Small vans are affordable, practical and cheap to run, and this is our top 10 rundown of low-cost load-luggers
Nearly every commercial vehicle maker has a small van for sale in its range. These models are the most compact work vehicles you'll find for sale, but they still come in a variety of sizes, so they're still pretty versatile. Typically, they have a two-box layout, with a cab up front and a large load area behind. In the past, they've been pretty basic, but modern vans are more often than not based on car platforms, and have technology to match.
Big sellers such as the Citroen Berlingo Van, Ford Transit Connect and VW Caddy follow a formula which is standard throughout the small van sector. There is usually just a single sliding side door (a second door will be optional), plus barn doors at the back, usually in a 60:40 split (again, some vans offer the option of a top-hinged tailgate). More often than not there's a steel bulkhead dividing the load area from the passenger compartment – although some vans still only offer this as an option – while some vans offer a through-loading bulkhead to accommodate longer items.
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Most small vans come in at least two body lengths, but high roof variants are less common, while conversions are virtually non-existent. Crew Vans usually feature a basic folding bulkhead with an integrated second row of seats. These are designed for work transport rather than being considered an alternative to an MPV, because the sliding side doors will usually only have glass if you add it as an option. Besides, the leading lights in the small van class are available as MPVs, which are far more suited to family life.
The vast majority of small vans are front-wheel drive, although some vans have the option of off-road packages that add switchable traction control and all-season tyres that provide extra traction. If you want four-wheel drive, then you have the option of a commercial 4×4. These are based on SUVs, but have their windows blacked out, all the back seats stripped out and a long, flat load area put in their place. These models are an interesting stop-gap between a small van and a pick-up truck, because they offer nearly as much cargo volume and security as a small van, but with the off-road ability of a pick-up, if not the payload capacity.
Diesel power is the most common power source. There are a handful of petrol-engined small vans, but there are just as many electric versions on offer these days, which are ideal for short urban delivery routes and zero-emissions running. They often have enough driving range for a day's work at low speeds, while the Government's £2,500 Plug-in Van Grant takes some of the sting out of the initial purchase price.
Today's small vans deliver a driving experience that will be a surprise to most. Vans such as the Ford Transit Connect and Vauxhall Combo are surprisingly agile and if driving dynamics really matter then car-based vans like the Fiesta and Corolla Commercial are ideal. The level of kit on board is also starting to match passenger cars, including safety gear, with assorted cameras, lane assist functions and automatic emergency braking on offer, although usually as an option.
1. Citroen Berlingo/Peugeot Partner/Toyota Proace City/Vauxhall Combo
There's a four-way tie at the top of our best small vans countdown, because they are all largely the same van. Development was led by the Citroen Berlingo and Peugeot Partner which arrived in 2018, with the Vauxhall Combo arriving in 2019 and the Toyota Proace City arriving in 2020. They all use the same running gear and are largely identical from the leading edge of the bonnet all the way to the back doors.
There are pure-electric versions of each, with the Vauxhall Combo-e, Citroen e-Berlingo, Peugeot e-Partner and Toyota Proace City Electric all offering around 170 miles of range thanks to a 50kWh battery. They’re all eligible for the government’s plug-in van grant of £2,500 as well.
That platform mixes the spacious cargo volume of the last Berlingo/Partner with the latest engine and safety technology seen in cars such as the Peugeot 3008 and Citroen C4 SpaceTourer. That means they're all practical, with a payload of up to a tonne available on some versions, while tech such as adaptive cruise control, lane assist and blind spot monitoring are all offered.
You can have two or three seats – there's a clever through-loading bulkhead available with the latter – and an optional switchable traction control system is available to boost grip on the building site. All vans get excellent cabin storage, while you have a choice of L1 or L2 body lengths or a Crew Van, which is a sort of stepping stone to the Citroen Berlingo/Peugeot Rifter/Vauxhall Combo Life MPV variants.
The choice between the four vans pretty much falls to you and which version you like the look of: the design-led Berlingo, rugged Partner, sharp Proace City or traditional Combo, although the Toyota does have a five-year warranty compared with the three years offered on the others.
2. Ford Transit Connect/Transit Courier
The Transit Connect is still the driver's choice in the small van market, thanks in no small part to the fact it shares its running gear with the Mk3 Ford Focus hatchback. In addition to fun handling, the Transit Connect feels very grown up to drive, with comfortable suspension and interior quality that wouldn't look out of place in a car.
Starting from around £21,000, Ford offers the Transit Connect in standard and long wheelbases, while the Double Cab In-Van version has a second row of seats and sliding side doors to improve access.
Under the bonnet is Ford's latest EcoBlue diesel in three outputs with an auto gearbox option on some versions, or you can choose the excellent 98bhp 1.0 EcoBoost petrol three-cylinder manual in entry-level variants.
You can get Leader, Trend, Limited and Sport trims, with the latter being designed to offer a sportier look than the rest of the range. Ford has also launched the Active model with off-road styling as an alternative to the Sport. These top models benefit from Ford's latest Sync3 touchscreen infotainment with voice control, and all vans feel very car-like inside with heated seats and dual-zone automatic air-conditioning. Overall, the Transit Connect is a good-looking machine with easy access to its load area and great standard safety kit.
If you need something a bit more compact, then the Transit Courier is smaller still. The range isn't as broad as the Connect's, with Base, Trend, Limited and Sport versions offered in a single body style (although there is a Kombi variant of the Base version) and either EcoBoost or a choice of two diesel engines.
3. Volkswagen Caddy Cargo
The Volkswagen Caddy has the kind of quality that wouldn't look out of place within VW's car range, and as a result it's one of the most comfortable small vans on the UK market. The fifth-generation model was launched this year and starts from around £24,000 (inc VAT).
There are numerous versions of the Caddy to choose from, starting with the short-wheelbase then the larger Maxi with Commerce and Commerce Pro trim levels available on both. Top-spec Commerce Pro models get a 10-inch sat-nav system, body-coloured door handles, LED rear lights and parking sensors. There’s also a Caddy MPV option and a California version for those seeking to use the Caddy for camping trips.
A range of 2.0-litre TDI diesels come with six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG automatic gearboxes. The single petrol offering is the 113bhp 1.4-litre TSI unit – equipped with either a manual or automatic.
4. Renault Kangoo
The current Renault Kangoo was launched in 2022 and like its predecessor it shares a platform with the Mercedes Citan. An all-electric E-Tech model is still available, featuring a 45kWh battery powering a 121bhp electric motor. Although the battery size is down on the Citroen e-Berlingo and Peugeot e-Partner, range sits at a decent 186 miles.
There are internal-combustion engined variants of the Kangoo with one petrol and two diesels on offer. The 99bhp TCe petrol kicks off the range in lower Start trim at around £22,000. Advance models come with more equipment as standard and are around £1,300 more expensive than equivalent Start models. Pure-electric E-Tech Kangoos start from around £33,000.
Even the entry-level Kangoos come with a DAB radio with Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port, automatic headlights, automatic windscreen wipers, hill start assist and cruise control. Advance models receive an eight-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, an electronic handbrake, reverse parking sensors and 16-inch wheels. On top of this, wireless smartphone charging, adaptive cruise control and a rearview camera are all available as optional extras.
5. Toyota Corolla Commercial
Toyota has smoothly transformed the Corolla estate into a van with the Corolla Commercial model. There aren’t any other estate-based vans in the UK right now, with the Corolla taking the place of the once-popular Vauxhall Astravan.
Choices are limited when it comes to the Corolla Commercial. There’s only one engine option – a 120bhp, 1.8-litre hybrid with equipment levels similar to the entry-level Corolla Touring Sports Icon.
As standard you get LED headlights, dual-zone climate control, a 4.7-inch display, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, a reversing camera, heated front passenger seats and a raft of safety equipment.
As it’s based on an estate, the Commercial doesn’t offer as much load space as a similarly-sized purpose-built van. Overall cargo capacity is 1,326 litres, while there's a payload of 425kg. The towing weight for the Corolla Commercial is the same as for the Touring Sports, at 750kg. The benefit of being based on the estate is that the Commercial drives just as well as the Touring Sports.
6. Suzuki Jimny Commercial
Nothing in our shortlist has as much character as the Suzuki Jimny Commercial. The standard passenger car was discontinued shortly after it was launched in 2019 because it bumped Suzuki’s average fleet-wide CO2 emissions figure over the European Parliament’s 95g/km threshold, but you can still get a van version.
Suzuki managed to find a loophole by offering the Jimny as a van in Jimny Commercial form. From the outside, the Suzuki Jimny commercial looks the same as the passenger carrying model. However, the standard Jimny’s tiny rear bench seat has been swapped for a partitioned 863-litre load bay – which is 33 litres more than the passenger model offered with the back row folded.
Like the standard car, the van has Suzuki’s ALLGRIP four-wheel drive system with a low-range transfer box. It’s also equipped with the same 1.5-litre engine producing 101bhp and 130Nm of torque, sending power through a five-speed manual gearbox.
Some buyers might be sold on the Jimny’s retro exterior design, but inside there’s cruise control, hill descent control, a DAB radio, bluetooth compatibility and a USB port.
7. Toyota Land Cruiser Utility Commercial
If you want something a bit different from the small van norm, then a commercial 4×4 might be the answer. These vehicles are based on SUVs, but replace the back seats with a flat load area and feature blanked-off side windows. The Land Rover Defender Hard Top and Suzuki Jimny Commercial are excellent workhorses, but the Toyota Land Cruiser Utility Commercial deserves a mention as well.
Whether you choose entry-level Utility or top-spec Active, there's a functional look and steel wheels which help the Land Cruiser stand out, while the cabin is decked out in velour trim and hard plastics. It's not as plush as the regular Land Cruiser SUV, but this adds to its appeal. It's more comfortable than most small vans thanks to its long-travel suspension, and it'll head further off road than almost any other car for sale. Unlike a pick-up truck, that cargo area is sealed off from the elements, although the Land Cruiser can't match the payload weights of a pickup. Still, if that's of no concern, then it's well worth a look if you want to stand out from the crowd.
The Land Cruiser Commercial is also available as either in short-wheelbase or long-wheelbase guise with the only powertrain coming in the form of a 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel.
8. Fiat Doblo Cargo
The Fiat Doblo used to have a platform sharing partner in the shape of the Vauxhall Combo. But with that model now part of the PSA Group, the Doblo soldiers on alone.
However, in many ways the small Fiat is still a good choice in the small van sector. It already has class-leading payload and cargo volume figures, thanks in part to the fact that it comes in a versatile range of body styles.
Fiat offers long and short body versions and a high-roof option, while there's also a chassis cab version and the unique Doblo Workup pick-up. Once you've chosen the right van, you can pick between barn doors or a liftback tailgate at the rear.
Whichever version you choose, the interior doesn’t feel as high quality as you'll find in some rivals, but carrying capacity in the rear can be huge if you choose the longer wheelbase, high-roof versions.
9. DFSK EC35
The DFSK EC35 might not be a common sight on UK roads, but we think it has a strong shout of being one of the best small vans you can buy. It’s a pure-electric offering from China and starts from around £26,000.
For your money you get a range of up to 166 miles thanks to a 39kWh battery. The EC35 can recharge from a flat battery to 100 per cent in 90 minutes with a maximum DC charge rate of 40kW.
In terms of cargo area, there’s up to 4.8 cubic metres – which is 1.5 cubic metres more than the cheapest Berlingo van. The payload is also pretty impressive at 1,015kg. Given it’s an EV, the EC35 is quiet on the move, and light steering means the EC35 is easy to manoeuvre around town.
The interior feels pretty cheap even for a van, but there’s a 6.8-inch central screen with smartphone connectivity, plus a reversing camera.
10. Fiat Fiorino
The tiny Fiat Fiorino is getting on a bit now, and it used to share its part of the market with the Citroen Nemo and Peugeot Bipper, but these are no longer for sale. The Fiorino continues as a smaller alternative to the Doblo, and its one-box design scores well for load space and practicality, with up to 2.8 cubic metres of load space on offer if you specify the folding front passenger seat. That's pretty impressive for a van that’s just 3.8 metres long, while a 660kg payload is also pretty good, and easily beats any supermini-derived van, such as the Ford Fiesta.
Under the skin, the Fiorino uses a development of the Fiat Punto platform, and while that means it's getting on a bit, the handling is lively. Add in a range of diesel engines that major on running costs and power, and the Fiorino is an attractive proposition for small businesses.
Thanks to that 660kg payload, the Fiorino gets a stiff suspension set-up, but that gives the van a bouncy ride when empty.
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