The winner of the What Van? Small Panel Van of the Year Award is the fifth generation of VW’s revered Transporter.

Facelifted in early 2010, the new Transporter is powered by four versions of a 2.0-litre Euro5 common rail four-cylinder diesel unit available with outputs of 84, 102, 140 and 180hp. The new engines develop peak torque of 220, 250, 340 and 400Nm respectively.

The VW Transporter remains front-wheel drive, although 4×4 4Motion models can be ordered with the two most powerful engines mated to a six-speed manual transmission. The beefiest two drivetrains are also available with the manufacturer’s excellent seven-speed DSG semi-auto twin-clutch transmission.

The 84hp and 102hp diesel engines are coupled to a five-speed gearbox.

Across the line-up the Transporter rides and handles well, with slick gear changes in all modes, and noise levels that are well under control.

Inside the cab, there is no shortage of high-quality plastic. There’s a new three-spoke steering wheel, too, and the instrument binnacle now boasts new, high-visibility white-on-black graphics that win top marks for clarity. The heater and ventilation controls have been redesigned and the radio/CD player updated. New factory-fitted satellite navigation units are optional.

Stowage for all the paraphernalia van drivers need is plentiful. Each door contains an upper and lower bin; the lower one can hold a large water bottle plus an A4 clipboard.

The glovebox is lockable, the passenger seat holds a storage box, and two pull-out cup holders sit either side of the ashtray. There’s a sunglasses shelf above the windscreen, a tray on top of the dashboard and shelves beneath the radio/CD player and heater controls.

Available as part of a £1180 SE pack are air conditioning, electric windows, electrically heated and adjustable wing mirrors, an alarm, and controls for the central locking. All Transporters feature remote central locking.

The van is offered with two wheelbases and three roof heights, with payloads ranging from 729kg to 1333kg. Load space goes from 5.8-9.3cu/m, and load width ranges from 1244-1692mm. The SWB offers a load length of 4892mm, which extends to 5292mm for the LWB. Load height under the standard roof is 1990mm, rising to 2176mm for the medium roof and 2283mm for the high option, which is available with the LWB version. Gross vehicle weights are 2.6, 2.8, 3.0 and 3.2 tonnes.

Apart from the ubiquitous ABS, the transporter features ESP with traction control and a hill holder function. Notable safety options include Side Assist, which scans the vehicle’s sides to ensure safer lane changes, a reversing camera, tyre pressure monitor and a static turning light activated by the steering wheel to illuminate the space the van is turning into.

Highly Commended for 2011 is the Mercedes Vito, launched in facelifted form last month. With new Euro5 engines borrowed from its big brother, the Sprinter, the Vito is now 15% more fuel efficient as well as boasting more power and torque. Payload capacity has risen by 100kg across the range to a maximum 1330kg. High build quality guarantees strong residual values.