The What Van? Road Test: Vauxhall Vivaro Ecoflex
Monday, November 28, 2011
Despite all the expansive talk about hybrids, battery power and biomethane, it is a safe bet that the vast majority of light commercials sold in the UK over the next few years will be powered by diesel engines. Making those vehicles run more efficiently will make a bigger contribution to cutting fuel bills and CO2 emissions than will the comparatively small percentage of vans using alternative sources of power likely to be in service.
In a bid to play their part, a number of manufacturers have added so-called eco vans – diesels designed and specified with optimum economy in mind – to their line-ups.
Vauxhall offers an Ecoflex version of every model in its LCV range and is making two short-wheelbase standard-roof 2.0-litre CDTi Vivaros – one at 90hp and one at 115hp – available with Ecoflex badges. CO2 output is 185g/km, around 5% less than the standard model.
What Vauxhall has not done is fit a fancy aerodynamic kit, drastically alter the gearing, or specify ultra low-rolling resistance tyres. Instead, it has taken the simple – and in many respects sensible – step of installing a speed limiter on the production line programmed to a maximum 62mph. Cut your speed and you burn less fuel and cause less pollution: but while it’s good news for your bank balance, it can be bad news so far as driving enjoyment is concerned.
The Ecoflex Vivaro we sampled was a 2900 – the number gives you a rough indication of the gross weight in kg and a 2700 is available too – with the 115hp engine and a gross payload capacity of 1254kg.
Breaking new ground in light commercial styling terms when it first debuted more than a decade ago, the Vivaro has aged far better than some critics expected it to when it was originally launched. Changes have been made over the years both under the metal and above it, but the basic Vivaro shape remains the same.
However, the cab interior is now in desperate need of a complete redesign, and while some modifications were made last year, they did not go far enough.
Changes that need to occur include the standard provision of a full-width shelf above the windscreen – it’s found solely on the high-roof model – and extra bins in both the doors. In each case the bin provided is roomy and features a moulding to accommodate a flask or a large bottle of water, but it needs to be supplemented by additional compartments.
There is, however, a deep, lidded, glove box with a shelf above and below it, a shelf on top of the centre of the dashboard, cup holders and small shelves at each extremity of the fascia and a barely visible shelf beneath the steering column. If you do not specify a satellite navigation system then you will be able to use the handy cubby hole the satnav would otherwise occupy.
A hook on the fascia gives you somewhere to hang a Friday night bag of takeaway curry and there is space under the dual passenger seat for a muddy anorak and wellies.
In another indication of the way in which the cabin is starting to age, the unnecessarily large moulding on the front of the fascia from which the gear stick emerges seriously impedes cross-cab movement. A more modern design would doubtless flatten it out.
The driver’s seat and the steering wheel are both height- adjustable – for £50 the former can be fitted with a fold-down armrest plus lumbar adjustment – and vision down the van’s flanks
is aided by large electrically adjustable and heated rear view mirrors. Supplemented by a lower, fixed, wide-angle section they form part of an optional vision pack that also includes electric windows
and various other extras and costs £455 (all prices quoted here exclude VAT).
Access to the 5.3cu/m cargo bay is by means of a sliding nearside door and two opaque rear doors that can be swung through 90°, or through 165° if you release the easy-to-unlatch door stays.
There is no shortage of load tie-down points. There are two at the base of the full-height steel bulkhead, one next to each of the wheel boxes and opposite each other, one either side of the back door, and two set into the cargo floor itself, making eight in all.
There is, though, a shortage of protection against minor dents and scrapes. A tailored anti-slip timber cover shields the cargo bed for an extra £335 and half-height panels give the doors some defence against damage. If you want better shielding then you will have to invest in a lining kit.
Two roof-mounted lights are provided and the load area is easy to enter and exit thanks to the low floor height created by front-wheel drive. The step just inside the side door is probably unnecessary, but welcome nevertheless, and it’s anti-slip too.
Maximum load area length is 2415mm. Maximum width is 1663mm narrowing to 1268mm between the wheel boxes while maximum height is 1387mm. Rear loading height is 549mm.
The side door aperture is 1285mm high and 1000mm wide while the dimensions for the rear door aperture are 1320mm and 1390mm respectively.
The 2.0-litre’s maximum power output kicks in at 3500rpm while top torque of 290Nm makes its presence felt at 1600rpm.
Equipped with a fixed-geometry turbocharger and an intercooler, the four-cylinder 16-valve common rail engine meets the Euro4 emission standard – a Euro5 replacement is coming soon – and is married to a six-speed manual gearbox. The Vivaro is also marketed with a Tecshift semi-automatic gearbox that is not offered on Ecoflex models.
If you want a bit more power than either of the 2.0-litres is capable of generating then it is worth noting that the Vivaro is also marketed with a 146hp 2.5-litre CDTi diesel. It is not, though, available in Ecoflex guise.
Chassis and steering
The front suspension uses independent wishbones with MacPherson struts plus an isolated sub-frame to reduce vibration. Semi-independent suspension is deployed at the back complete with progressive-rate mini-bloc coil springs with rubber bump stops.
Complete with fetching plastic wheel trims, our test van’s 16-inch steel wheels were shod with 205/65 R16C Continental Vanco 2 tyres.
Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is fitted with 3.3 turns lock-to-lock. It offers an 11.8m kerb-to-kerb turning circle increasing to 12.4m wall-to-wall.
A slick glitch-free gear change plus surprisingly sharp handling with plenty of feedback through the steering are among the
Vivaro’s virtues. Acceleration is brisk, but only until you hit that 62mph barrier.
As mentioned earlier, there is no denying that speed limiters are good for your wallet, and good for the environment too. They can, however, mean driving misery if you spend a lot of time on motorways and dual carriageways.
Restricted to 62mph, you soon get to feel resentful as smug sales reps in their Vauxhall Insignias leave you in their wake. It takes longer to get from point A to
point B, your ability to overtake is compromised and there is less chance of accelerating out of trouble. And lower CO2 emissions suddenly become less important when you’re racing to complete
an urgently needed delivery and cannot make full use of the van’s performance.
The Vivaro’s unladen ride can be skittish – things improve with some weight in the back – and the Vauxhall has fallen some way behind more modern rivals so far as noise, vibration and harshness are concerned. There is more engine, road and wind noise than is acceptable these days.
Build quality, meanwhile, is good overall, although one or two of the shut lines could stand to be a little tighter.
Aside from the aforementioned optional electric pack and the safety equipment detailed below, the Vivaro we tested was equipped with an MP3-compatible radio/CD player with an aux-in socket and steering column-mounted remote controls. There was a 12V power socket on the dashboard, the bulkhead sported two coat hooks, and air-conditioning was provided for an additional £630.
Our demonstrator boasted a £55 Solar Reflect heat-reflecting windscreen to help make the aircon more effective, while the vision pack referred to earlier also embraces rain-sensitive windscreen wipers plus automatic lighting control.
The forthcoming Euro5 Vivaro will have more equipment than the current model, with a diesel particulate filter and a light on the dashboard to tell the driver when to change gear for optimum fuel economy. The Ecoflex version will additionally feature low rolling-resistance tyres, an aerodynamic kit and a wide-ratio gearbox, with the speed-limiter listed as an option.
Buying and running
With oil change intervals set at 12 months/20,000 miles, the Vivaro Ecoflex is fitted with a long-lasting stainless steel exhaust and is covered by a three-year/100,000-mile
warranty with no mileage limit in the first year. Roadside assistance is provided for the first 12 months and the vehicle is additionally protected by a six-year body panel anti-perforation corrosion warranty.
The official combined fuel consumption figure is 40.9mpg, up from the standard model’s 38.7mpg – not a vast improvement, but still worth having. However, at 42mpg, we achieved a slightly better figure when road-testing the vehicle.
The Vivaro is well put-together overall, with few squeaks and rattles. Side rubbing strips protect it from minor damage.
ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Emergency Brake Assist comes as standard, but Electronic Stability Programme does not. That is an omission that Vauxhall will have to rectify when the Vivaro’s successor arrives in 2013.
Disc brakes are fitted all round, ventilated with a diameter of 305mm at the front and solid with a diameter of 280mm at the back.
A driver’s airbag is included in the deal and our demonstrator was equipped with reversing sensors for an additional £265. They sound a warning if you venture too close to an obstacle when backing up.
Part of the vision pack, front fog lights make you just that bit safer when heading out on to the highway in murky weather.
You hit a button on the dashboard to lock all the doors, while remote central locking allows you to lock and unlock the cab and load area separately when specifying the vision pack.
The Vivaro remains a competitive package with a number of advantages.
“If Batman drove a van it would look a bit like this.” Those were the words of a Vauxhall spin doctor on the eve of the Vivaro’s launch a decade or so ago – and at the time we thought he wasn’t far wrong.
The medium van certainly marked a radical departure in styling terms for Vauxhall light commercial vehicles.
Updated in 2006, the Vivaro received a modest makeover last year.
The vehicle is one of the fruits of a long-standing joint venture between General Motors, Vauxhall’s parent company, and Renault and is also sold by the French manufacturer as the Trafic and by Japanese maker Nissan as the Primastar.