Taking an electric van from London to Liverpool to pick up heavy machinery – a round trip of more than 400 miles – in an electric van with a stated range of 205 miles might seem brave or foolhardy, or both, but it certainly put the ‘test’ into this test drive.
Of course, such inter-city journeys aren’t the intended stomping ground of the new array of full-electric vans being offered by mainstream makers, but the mission – and it certainly was – provided an insight into the necessity of careful forward planning, how and where EVs work best, and a new laser-like focus on how to preserve energy.
In the best of these new vans there are no concessions to load space from the EV’s battery. Load volume remains a very useful 6.1m3 in the long-wheelbase Vivaro-e we tested, and that space is very accessible via two sliding side doors or the regular rear opening. As a full EV, this van is also zero-emission at source, London congestion charge-exempt, once registered and approved (allow time for that) and a very good way of showing your company’s eco credentials.
And first impressions of the Vivaro-e Elite Panel Van as an example of this new breed are good. The van’s exterior is smart but not quirky – bar its ability to plug in rather than drink fuel – and the cabin is a comfortable place to spend time. A sunken toggle-style gear selector on the floating centre console provides the usual automatic drive, neutral and park options, plus the EV-specific B for brake re-gen that will be familiar to electric car drivers. To the right of that is a driving mode selector, which we kept firmly in Eco.
In front of the steering wheel, the digital driver display shows conventional miles per hour on the left, but to the right, another dial indicates whether your driving style is in Charge mode (assisting the battery by braking or foot-off coasting), Eco mode (gently cruising) or using the battery’s power (with accelerator pedal pressed). Crucially, in the middle of those two dials is the number of miles you have left before a recharge is due. However, given how important it is to any EV driver and how often you tend to check it, we think it should be increased in size. On the downside, the built-in satnav touchscreen can be slow to respond and prone to lagging.
But the driving part of the Vivaro-e is a breeze. It’s quiet, smooth, with no rattle or shake and super rapid when required. With hill start assist, there’s no lurching about or hard-revving either. When B gear is selected, one-pedal driving can become your norm both around town and on the open road. But travelling at motorway speeds is a spectacularly bad plan if you want to preserve range. Case in point: after the last of our five recharges on our Liverpool mission – from three different providers all requiring separate apps – we gained 154 miles in about an hour from an excellent Instavolt rapid charger. This was possible because the Vivaro-e can usefully connect to 50kWh or even 100kWh rapid chargers, but wanting to get back home to reduce the time of the 90-mile last leg of our very long day at 70mph, we quickly noticed that for every mile covered, two miles were coming off our range, potentially resulting in the need for a sixth recharge. Dropping the speed to a gentler 50–60mph soon rectified that range anxiety and the journey was completed without fuss.
Back in town – where these sort of vans are really designed to operate – we even encountered range increasing on occasion. On a separate mission to move the considerable contents of a one-bed flat with the Vivaro-e filled to the brim, the range counter actually indicated an additional nine miles after the journey, possibly through judicious B mode driving and gentle coasting.
Throughout the test we were grateful to have the bigger 75kWh battery and 205-mile range version of this van as opposed to the 50kWh, 143-mile entry-level one. Even after recharging fully many times, we never saw the display go beyond about 180 miles. And to get anywhere near that range in the real world – just like with diesel and petrol – you have to drive like a saint. The difference is that with the smaller ranges of EVs and the currently patchy charging infrastructure across the country, those driving style decisions can make a much bigger difference to your day than in a diesel or petrol van, where refuelling is fully established, speedy, reliable and widespread. Of course, none of this is Vauxhall’s fault, but it is its problem, and indeed any other EV manufacturer trying to make electric transport a success in the UK. Overall, the Vivaro-e could do a fine job for your business, but don’t expect it to be able to go too far too often without military-precision planning.
Vauxhall Vivaro-e Elite Panel Van 3100 75kWh
Price (ex.VAT inc.PiVG) £38,528
Price range £29,028-£38,528
Insurance group 41E
Warranty 5yrs/100,000mls (battery 8yrs/100,000mls)
Service intervals 1yr/8,000mls
Load length 2,365mm
Load width (max) 1,636mm
Load bay height 1,397mm
Gross payload 1,002kg
Load volume 6.1m3
Powertrain 136hp 100kW electric motor
Range (WLTP) 205mls
Stay relatively local and the Vivaro-e could be a great addition to your fleet.