New van sales hit a record high last year and registrations in the 2.5–3.5t weight bracket, which includes medium vans, led the way, up 21% to 222,342, or 60% of the total market of 371,830 units.

The Ford Transit Custom remains the UK’s most popular van. Since Ford moved to separate its medium and large vans in 2012, when it bestowed the Custom name on the smaller van and created more of a division in style, the Custom has come to the fore, winning a warmer reception from customers and critics alike than its big brother, which was designed with an eye on the US market, where it has replaced the E-series model.

While the Custom’s refinement and excellent road manners means it appeals to retail buyers, it is also a formidable performer in the fleet market. This year, the UK’s police forces have taken on 760 Customs, around half of which Ford will supply as cell vans, converted by its Special Vehicle Preparation division, and capable of carrying two detainees and five police officers. The police also employ Custom models as crime scene units, dog carriers and camera vans.

In July, the Custom will get new Euro6 ‘Panther’ engines in time for the September deadline and it will also get automatic transmission for the first time.

But the Custom is not the only show in town – in fact, operators are almost spoiled for choice with an abundance of quality product in the medium van segment.

The Renault Trafic and its Vauxhall-badged equivalent the Vivaro jointly scooped the What Van? Medium Van of the Year Award for the second year in a row. The LCVs are good on the road and boast user-friendly cabins and practical features, such as a load-through hatch and the innovative wide-view mirror to improve the angle of vision to the rear.

The Trafic is in the vanguard of the French brand’s resurgence in the LCV market over the past three years, and in 2015 Renault grew sales by almost 40% to 25,371 units. “The Trafic is our core van with 54% of sales,” says UK sales boss Darren Payne.

The emissions scandal that engulfed Volkswagen in September 2015 took the shine off the launch of its new (T6) Transporter – the jewel in VW Commercial Vehicle’s crown. But van operators are a pragmatic bunch and the T6 did not seem to be too badly affected. The Transporter has a cast-iron reputation for quality and had been well-received, not least for its safety innovations such as the post-collision braking system, if perceived as stylistically dull, before the scandal broke.

The T6, long considered the sector’s benchmark, should present a strong challenge to the Custom, Trafic and Vivaro in 2016.

Another model to underwhelm when it went on sale earlier in the year, just after the CV Show in April, was the Mercedes-Benz Vito. The mid-sized van has long existed in the shadow of its big brother the Sprinter, and its unlikely to emerge just yet.

It’s a thoroughly competent product but lacks the game-changing innovations of the class leaders. It is, however, packed with standard and optional features to protect occupants and other road users and won the What Van? Safety Award for 2016.

A trio of new panel vans from Citroen, Peugeot and Toyota are set to arrive before the year end, following the launch of the passenger-carrying versions that will be unveiled at the Geneva motor show in March. Toyota’s model will retain the Proace name and PSA says the Citroen and Expert derivatives are likely to keep the Dispatch and Expert monikers from the first generation. The new vans will be built at PSA Peugeot Citroen’s plant in France and will share powertrains and equipment.

The three manufacturers have been working together on mid-size vans since 2012.

Fiat Professional used to build its Scudo in conjunction with PSA but this year will introduce a medium van based on the Renault Trafic.


The used market

The Transit Custom and VW Transporter T5 are the outstanding performers at auction, according to Andy Picton, CV editor at Glass’s Guide, with crew vans and high-specification versions attracting the strongest demand. The VW model is particularly popular, says Picton, with buyers attracted by the brand’s DSG semi-automatic transmission and many customers converting the vans into campers.

Picton says a trickle of 2014 1.6-litre diesel Renault Trafic and Vauxhall Vivaros are appearing in the halls and attracting premiums over the previous-generation model.


What and when? Key medium van on-sale dates
Mercedes Vito: On-sale now
Volkswagen Transporter: On-sale now
Ford Transit Custom (new engines and auto transmission): July 2016
Citroen Dispatch: Q3 2016
Fiat Professional medium van (Scudo replacement): Q3 2016
Peugeot Expert: Q3 2016
Toyota Proace: Q3 2016