Chinese manufacturer DFSK is finally stepping up shipments of its revised Loadhopper mini vans to the UK, and now more than 1000 models have arrived.
But as for sales aspirations, the importer is steering clear of setting targets.
A spokesman for DFSK uK said: “The company is taking it as it comes as far as volumes are concerned; the vehicles are still a new product type from a relatively unknown Chinese manufacturer. This is especially the case for 2014 when the big Cab and V Series models, along with 4WD technology, will be introduced into the mix.”
For now, DFSK UK has expanded its range from four to eight models and restyled the exterior with new light clusters and bumpers. The interior gets a “modern instrument binnacle”, new seat and door fabric and “car-style air vents”. Three option packs are up for grabs, but the most significant development is the availability of a 50hp 1.0-litre petrol engine alongside the petrol 1.3-litre powerplant.
The Loadhopper line-up includes a Single Cab Pick-up with a 907kg payload and a 3.2m3 load space on a flat load bed
with no wheel arch intrusion. The load area features three drop- down sides to ease loading and unloading. The Loadhopper Van offers a 548kg payload capacity and loadspace of 3.0m3.
In addition to the glazed rear hatch it has two sliding doors. The Double Cab Pick-up is available in both dropside and fixed-side modes. both have seating for a crew of five,
and payloads are 740kg and 737kg respectively.
The Single and Double Cab Tippers offer a three-way hydraulic tipper operation to enable tipping loads from the side and rear. The payload for the double cab is 553kg, rising to 687kg for the single cab.
The new Loadhopper Window Van is designed for operators needing to carry a five-strong team as well as tools and equipment weighing up to 548kg. another newcomer is the Loadhopper Minibus, which can carry seven people including the driver. all models are euro5- compliant and come with a three-year warranty. Prices range from £7495, excluding VaT, for the Loadhopper Van and Single Cab Pick-up to £13,595, including VaT, for the Double Cab Tipper. The double-cab models include VaT because with a second row of seats and sub-1000kg payload they are not classed as commercial vehicles for tax purposes.
In addition to the regular line-up, DFSK UK drafted in two cut-price Limited edition Loadhoppers in the final quarter of 2013. The Le Single Cab Pick-up and Le Van are both priced £5995, excluding VAT.
Just 30 of these models were imported. They differ from the standard model in that the Pick-up does not feature front/ rear mudflaps, radio and ladder gantry, while the Van lacks the front/rear mudflaps, radio, bulkhead, rubber load area map and chrome exhaust finisher.
The company plans to introduce the big Cab Pick-up with both a larger cabin and extended load bay in late 2014.
The long-awaited V Series, previewed at the 2013 CV Show, will also arrive this year. It offers 15% more cargo space over the current range of Loadhopper vehicles. a 4WD system with high and low ratios is planned for the V Series Pick-up.
Looking further ahead, DFSK is to develop a new diesel engine in conjunction with Fiat that it plans to install in its forthcoming C Series range, which is still compact but larger than current models.
DFSK sees Loadhopper customers falling into two main groups: small traders such as gardeners, florists and caterers, as well as local councils and government bodies. The brand says its existing range has proven popular as a base for conversions, with milk floats and catering vans accounting for 30% of sales.
For those who remember driving vans in the 1970s and ’80s, the Loadhopper mini van could be a nostalgic experience. The cabin environment is spartan, without the creature comforts ever more common in today’s LCVs.
The natural environment for the Loadhopper – particularly the panel van we tested with the smaller 50hp 1.0-litre petrol engine – is in towns and cities where its compact dimensions enable it to access the tight back streets and loading bays that are off limits to larger vehicles. The engine is also not very efficient compared to modern units, with emissions getting on for double those of a Ford Fiesta Van
The Loadhopper is not built for long journeys, and venturing onto dual-carriageways takes it out of its comfort zone because the little van takes an age to wheeze its way to just over 50mph, much to the frustration of the traffic queuing up behind.
The noise level in the cabin reaches an uncomfortable pitch with the engine straining at high revs, and with a load on board it would be advisable to keep strictly within city limits. The driver and passenger are also likely to become acutely aware of the poor state of the uK’s urban road surfaces with there being little in the way of suspension.
There’s not a lot of variation in the driving position – the steering wheel is fixed and the seat only moves backwards and forwards. It doesn’t offer much in the way of support either, and we found it to be tilted a little too far forward for our taste, creating the queasy sense of being pitched towards the windscreen. as is often the case with LCVs built in the Far East, the indicator stalk is on the right-hand side and the wiper control on the left.
The radio is rudimentary and needs to be turned up loud to drown out the engine and road noise, but at least an aux socket is provided.
There is some storage space for odds and ends in the cab, but most of the shelves are shallow and open, which means items such as pens and coins have a tendency to fly out if you take a sharp corner or go over a speed hump. There are two drinks holders, one sized for a cup of coffee and the larger one for a water bottle, which is useful, but on the downside they are positioned awkwardly at floor level. The fuel cap is also curiously positioned, being near the front of the van underneath the driver’s door, which is moulded around it. This means you have to bend over when refuelling.
Our van had central locking, but you need to put the key in the lock to activate it – another throwback. but at the end of the day the Loadhopper is a budget van – it costs less than £7500 excluding VaT – plus it’s cute and is a hoot to drive in a dodgem car kind of way. as an urban load-lugger it’s practical too, and its 3.2m3 loadspace can be accessed via sliding doors on both sides as well as via the rear tailgate. Ply lining protects the floor, and narrow wheel arch covers barely intrude upon the cargo space.
Finally, a tubular steel bulkhead protects the cabin from loose objects in the rear, and
a turning circle of 9.8m eases manoeuvrability in tight spaces.
The Loadhopper van lacks creature comforts but its compact dimensions could make it a useful option for short delivery runs in towns and cities