This year’s light van award is shared between two LCVs that share the same DNA. The 2012 winner, the Fiat Doblo Cargo, retains the prize for the third consecutive year, but is joined on the podium this time by Vauxhall’s new Combo – essentially the same van under the skin but wearing the Griffin badge.
Imitation, they say, is the greatest form of flattery and the collaboration between the brands makes sense in terms of quality as well as economy – Vauxhall has chosen the sector’s outstanding model on which to base its big-selling Combo.
The Combo has inherited the sophisticated bi-link independent rear suspension system that attracted rave reviews when introduced on the Italian van through enhancing ride quality and handling. It is also lightweight and compact, which is a boon for load capacity and helps to reduce fuel consumption too.
The two vans are offered with 90hp 1.3-litre, 105hp 1.6-litre and 135hp 2.0-litre common-rail diesel engines and like Fiat Vauxhall is also marketing its model with a 95hp 1.4-litre petrol engine. The 90hp 1.3-litre models manage impressively frugal consumption of 58.9mpg while CO2 starts from just 126g/km.
The manufacturers deserve credit for making stop/start widely available across their line-ups together with an indicator on the fascia to highlight the most economical moment to change gear.
With two wheelbases, two overall lengths and two heights up for grabs, load capacities step up from 3.4m3, to 4.0m3 to 4.2m3, while payloads go from 750kg to a meaty 1000kg.
The lower-powered vans come with five-speed manual transmission while the larger engines get a six-speed manual ’box. Vauxhall offers its five-speed Tecshift transmission with the 1.6-litre engine while Fiat markets its own 1.6 version with its automated Comfort-matic gearbox as an option.
The Doblo and its Combo twin are both available in two trim levels: base and SX for the Fiat and Combo and Sportive for the Vauxhall. Both vehicles are styled conventionally with an emphasis on functionality, and the result is a pair of sturdy vans. Customers can choose between asymmetrical rear doors that open to 180° or a glazed hatch-type rear door.
The cabins, meanwhile, are comfortable, quiet and come with an abundance of storage space.
VW’s Caddy boasts rock-solid build quality and excellent engines. The 1.6-litre diesel is available with 75hp or 102hp; the latter can be had with VW’s peerless semi-auto, twin-clutch, seven-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG). A 2.0-litre 140hp engine is also offered and this can be specified with a six-speed DSG in the LWB Maxi derivative.