Having sold Loadhopper microvans in the UK for the past five years or so and had that sector of the market pretty much to itself, Chinese manufacturer DFSK is now edging into the mainstream.
Making its British debut at the Commercial Vehicle Show back in April, the new C Series is significantly bigger than the K Series Loadhopper and competes against a far wider range of well-entrenched models from better-known manufacturers. It is doing so on price, with the most expensive model in the range costing just under £12,500.
The petrol-only forward-control C Series line-up consists of the C35 Van – the subject of our road test – the C35 Crewvan, the C31 Single Cab Dropside and the C32 Double Cab Dropside. They will eventually replace the Loadhopper – the first Chinese van ever to be sold in the UK – and the K Series Big Cab chassis cab.
With a 5.0m3 cargo area, the rear-wheel drive C35 Van runs up against everything from the Fiat Professional Doblo Cargo XL to the smallest versions of the departing Peugeot Expert and Citroen Dispatch. So far as load cube is concerned, it is not far short of what is on offer from the smallest models in the Vauxhall Vivaro/Renault Trafic line-ups.
Rear access to the 5.0m3 cargo bay is by means of a glazed hatch supported by gas-filled struts. It enables you to keep dry when working at the back of the vehicle and keeps the rain off cargo while loading/unloading.
A sliding door is fitted to each side of the cargo body and both apertures feature an internal step to aid access. All the doors boast decent-sized handles that can be tugged at with a gloved hand.
The hatch's glazing is heavily tinted for security reasons. Neither a wash/wipe system nor a heater element are fitted, but they are not required due to a full-height opaque bulkhead blocking vision rearwards.
Rear-wheel drive means the loading height is a little on the high side. The rear aperture offers plenty of width and height for the size of vehicle – you can certainly slide an 8x4ft sheet into the cargo bay – but the way in which the bulkhead angles backwards into the cargo area means that, in practical terms, the side door apertures are narrower than they appear at first sight.
There’s no point in looking for load tie-down points because there aren't any, which comes as something of a surprise.
While the full-height bulkhead seems sturdy enough, it is made of plywood attached to a tubular steel frame, which gives it a bit of a homemade look. We'd far rather see a factory-fitted, full-height, solid, all-steel bulkhead that has been crash-tested.
DFSK UK aims to address some of the cargo bay's shortcomings with a range of options that includes a solid plastic bulkhead and a ply lining. The line-up will also include rear parking sensors and a security grille for the back window, among other items.
The floor is protected by a tailored rubber mat while the wheel boxes are clad with protective plastic shrouds. The sides are partially protected by soft trim panels that look as though they would be more at home in a minibus than a van and need to be swapped for something a bit more sturdy. They were already torn and scuffed in places. On the positive side, the C35 gets a full-length headlining for the load area.
Cab and equipment
Cab access poses no problems despite the forward-control layout, although it is a shame that neither the driver's seat nor the steering column are height-adjustable. The driver's seat is more comfortable than it looks; however, the front wheel arch intrudes into the footwell.
Equipment levels are modest and in line with the competitive price, but at least there’s a driver's airbag plus a radio with a USB socket and remote controls on the steering wheel. Electric windows are fitted but the exterior mirrors have to be adjusted manually.
In-cab storage facilities include pockets in each of the doors, a lidded glove box, three trays on top of the dashboard, a cubbyhole to the right of the steering wheel and a shelf just under the radio. There are also two big cup-holders just in front of the gear stick.
DFSK should give some thought to improving the quality of the plastic in the cab and also address the general fit and finish of everything. The stitching on the trim of the driver's headrest was coming adrift, for example – a minor point, admittedly, but not what you want to see on a new vehicle. Nor are we convinced that the combination of fawn plastic on the A-pillars – each of which boasts a grab handle – and grey plastic everywhere else works well as a colour scheme.
Locking and unlocking the driver's door locks and unlocks all the other doors, so in that sense the C35 features central locking. However, it does not feature a remote button on a key fob. The van also comes with an immobiliser, ABS, electronic stability programme, electronic brakeforce distribution, and front and rear fog lights with a high-level rear brake light.
Married to a five-speed gearbox, the 1.5-litre, VVTi, four-cylinder, Euro6, 16-valve petrol engine pumps out 115hp at a high 6000rpm. Maximum torque output of 147Nm kicks in at 3500rpm.
Balancer shafts are fitted with the aim of minimising vibration.
Chassis and steering
The C35 sits on 14-inch steel wheels that are slightly small for a van of this size. They were shod, in our case, with Chinese Haida Wear HD618 185/80 R14 tyres.
A multi-link independent suspension system is fitted at the front along with disc brakes, while leaf springs and drum brakes are installed at the rear.
While the C35 is slow away from rest and takes its time accelerating through the gears, it can generally hold its own at motorway cruising speeds.
The handling is surprisingly good – the steering has a solid, meaty feel to it with no sense of sloppiness – and its appealing wheel-at-each-corner stance aids the ride. It could stand to be a bit better damped, but is smoother than we expected.
The van feels well-planted on the highway, which gives the driver confidence, and the comparatively small wheels seem to have little or no effect on on-the-road behaviour. Nor did we have any difficulties with the gearbox.
The big problem, however, is the level of in-cab noise. It is way too high – at motorway cruising speeds you cannot hear the radio even if you turn it up to maximum volume – and desperately needs addressing. We’re referring to a combination of engine, wind and road noise – travel at anything much above around-town speeds with a passenger and you will have to shout at each other to be heard.
Saying that, the C35 is probably at its happiest around town because that's where it can play to its strengths. They include a width of 1680mm and a 3050mm wheelbase that makes it both narrow and compact. With a tight 11m wall-to-wall turning circle and minimal front and rear overhangs, the van slots neatly into most urban parking bays – power steering is standard – and with a height of less than 2m it should be able to brave most multi-storey car parks.
Buying and running
That ultra-low front-end price is sure to attract self-employed trades people on a tight budget. If they operate locally and do not do high mileages then the lack of a diesel engine may not be too much of an issue, especially with city authorities becoming increasingly hostile to diesel power; DFSK is not slow to point out that opting for petrol means not having to worry about issues such as the clogging of particulate filters.
The company quotes a combined fuel consumption figure of 37.Xmpg [chk]. We were achieving closer to 33mpg, but our routes included some high-speed running on motorways and dual-carriageways.
Checks on radiator coolant, screen wash and brake-fluid levels can be carried out by lifting a lid – you can't really call it a bonnet, although it looks like one – at the front of the vehicle. To top up the oil or do anything to the engine, however, then you will have to tilt the cab seats. That's easy enough – just so long as you remember to tilt the seat backs forwards before releasing the catches that keep the cushions in place and fold them back. Once you have done so, however, you will discover there are no obviously visible restraining straps to hold the cushions out of the way while you do whatever it is you have got to do.
The C35 seems quite solidly built but could do with side rubbing strips and some protection for the wheel arches to prevent minor scuffs and scratches in an urban environment.
A three-year/60,000-mile warranty is provided with no mileage limit in the first two years. The service interval is set at 12 months/12,000 miles with an interim 6000-mile service recommended if the van is used on frequent short journeys.
|DFSK C35 Van|
|Price (ex VAT) – £10,995|
|Price range (ex VAT) – £10,995-£12,495|
|Gross payload – 756kg|
|Load length – 2630mm|
|Load width – (min/max) 1140mm/1480mm|
|Load bay height – 1290mm|
|Load volume – 5.0m3|
|Loading height – 736mm|
|Rear door aperture – 1260x1130mm|
|Side door aperture – 790x1200mm|
|Gross vehicle weight – 2145kg|
|Braked trailer towing weight – 1000kg*|
|Residual value – tba|
|Cost per mile – tba|
|Engine size/power – 1499cc, 115hp @ 6000rpm|
|Torque – 147Nm @ 3500rpm|
|Gearbox – 5-spd|
|Fuel economy – 37.??mpg (combined)|
|Fuel tank – 55 litres|
|CO2 – 187g/km|
|Warranty – 3yrs/60,000mls|
|Service intervals – 1yr/12,000mls|
|Insurance group – 5E*|
|Price as tested – £10,995|
Competitively priced, but a number of changes need to be made in order to turn the van into a fully fledged working tool.