Before we go any further we have a confession to make. Although the What Van? remit includes all commercial vehicles which can be driven legally on UK roads using an ordinary passenger car Driving Licence this unfortunately includes 7.5 tonne trucks; if the licence was awarded prior to January 1997.
The writer falls into this category by about 25 years, but doesn't have a great deal of comparative experience of trucks to call on. Still, there's nothing inherently wrong with this as many people's experience of the 7.5-tonner is restricted to either moving house or that one-off job which requires a visit to a rental company rather than a dealer.
Iveco is one of the major contenders in the European 7.5 tonne market with Eurocargo so when it announces a new range of models operators tend to take notice. For reference the range goes from 7.5t to 18t and dates back to 1991 with the outgoing models dating back to 2003.
With a mind-boggling 11,584 different factory configurations available there's a Eurocargo available for just about any application, from the classic urban distribution and regional haulage roles through to off-road tipper work and specialist 4x4 work.
Carried over from the previous range, Eurocargo retains the tried and tested Euro 5 tector engines, first introduced in 2006, which are sourced from Iveco's sister company Fiat Powertrain Technologies.
There's a choice of three 3.9-litre four-cylinder and four six-pot 5.9-litre turbodiesel powerplants although it's the former that will be of most interest to prospective 7.5-tonner owners. The days of the underpowered four-cylinder truck engine are long gone with these tector units are capable of producing 140hp, 160hp or 182hp. Peak torque figures are 465Nm, 535Nm and 610Nm respectively, developed between 1,200rpm (1,300rpm for the 182hp) and 2,100rpm. Now that's what we call low-down grunt.
In case there are any die-hards reading this, the least powerful of the six-cylinder units provides 220hp with peak torque of 680Nm biting between 1,200rpm and 2,250rpm.
Rather than using the more familiar, to van drivers at least, Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) route to reach Euro 5 emission levels, tector engines utilise Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) which requires the use of an aqueous solution of urea to function. Commercially known as Adblue, Eurocargo has a 25 litre tank and the estimated rate of consumption is about one litre for every 20 litres of diesel.
UK Eurocargo 7.5-tonner customers don't really have to worry about gearbox choice as all models come as standard with a six-speed automated manual affair. Called EuroTronic it dispenses with a clutch pedal and just takes care of business. There's also a steering column paddle which can be used to initiate manual gearchanges.
A full automatic five-speed torque converter gearbox from Allison is on the options list, but this will carry a fairly hefty price penalty.
Front and rear suspension feature parabolic springs and the whole lot is hung off a tough, ladder frame chassis. Front and rear air suspension is available on all 4x2 7.5t models — Eurocargo is, of course, rear-wheel drive.
Braking is taken care of by an air-over-hydraulic all-disc system on all models up to 10 tonnes; over that GVW it's full air brakes.
All models with the 182hp tector and above come with an exhaust brake as standard; it's optional with the two lower powered engines. It's operated by a two-stage stalk to the right of the steering column. Click it down once and it kicks in when the throttle is closed. Move it to stage two and it works in tandem when the foot brake is applied.
Anti-lock brakes feature across the range with Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR) offered as an option. This latter feature reduces wheelspin when pulling away from rest and driving on loose or low grip surfaces. ESP is available only on models featuring a full air brake system. A hill-holder function will be added to the options list shortly.
Externally, the Eurocargo's cab has been restyled to closer resemble that of Iveco's flagship, the Stralis tractor unit, but the interior has undergone a more fundamental redesign.
The dashboard is all-new with a high-mounted central bank of switches, above which sits the housing for the factory-fitted Iveco sat nav system if specified and the air vents have increased in size to improve ventilation and heating control. The driver's instrument binnacle is also new and more informative, including light bulb failure indication among the massive array of warning lamps.
The standard day cab comes with a twin passenger seat and the driver now gets an ergonomic Isri perch with integrated inertia seat belt and head restraint. One of these can be specified optionally to replace the standard passenger seats. Also on the options list is air suspension for the driver's seat.
Control of the EuroTronic gearbox is via three dash-mounted push buttons — Drive, Reverse and Neutral — sited in the same place as the gearstick would normally occupy. The small handbrake lever has been repositioned to sit more handily on the new centre console between the driver and passenger seats.
Driver comfort is increased further by the use of revised door panels which incorporate an improved arm rest and feature the electric window and mirror controls.
There's the option of a sleeper cab and it includes large tool storage lockers, accessible from both inside and outside the cab.
There is no doubt that this new range of Eurocargos provide a comfortable working environment. Following a steep climb, aided by appropriately positioned steps and hand grab, there's a heap of space and a serious amount of headroom.
The seat is comfortable with good lumbar support and there's ample adjustment provided for the steering column, although it still remains very much a 'truck-style' driving position with the wheel tilted more towards the horizontal than the vertical. Both pedals are sited to the right of the steering column and are pretty close together; it's a pretty tight fit.
Sitting high up the driver is presented with a commanding view forwards and the array of mirrors on both sides — based on those from the Stralis — give a splendid view down the sides and eradicate just about every blind-spot imaginable.
Fitted with a box body the test vehicle was powered by a 182hp four-cylinder tector and what a powerful, sweet engine it turned out to be. It never seemed to strain under load and worked well in conjunction with the gearbox set in full auto mode. We did have a little play with the manual shift lever, but soon gave up as we didn't see the point.
Limited by law to 56mph and therefore not allowed in the outside lane of a three-lane motorway, progress is not exactly swift, but it is stately. The main problem is staying awake.
Manoeuvring around town and through winding country roads is make a lot easier with judicious use of those excellent door mirrors, once you become used to the sheer size of the vehicle, that is.
The air brake works well and proved to be a real boon on several occasions. It was left in the first position so that it comes into operation as soon as the right foot leaves the accelerator pedal.
In our humble opinion Iveco has made the right decision to fit the EuroTronic gearbox as standard in the UK. It makes the whole driving experience easier and more relaxed than with a manual shift — manual truck 'boxes are wide-gated, heavy and slow. It will go down particularly well with the rental companies and those drivers more used to vans who can concentrate on positioning the vehicle rather than fighting with the gearbox.