The Ford Transit Courier is the dominant presence in a sector of the market that is, unusually, becoming less competitive. The main reason for this, of course, is Ford’s decision to stop making the Courier’s stablemate: the car-derived Fiesta Van.

It is testament to the manufacturer’s faith in the Courier, a purpose-built cube van, that it felt able to withdraw from producing the UK’s best-selling small van.

Another factor contributing to the Courier’s growing influence is the decision of the PSA brands Peugeot and Citroen to phase out their respective Bipper and Nemo small vans. Both are based on the Fiat Professional Fiorino, which now stands as the Courier’s only like-for-like rival – notwithstanding Vauxhall’s car-derived Corsavan, the Fiesta Van’s erstwhile arch rival.

We were so impressed by the Courier when it arrived in 2014 to complete Ford’s renewal of its LCV product line-up that we crowned it Van of the Year in 2015.

The Courier offers a more practical load-carrying proposition than the Fiesta Van with a 660kg payload and load space of 2.3m3 compared with the Fiesta Van’s 508kg and 1.0m3 capacities.

It was when it came to lively driving characteristics and sporty styling, however, that the Courier was perceived to lose out compared to its sibling and this helped to keep the genuinely car-like model ahead in the sales chart. In 2016 Ford sold 4,076 Fiesta Vans next to 3,050 Couriers.

So, in May 2017 Ford introduced the Transit Courier Sport Van to reach out to operators looking to stand out from the crowd and to make the point that the Courier, too, is a nippy and fun vehicle to drive.

The Sport Van looks the part with twin body-contrast stripes and black, painted, power, heated door mirrors. Like the rest of the line-up it is available with the choice of two excellent powertrains: the 100hp 1.0-litre Ecoboost petrol, which is likely to become ever more popular in these anti-diesel days, and the 1.5-litre TDCi.

Sport Van prices kick off from £13,845 (all prices here exclude VAT) while the Courier range overall is priced from £11,945.

Specification levels are decent from the bottom up. The Base model gets features such as a full-size spare wheel, rake- and reach -adjustable steering, DAB radio (always welcome in this parish) with Bluetooth and USB, and, reassuringly, from a safety perspective, a full-size bulkhead to protect the cab occupants from loose objects flying through from the load bay in the event of sudden braking.

Move on up to Trend and you get a nearside loading door, front fog lights, automatic headlights, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, underseat stowage and an overhead shelf.

There’s also a more sophisticated infotainment system with Ford Sync, a 3.5-inch dotmatrix display and iPod functionality; leather trimming on the steering wheel and gearstick knob; a fuel-consumption display; lockable glove box; and a 12V socket in the cargo area.

The Sport edition then adds 16-inch alloys, body-coloured front and rear bumpers and bodyside mouldings, front and rear skid plates, and Sport rocker panels.

The interior is replete with manual air-conditioning, red stitching on the leather-trimmed steering wheel, patterned seat inserts with leather touches and an illuminated glove box.

All this gives the Sport a racier feel, and top-notch handling makes it a worthy inheritor of the Fiesta Van’s reputation for driveability.

Highly Commended: Fiat Professional Fiorino

Having to settle for the runner-up spot this year is the 2017 Small Van of the Year, the Fiat Professional Fiorino.

This excellent little urban runaround can be credited with creating the compact cubed van shape that, despite seeming to make sense as a rational choice for city-based operators, has failed to catch on as expected.

Nevertheless, the Fiorino, which was refreshed a couple of years ago, is a practical package with a payload of 660kg and load volumes of 2.5m3 to 2.8m3 if you fold down the passenger seat. Power comes from Fiat’s highly rated 1.3-litre Multijet 11 diesel with either 80hp or 95hp. A 77hp 1.4-litre petrol engine is also offered.