First Drive: DFSK Loadhopper

Date: Monday, November 28, 2011

The return of the microvan is finally here. DFSK’s Loadhopper, launching this month, is the first new mircrovan since Piaggio’s low-key departure from the UK market, and is the spiritual successor to the likes of the Suzuki Carry and, if you go further into history, the Bedford Rascal.

Being sold from an eventual network of 40 dealers, the Loadhopper is the first of at least two DFSK light commercial vehicles heading for these shores in what is the first Chinese brand to be introduced to the UK.
The Loadhopper uses the same 70hp 1.3 petrol engine as the Suzuki Carry did, and will come in pick-up, double cab, tipper and, driven here, panel van form, starting at £6999 for the single-cab pick-up version. Standard on the £7999 van will be a top-hinged tailgate and two sliding side doors, and while there is a predictable lack of niceties on what is an unashamedly budget vehicle, electric windows and central locking are standard.
It’s safe to say the interior isn’t the most luxurious of places, but is functional. The seating position is on the upright side, and the seat cushion would benefit from a little more padding, while tall drivers will have a feeling akin to having bought clothes one size too small. A bit more storage space in the cabin would be welcome too, and the indicator stalks are on the ‘wrong’ side for the UK, as was the case with many Korean and Japanese vehicles when they first arrived on these shores, but that’s something drivers are very quickly used to. Overall, though, there’s nothing offensive, and there’s a certain utilitarian charm to the switchgear and hard, durable plastics.
Importer Vestatec recommends an optional ply lining for the good-sized load area, and the two sliding side doors close with a more solid slam than might be expected. It might also be sensible to opt for a painted or boarded rear window, depending on whether there are going to be things in the back worth protecting from prying eyes.
Pulling out of Vestatec’s car park at its headquarters near Swindon, the first things that are instantly obvious are the excellent turning circle and the heavy steering. Swinging out of the parking area in a U-turn, the steering lock seemed to go on forever, London taxi-style, and urban manoeuvrability is going to be a massive selling point for the Loadhopper against conventional car-derived rivals. But the unassisted steering is predictably heavier than most drivers will be used to these days, without being a full bicep workout, and spending the extra money on the optional power- assisted steering that involves changing the steering column shouldn’t be necessary.
On the move, refinement is in line with the Loadhopper’s budget positioning, and the brakes need a decent shove to bring the vehicle to a halt. Again, it’s nothing major once you’re used to it, although
we were driving the vehicle unladen so it remains to be seen what impact a full payload might have.
Performance from the 70hp
1.3 is adequate for the little Loadhopper, and there’s no problem blending into urban traffic, the vehicle’s likely home turf.
There’s a likeable basic charm to the unashamedly basic Loadhopper, and it successfully fills a large gap in the UK light commercial vehicle market. Vestatec isn’t expecting, or needing, the little van to appeal to everyone, but there’s a market out there for cheap, functional small vans that the likes of the Citroen Nemo, Fiat Fiorino and Peugeot Bipper, or car-derived vans, don’t reach because they’re still too expensive. It’s far from the world’s most exciting, luxurious or well-equipped vehicle, but no-one buying a DFSK will be in any doubt about what they’re getting – a basic, unpretentious working tool, and its addition to the UK market is a welcome one.

 

Verdict
Cheap and cheerful, does-what-it-says-on-the-tin sort of vehicle that won’t suit everyone thanks to lack of creature comforts, but for some it’ll be a handy new alternative that meets their needs.



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