LDV Maxus 17-Seater Minibus - Tested March 2007

Date: Monday, March 26, 2007

Since we last tested an LDV Maxus the manufacturer has slid into and out of administration and had two more owners.

 

Last summer it was acquired by Russian automotive giant GAZ and things seem to be heading in the right direction at long last for the Birmingham-based light commercial maker. Sales are up, new models are joining the range — a Maxus chassis cab will make its worldwide debut at the British Commercial Vehicle Show in April — and there's a new mood of confidence throughout the business.

Minibus sales have always been a vitally important part of LDV's activities and it has introduced both 12- and 15-seater versions of Maxus.

The lack of a 17-seater was a major gap in the line-up — the old Convoy 17-seater always did well — and initially LDV said that Maxus hadn't been engineered to take that many seats. Subsequent work on the vehicle and some rather clever packaging means, however, that a 3.9 tonne gross weight 17-seater is now available; and What Van? is the first magazine to sample it.

Technical

Only one engine is used to power the front-wheel drive Maxus; a 2.5-litre 16-valve common rail diesel built by VM and up for grabs at either 95 bhp or 120 bhp. Additional versions that produce either 105 bhp or 135 bhp are about to be introduced.

Our 17-seater had the 120 bhp unit lurking under its bonnet. Top power kicks in at 3,800rpm, while peak torque of 221 lb/ft impacts at 1,800rpm.

No matter which power rating you chose, the 2.5-litre is married to a five-speed manual gearbox that depends on a hydraulically operated clutch. A six-speeder is not available and customers cannot specify a fully- or semi-automatic gearbox either.

McPherson struts are at the heart of the front suspension, while a beam axle with parabolic monoleaf springs helps support the back of the vehicle. Our minibus rode on 16in steel wheels shod with Firestone CV 3000 205/75 R16 C tyres.

The 17-seater is based on the extra-high roof long-wheelbase bodyshell. With just over 3.5 turns lock to lock, the power assisted steering offers a 14.2m kerb-to-kerb turning circle, rising to 14.8m between walls.

ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution is fitted as standard on this model and the brakes employ ventilated discs at the front and drums at the rear.

Passenger Area

Entrance to the rear saloon is by means of a sliding door on either side of the vehicle. The nearside one is classed as the main entrance — access is aided by a grab handle and an illuminated step — while its offside companion is tagged as the emergency exit.

Entry through the back doors — their windows are heated — isn't possible because a row of seats blocks the way, but at least there's enough space behind those seats for a pile of squashy bags.

Any other luggage will have to be stowed beneath the seats in the main part of the saloon, if there's space, or in a deep compartment above the cab that's accessible from the rear area.

With a capacity of 60kg, it could do with a lid to stop anything that's stowed there from shooting out and landing on the passengers if the driver has to brake heavily. Our vehicle didn't have this feature, but LDV apparently intends to fit one as standard.

While there are enough nooks and crannies to stow sports bags and small rucksacks, big cases will either have to go on a rack on the roof or in a luggage trailer. This is the big drawback of all 17-seaters; it's not unique to this one.

On the face of it the vehicle isn't big enough to accommodate 17 people, but LDV has ensured that it can by paying very precise attention to the seat layout.

Inevitably that's resulted in some compromises. Access to the saloon's front four seats is a little tight and team leaders and tour group organisers would do well to ensure that the shortest passenger sits directly behind the driver. Even a moderately tall individual won't have enough legroom.

The outermost passengers in the rearmost row of seats will find that one leg is right up against the wheel boxes, and all of the seats could do with a touch more thigh support and shoulder room.

Perhaps the most fundamental problem with the vehicle is the bodyshell's pronounced tumblehome; the angle at which the sides join the roof. While that won't be a problem for a party of school children, a team of big, beefy rugby players might end up feeling a touch claustrophobic.

So does that mean the 17-seater doesn't work? Far from it, but prospective purchasers need to think carefully about what they're going to use it for.

While it's ideal for a school sports team or a scout group, plus accompanying adults, or for a group of workers who are being ferried a short distance to a factory or a construction site, an adult Rugby Union team going to a match some distance away might find the interior a bit restricting.

All the seats come with lap-and-diagonal belts and the 17-seater is supplied with a minibus pack. It includes a first aid kit, a fire extinguisher and decals showing where the emergency exit is and how many passengers the vehicle can carry. Good to see non-slip flooring.

Nearside access was eased by an electrically operated step made by AVS. It costs £595 excluding VAT and the switch that controls it is on the dashboard.

Cab Comfort

Maxus has a somewhat unusual dashboard layout with the instrument panel smack in the middle rather than directly in front of the driver.

While it's a bit disconcerting at first, you get used to it quickly. After a while you may even start to prefer it.

Most drivers will certainly like the amount of oddment stowage space that's provided. Each door has a capacious bin with a moulding to hold a flask or a big bottle of water and the lidded, illuminated, but not lockable glovebox is roomy too.

There are trays directly in front of the steering wheel and on top of the passenger side of the facia — they come with rattle-dampening removable rubber inserts — and shelves above the radio and to the right of the steering column. You'll find space under the passenger seats as well

On the downside there's no convenient slot for an A4 clipboard and nowhere handy to put CDs, and the radio/CD player is positioned much too far down the facia. That makes switching stations while you're driving a real headache.

The steering column and the seat are not height adjustable — the latter is an option — but we nonetheless found the driving position to be comfortable. But while it offers good vision directly ahead and to each side, and rearwards along Maxus's flanks too thanks to the large exterior mirrors, the thickness of the A-pillars can cause difficulties at junctions.

We like the heating and ventilation system's chunky rotary controls and it's good to see an airbag for the front passengers as well as the driver. The button for the hazard warning lights is conveniently positioned on the dashboard, as is the gearstick.

On the Road

One of the things that most impressed us about Maxus when we first drove it over two years ago was the steering. Highly responsive, it still has a nice meaty feel to it and in our view remains best-in-class, giving the driver plenty of feedback and ensuring that he can corner with confidence.

Manoeuvrability isn't affected at all, and in our view easy manoeuvrability is one of the 17-seater's big plus points. Because it's based on a long- as opposed to an extra long-wheelbase chassis and doesn't have a huge rear overhang, it can be eased into surprisingly tight spaces.

The steering contributes significantly to the vehicle's predictable handling; just what you want if you're driving a minibus. You can push it hard through bends without feeling that it's going to break away.

With no need to fight to find the right gear, the gearshift is user-friendly and while the engine can sound harsh under acceleration, it doesn't lack performance.

Now that all new minibuses are governed to 62mph in line with legislation, we were unable to exploit its top-end potential to the full. It offers plenty of pulling power lower down the rev range, however — exactly what you require if you're ascending a steep hill fully laden — and although there's still a slight delay before the engine fires up first thing in the morning, it cannot be counted as an issue.

Our Maxus suffered from an extraordinarily heavy clutch — we can only assume that it needed adjusting and that it isn't typical of the vehicle — and we were disappointed to see that it wasn't fitted with Electronic Stability Programme (ESP). No matter how well a big minibus handles it can still benefit from ESP and we'd like to see it made mandatory on all minibuses and light commercials in the Maxus category.

The ride could perhaps stand to be better damped, especially when the vehicle is unladen, but it's certainly not uncomfortable,

As far as fuel consumption is concerned we averaged 31.0mpg, but this was with no passengers aboard.

Our demonstrator's paintwork could have done with side rubbing strips to protect it against minor scratches and scrapes. The wheelarches need better protection too.

Standard remote central locking should help frustrate thieves as well as being convenient.

Open the bonnet and you gain ready access to the screenwash reservoir and dipstick. Many of the items that require changing once in a while — the fuel filter for instance — look simple enough to remove and replace, and the handbook is one of the easiest to comprehend that we've ever come across.

Service intervals are set at 20,000 miles, while buyers can pick from two different warranty packages; three years/100,000 miles or four years/60,000 miles.

Maxus build quality is far better than it was, but some loose dashboard trim, an ill-fitting glovebox lid and the odd rattle and squeak from who-knows-where suggested that there is still work to be done.

VERDICT

While its basic design hasn't changed significantly, LDV's Maxus has come a long way over the past two years. Even though our demonstrator suffered from one or two defects, overall today's vehicle is far better built than its forebears. The steering system is one of the best in the business, Maxus handles well and while its diesel engines may not be the most sophisticated in town, in 120 bhp guise they offer more than enough performance. As for the 17-seater, it's a cleverly designed package that will be ideal for schools and scout groups. But while it's good to see ABS fitted as standard, we'd really like to see ESP installed too. So does all this herald an LDV renaissance? We wouldn't bet against it.

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