year

Date: Monday, December 08, 2008

 

Piaggio Porter

With so many businesses eager to reduce their impact on the environment, it’s good to meet a manufacturer that makes it easy for them to do so. We’re talking about Piaggio, which produces its Porter microvan in electric as well as petrol guise.

Choose battery power and your Porter produces no exhaust emissions whatsoever. What is more, it costs you a small handful of coppers per mile to buy the energy you need to get your load from A to B, and you enjoy a variety of operational concessions as well.

Owners do not have to pay Vehicle Excise Duty, for example, or the iniquitous London congestion tax, and electric Porter boasts a range of around 85 miles between recharges. That should be more than sufficient to get you from the suburbs to the capital’s centre and back without having to get out and push.

Power comes courtesy of maintenance-free lead-gel batteries that are stowed beneath the vehicle so as not to intrude into the cargo area. It takes eight hours to charge them up fully using a domestic 13 amp socket or a praiseworthy two hours if you’ve got access to a three-phase supply.

Porter’s remarkable versatility given that it is such a small vehicle is enough to win it What Van?’s Microvan of the Year award yet again against admittedly sparse competition. It’s not just available as a van. You can buy it as a dropside with two different body sizes, as a tipper and as a chassis cab. It’s up for grabs as a pocket-sized MPV too, and as a 4x4 with an electronic locking centre diff if you’re not satisfied with a rear-wheel drive 4x2.

Porter van comes with a 3.0m3 cargo bay accessible from three sides; there’s a hatch-type door at the back. Looking across the line-up, top payload ranges from 440kg to 685kg, and Porter has proved to be a useful platform for a wide variety of specialist bodywork.

Married to a five-speed gearbox, the aforementioned 1.3-litre petrol engine pumps out 64hp. While some operators may regret the absence of a diesel, those 64 horses are more than enough for round-town delivery work and it’s in urban settings that the diminutive load lugger comes into its own.

It’s astonishingly manoeuvrable, easy to park and takes up so little space that it can squeeze into gaps that would defeat bigger vans. What is more, despite the fact that Porter is forward control — the driver sits on top of the engine in other words and in larger vehicles can face an awkward scramble up over the wheel arch to get behind the steering wheel — it’s easy to enter and exit the cab.

OK, the in-cab specification is basic and that’s putting it kindly. Do not expect to spend your working life in the lap of luxury. That said, the driver’s seat is surprisingly comfortable and Porter won’t cost you a fortune either to acquire or to operate; and that’s what matters in today’s grim economic climate.



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