The Renault Kangoo made such a leap in quality and load-carrying capability compared with its predecessor when it broke cover in 2021 that it scooped the What Van? Compact Van of the Year Award for 2022 – a feat that it repeated in 2023.

The Kangoo has now won the prize for a third successive year, but this time it is joined on the podium by the compact vans that share its platform, the Mercedes-Benz Citan and the Nissan Townstar.

While the Citan is a long-term partner of the Kangoo, having started life as a product built on the previous generation’s platform, the Nissan model only arrived on the scene in Q3 2022 as a replacement for the manufacturer’s former light vans the NV200 and e-NV200. It is available in petrol and electric guises, with the latter taking pride of place on Nissan’s stand at the 2023 Commercial Vehicle Show.

The petrol version comes with a 1.3-litre, 130hp engine, and the Townstar Electric with a 122hp motor and a 45kWh battery, allowing a range of up to 183 miles on the WLTP combined cycle. Four trim levels are up for grabs: Visia, Acenta, Tekna, and Tekna+.

Nissa says the Townstar’s styling was inspired by the company’s new Ariya electric car.

A short-wheelbase derivative launched first and was followed by a long-wheelbase van. With a vehicle length of 4,910mm, the L2 features a 4.3m3 load bay capacity – a 1.0m3 increase on the L1 – and features a wider side door at 831mm, allowing a Europallet to be loaded. Payload of the L2 is up to 800kg, compared with 600kg for the L1, and there’s a 1,500kg towing capacity.

Mercedes-Benz brought its ICE Citan to market before the battery-electric model and is taking a different approach to Nissan, eschewing petrol and plumping for diesel instead – a more traditional fuel for light commercial vehicles. 

The Citan arrived at the start of the year in L1, panel van spec. L2, crew van and electric variants followed later. 

Diesel models feature a 1.5-litre, 95hp engine, with WLTP combined fuel economy of 54.3mpg. There’s a choice of six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmission. The range includes two trim levels – Progressive and Premium. With the L1 bodystyle, there is a load length of 1,806mm and a payload capability of 667kg with the Progressive trim, and 666kg with Premium. Both are rated to tow trailers up to a maximum gross train weight of 3,500kg, another significant distinction from the Nissan Townstar.

Standard equipment with Progressive spec includes a 7in touchscreen with Apple Carplay and Android Auto connectivity, ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice control, heated and electrically adjustable side mirrors, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, driver attention alert and hill start assist.

Renault upgraded the spec levels on its Kangoo in the second half of 2023 with a focus on safety, adding active emergency braking, lane departure warning, driver attention alert and tyre pressure monitoring as standard. On top of this, vans specified with the Extra trim level now feature a hands-free key card and automatic high beam assist as further standard equipment.

Highly Commended: Toyota Corolla Commercial

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Toyota once again takes the runners up spot with its car-derived van, developed and built at its UK plant in Burnaston, Derbyshire.

Being based on the Corolla Sports passenger car, the Commercial variant is, not surprisingly, excellent to drive. A self-charging petrol-electric hybrid, the Corolla Commercial is impressively frugal and rides and handles well.

There is plenty of performance on tap if you opt for the Sport driving mode, but you won’t be a slowcoach if you remain in Normal mode. The Eco mode is fine, too, if you are not in a hurry, and lightly laden. The cabin provides a comfortable working environment with plenty of kit and you don’t have to rely on the touchscreen to operate everything, which is a plus point. With a load volume of 1.3m3 and a payload of 425kg, the Corolla Commercial is attracting plenty of interest from customers whose main priority is not lugging big, heavy loads. Electrical services company Barlows, for example, has added 22 Toyota Corolla Commercial vans to its fleet, while SFS Fire Engineering has taken on six Toyota Corolla Commercial vans that are used by the fire protection company’s team of engineers when installing and maintaining equipment.