The Truth About Cars » cargo http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sat, 13 Dec 2014 16:45:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » cargo http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Review: 2014 RAM ProMaster Cargo Van (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2014-ram-promaster-cargo-van-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2014-ram-promaster-cargo-van-with-video/#comments Tue, 01 Oct 2013 16:00:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=524961 I have driven more cars than I can count this year but strangely enough, none of them excited me as much as the Fiat Ducato we had in July. Why? Well, my snazzy new retaining wall that arrived pallet-by-pallet in the Ducato certainly helped, but the real reason is: the Ducato serves as the basis for […]

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2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I have driven more cars than I can count this year but strangely enough, none of them excited me as much as the Fiat Ducato we had in July. Why? Well, my snazzy new retaining wall that arrived pallet-by-pallet in the Ducato certainly helped, but the real reason is: the Ducato serves as the basis for the 2014 RAM ProMaster. Yes, I know I have an odd place in my heart for commercial cargo haulers, but hear me out. The ProMaster quite simply the biggest thing to happen in the commercial world in my lifetime. The only thing that could have surpassed the intrigue of a front-wheel-drive cargo hauler would be a front-wheel-drive BMW M5. I know Europeans have had these things for a while, but let’s revel in the American novelty as we click past the jump.

Click here to view the embedded video.

First things first. The ProMaster isn’t a Ducato with a RAM stuck on the front. Instead, Fiat and Chrysler decided to do their most interesting joint venture project thus far: refresh/re-design the Ducato with the North American market in mind. Why bother? Because major changes needed to be made to meet US legislation so the team took the opportunity to tweak just about everything. If you’re a Ducato fan, keep reading because I suspect that many of the American market changes will trickle back to the EU over time.

Exterior

With cargo haulers, it’s important that form follow function. The “box-on-wheels” is eminently practical. Because of this not much has changed externally from the Euro version and shoppers still have three body choices: a cargo van with or without windows, a chassis cab or a cutaway. Up front we still have the utilitarian dark grey bumper covers in a three-piece arrangement. The logic is that if you’re in a minor scuff-up, you can replace just the portion of the bumper you need to instead of the whole thing. Since they are all the same color regardless of the color of the van, parts costs are kept low and you can afford to have one or two in inventory.

Breaking from American tradition, the rear bumper is thin and shallow. While this makes me wonder what kind of body damage happens when the van gets hit in the rear, it makes forklift loading easier and keeps the van’s dimensions down. When it comes to dimensions, the ProMaster breaks from the mold. Rather than having an identical bodies in 1500, 2500 and 3500 versions, RAM’s “levels” dictate  which of the four bodies, three wheelbases and two roof heights you get. The 1500 is the only version available with a low roof in two different lengths. The 2500 and 3500 are high roof only and all that really changes is the wheelbase and body length. The shortest ProMaster is 29 inches shorter (body length) than a GM standard van while the longest is 26 inches longer than GM’s largest van. Regardless of body, you get 16-inch wheels wrapped in 225/75R16 rubber. The small tires and wheels are a result of the Euro roots and the contrast between the small wheels and enormous body make the ProMaster look a little like a pregnant roller skate.

2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Cargo Hauling

The slab sides mean we get a large square rear opening almost as large as the van’s cross-section. This is significant change from GM and Ford’s existing vans where the rear portal is notably smaller than the cargo area. At 62 inches wide and 60 inches tall, the rear opening in the low-roof ProMaster is 5-inches wider and 13-inches taller than a GM/Ford van. Similar to Mercedes’ Sprinter, the ProMaster’s side doors swing 260 degrees and latch nearly parallel to the side of the van. The ProMaster’s sliding door rolls on an external stainless track for easy maintenance and thanks to the 49-inch wide, 60-inch tall (low roof) opening it reveals, you can insert one pallet in the side and one in the rear, something you can’t do in an E-Series or Savana. You can add a driver’s side sliding door for a reasonable $575 or $650 with glass, but if you prefer the side “barn doors” in your cargo hauler, look elsewhere. The RAM is sliding only.

Once you get beyond the unorthodox looks, you begin to realize how enormous the ProMaster is. At 283 cubic feet, smallest ProMaster (1500 short wheelbase) swallows one cubic foot less than GM’s biggest factory van. Need more? RAM’s positively ginormous ProMaster 3500 will haul 530 cubes, nearly twice the capacity of GM and Ford’s largest factory option. In fact when you look at the numbers, the ProMaster 3500 extended body extended wheelbase will schlep more than the average 12-foot box truck and nearly as much as the elusive 14-foot box truck.

A unique offering (so far) in the ProMaster is the factory installation of a steel bulkhead between the cargo and passenger compartment. GM and Ford offer a few dealer installed options but the total cost is higher than the ProMaster’s reasonable $495 for the partition with a window (about a hundred bucks less if you don’t want to look behind you.) Adding the partition not only improves safety but because of the factory fit and seal, it reduces cabin noise and improves air-conditioning performance. (An important consideration when you operate a black fleet in Phoenix.) 2014 Ram ProMaster 3.6 liter chassis with Pentastar V-6

Construction & Payload

Cargo volume without payload capacity is useless, and this is where the ProMaster’s Euro roots become obvious. The RAM doesn’t follow the American convention when it comes to payload scales. Not only can the 1500 haul as many widgets as an extended Ford or GM van, the payload capacity is just 111 lower than GM’s sturdiest cargo hauler and a full ton more than a Ford or GM 1500 series van. Scaling up to the 3500, payload increases to 5,290lbs. That is nearly 900lbs more than the highest payload Ford or GM. As a result it is more realistic to compare the base ProMaster to the GM 2500 series extended vans in terms of capability. Logically the ProMaster is also priced in this fashion starting about the same as that 2500 extended van.

How can a front wheel drive unibody cargo van haul that much stuff? Easy. It’s not really a unibody. Unibody haters can put down their pitchforks, the ProMaster is a hybrid, which explains how they can slice those enormous doors into the side of the van without it collapsing like a house of cards. Essentially bonded to the vehicle’s floor, is a heavy-duty rail system that stretches from bumper to bumper. For the US market this frame has been beefed up for higher payloads and rougher roads. You can see the FWD benefit in the picture above: by using a FWD drivetrain, the load floor doesn’t have to sit on-top of the transmission, driveshaft or differential allowing it to hug the ground. At 21 inches the ProMaster’s load floor is 7-inches lower than the closest competitor and even the forthcoming Ford T-Series won’t improve on this much because of the RWD layout.

2014 RAM ProMaster Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

American cargo vans have never been known for modernity, creature comforts or leg room. The ProMaster, like the Nissan NV breaks the mold but the two vans do it in different ways. The Nissan puts the engine under a long hood while the ProMaster’s mill is transverse mounted freeing up leg room. The difference is night and day and my right leg remained un-cooked even after a 2 hour drive.  The first thing you’ll notice about the interior is how utilitarian it is. Easy to clean plastics span the interior (read: hard plastic), there’s a clip board integrated into the dash and instead of carpet you get a hard plastic floor with some textured grips. The second thing you’ll notice is how high off the ground you are. The passenger floor is 6-7 inches higher than the cargo load floor because everything that the ProMaster needs to move is located in front of or beneath the passenger compartment. This has two benefits, it allows the load floor to be lower to the ground and it also makes chassis cab and cut-away up-fitting easier. There are two access panels in the floor, one allows access to the battery (it’s the large one you can see in the picture above) and the other allows access to the fuel sending unit. Anyone who has a fleet of GM vans will tell you that replacing a fuel pump is a royal pain because you have to drain and drop the tank to get to it. In the ProMaster you just pop the cover off and have at it.

Chrysler decided to upgrade the headrests to a car-like fabric design instead of the rubbery Euro versions but the rest of the seat design is the same. This means we have a spring-loaded driver’s seat that adjusts for height, tilt, recline and fore/aft. Sadly the steering wheel is not as adjustable as it telescopes but does not tilt. In an interesting twist, the three-across seating option has made it across the pond for a very reasonable $225. This isn’t a bench seat, it’s a two-person seat that replaces the single passenger seat so the driver retains the more comfortable throne. While I think the Nissan NV’s thickly padded seats are the most comfortable commercial seats ever designed, the ProMaster takes an easy second place. If you want a splash of luxury, you can heat the seats for $170 a pop, adjustable lumbar support for $50, and a leather wrapped tiller for $145. If you hate your employees, vinyl seats can be had for $100.

 

2014 RAM ProMaster Interior, uConnect 5, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

In Europe the Ducato doesn’t get much techno-love, but we Americans are a different lot so we get Chrysler’s 5-inch uConnect system as an option. While not radical by itself, the fact that there is the option of a well-integrated touchscreen navigation and entertainment system available in a commercial cargo van is practically earth shattering. The closest this segment comes is the Nissan NV which can be had with the Nissan Versa’s “Low Cost Navigation System” for $795, but only on certain models. The ProMaster on the other hand is very “ala carte” allowing you to add just the $395 touchscreen system with a CD player, XM radio, iPod/USB integration and voice commands, or option all the way up to the navigation software for an additional $395.

The 5-inch uConnect system is the result of the Fiat/Chrysler/Microsoft relationship and while the software looks like the larger uConnect 8.4 system, it’s entirely different under the hood. Sadly the system isn’t as responsive ad uConnect 6.5 or 8.4 but it gets the job done better than most systems. Voice commands are logical and the system had no troubles with my music library commands. Sound quality was nothing to write home about, it is a commercial vehicle after all, but it won’t bring you to tears either. In preparation for any impending legislation, the ProMaster can be equipped with a backup cam for $230 and parking sensors for $250.

 

 

 

2014 Ram ProMaster 3.6 liter Pentastar V-6

Drivetrain

The looks, front wheel drive layout and hybrid unibody aren’t the only things that set this van apart. The engines ans transmissions are unique to cargo vans as well. First off, there is no V8. Things start out with Chrysler’s 3.6L V6 engine in every body style. Yes, even that enormous 3500 with 5,291lb in the back and a 5,100lb trailer attached. Sending the 280 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque to the ground is a Chrysler 68TE six-speed automatic transaxle. This compact slushbox is the same transmission found in the Chrysler minivans except they swap in a much lower final gear ratio for ProMaster duty along with seriously upgraded cooling hardware.

For $4,000 you can toss in an Iveco/Fiat 3.0L four-cylinder turbo diesel. Before you laugh, this is the same engine found in certain medium duty Mitsubishi Fuso trucks, so it’s a solid heavy-duty contender. The oil burner cranks out 180 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, about the same amount of torque you get from GM’s 4.8L V8. This engine is mated to Fiat’s M40 transmission which is a 6-speed robotized manual transmission. Chrysler tell us that they have heavily revised the shift logic and control systems for the American market and as a result this will be a late availability option hitting around January of 2014. If you recall my review of the Ducato, my biggest complaint about the diesel drivetrain was the time it took to complete a 1-2 shift. Chrysler promises this has been corrected and they have also altered the torque pattern for American tastes.

The diesel has a few advantages over the gasoline V6. Oil change intervals stretch out to 18,000 miles, low-end torque is improved, first gear is lower (19:1 including final drive) to help you get off the line with heavy loads and the fuel economy is excellent (based on our Ducato experiences). Oddly enough, that M40 transmission is also a selling point. Because it doesn’t have a torque converter the fluid change intervals are lengthy and the cooling demands are reduced. Fiat tells us the single plate clutch kit for the Ducato is about $150 in Europe and I expect the parts to be about the same price on our shores. How easy is it to replace? That’s the wild card as I haven’t seen a repair manual yet.

2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Thanks to the new low final drive, the RAM is surprisingly quick off the line. The V6 model we tested scooted to 6o in 9.05 seconds, notably faster than the diesel Ducato we tested before. We didn’t get the opportunity to load the ProMaster as fully as the Ducato, but I expect the diesel to be the better hauler when full thanks to the better torque numbers.

Although not normally a consideration with a cargo van, the ProMaster delivers the most civilized ride in this segment. It’s also the easiest to parallel park thanks to an incredibly small 36.3-foot turning diameter in the short wheelbase model, smaller than many mid-size sedans. Even the long wheelbase, long body ProMaster 3500 impresses at 46.8. I know that sounds enormous, but in perspective, a long wheelbase Express needs a whopping 54.6 feet to do the same while carrying 50% less stuff. That’s the difference between accomplishing a U-turn or being the dude blocking all lanes of traffic while sea-sawing a multi-point turn.

Chrysler spent a decent amount of time lauding the Brembo front brakes which they claim gives the ProMaster the best fade resistance in the segment. Admittedly that’s a low bar to jump, but our informal tests around Malibu seemed to bear the claim out. One thing to note however is that with only 225 width rubber making contact with the ground, stopping times are no better than the competition.

2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-008

Will the ProMaster be a success? I think it’s too early to tell. Fleet buyers are notoriously loyal to specific models because they have so much invested in uniformity. This alone accounts for the Ford E-Series sales leadership, despite being the thirstiest, oldest, and least desirable cargo van going. The largest unknown in the mix is: how reliable will the ProMaster be? Durability and total cost of ownership are extremely important in this segment and that’s an open-ended question. How will the 62TE stand up to a GVWR of 10,000lbs? Will it be as good as GM’s new 6L80 transmission they are finally putting in their vans? Rebuilt units are comparable in pricing so it will all come down to longevity. Chrysler is putting their 5 year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty on the ProMaster to help entice shoppers. The combination of that small diesel and a long powertrain warranty to calm customer nerves could make a difference. However, if you option the ProMaster up with the diesel and a few options and you’re in Mercedes Sprinter territory and that is a dangerous place to be with the new Sprinter’s 7-speed auto and smooth diesel engine. Chrysler fights back with lower cost of service and ownership claims and a longer warranty.

The ProMaster is a compelling alternative to the Ford and GM 3/4 ton and 1 ton vans. delivering higher payloads and greater cargo capacity with low load floors, a more maneuverable chassis, a small diesel and excellent fuel economy. However, GM’s aggressive pricing and insane fleet purchase rebate program mean the less capable Chevy Express 1500 will likely be $2,000 (or more) cheaper than the least expensive ProMaster. Will the ProMaster’s ergonomic selling points and Euro charm win over commercial America? Or will the forthcoming rear-wheel-drive Ford T-Series (American Transit) win America’s hearts with its 5-cylinder diesel and twin-turbo V6? Stay Tuned.

 

Chrysler provided the vehicle for our testing at a launch event in Southern California. The flight and meals were on Chrysler.

2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-002 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-003 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-004 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-005 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-008 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-009 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-012 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-013 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-014 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-015 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-016 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-017 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-018 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-020 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-021 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-032 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-033 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-041 2014 RAM ProMaster Gauges 2014 RAM ProMaster Interior 2014 RAM ProMaster Interior-001 2014 RAM ProMaster Interior-002 2014 RAM ProMaster Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 RAM ProMaster Interior-004 2014 RAM ProMaster Interior, uConnect 5, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 RAM ProMaster Interior-006 2014 RAM ProMaster Interior-007 2014 RAM ProMaster Interior-008

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Commercial Week Day Five Review: 2012 Toyota Prius v – Take Two http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/commercial-week-day-five-review-2012-toyota-prius-v-take-two/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/commercial-week-day-five-review-2012-toyota-prius-v-take-two/#comments Fri, 20 Apr 2012 19:56:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=436670 It’s the end of our commercial week and there’s a hybrid staring you down. No, the Prius v isn’t really a commercial vehicle, but there is a good reason it’s jammed in to this week of cargo haulers: 44 miles per gallon around town. Our own Michael Karesh snagged considerable seat time at a launch […]

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It’s the end of our commercial week and there’s a hybrid staring you down. No, the Prius v isn’t really a commercial vehicle, but there is a good reason it’s jammed in to this week of cargo haulers: 44 miles per gallon around town. Our own Michael Karesh snagged considerable seat time at a launch event last June, but pricing hadn’t been released at that time. So how much does it cost and what’s it like to live with for a week? And most importantly, is it any good at hauling cargo instead of kids?

Click here to view the embedded video.

When you think about it, using a station wagon as a cargo hauler isn’t that crazy of an idea. Although it is considerably shorter than a full-size van, exterior dimensions are actually in the Prius v’s favor. At 182 inches long, it is two inches longer than Ford’s Transit Connect, and the stubby hood means more interior room. Aesthetically the Prius v looks like a Prius that’s been eating too may doughnuts. Despite the broader proportions, the shape is undeniably Prius and even with a full-body vinyl wrap, the shape will lend some green-cred to your business venture.

The Prius v borrows from the Prius family parts bin and style wardrobe, but because of the increased size of the vehicle inside and out little is directly shared with the liftback save for the steering wheel and switch gear. The v ditches the Prius’ funky “bridge” center console for a more traditional shape and shares its infotainment options with both the Prius c and the Prius liftback. The differences are greater in the rear where the reclining rear seats also move fore/aft to increase the cargo area at the expense of rear seat leg room (a handy trick for IKEA runs.)

The Prius v is offered in three different trims, the base Prius v Two comes with standard bluetooth phone and USB/iPod integration, a backup camera, keyless entry on the driver’s door, keyless go and a 6.1-inch touchscreen radio. The “Three” model adds the basic voice command navigation system with the same 6.1-inch screen, and entune data services like traffic, weather, fuel prices etc for $765. The top end “Five” trim (no, I have no idea what happened to One and Four) adds pleather seating, keyless entry, LED headlamps, foglamps, and some snazzier 17-inch wheels with slightly wider rubber for $2,825 more than the “Three”.  The Five also allows you to option your ride up to the hilt with optional radar cruise control,  JBL sound system and the premium 7-inch navigation system which is shared with most large Toyota and Lexus products. It’s also the only way to get a moonroof in your Prius wagon. The only way to get the moonroof in the Five is to add the “Advanced Technology Package.” Ouch.

With a hair more cargo capacity than a Ford Escape Hybrid, cargo is clearly the v’s raison d’être, providing 67.3 cubic feet with the rear seats folded and 34.3 with them in place. Of course, those numbers pale in comparison to the 130 cubic widgets the Transit Connect will haul, however, Toyota tells us that removing the front and rear passenger seats is a cinch and will convert the v into a 105 cubic foot hauler. For long cargo that’s not too tall. The resulting oddly-sized space is about 25 cubes smaller than the Transit Connect, and payload only increases to around 1,100-1,200lbs with these modifications compared to the 1,600lb payload in the Transit Connect. Before you dismiss the exercise as frivolous, the pay off is quite literally twice the city fuel economy and a 50% increase in highway fuel economy. Based on our tests with 1,000lbs of “human cargo” in each vehicle, the Prius realistically delivers a 60% increase in economy vs the Transit Connect’s 25MPG actual highway numbers. (TTAC tested.)

The Prius v may not have the tall-cargo ability of the Connect, but it beats it handily when it comes to loading long items. We were able to easily load 10-foot items on the right side of the vehicle, and 11-foot items will fit from the front passenger footwell to the rear hatch at a slight angle. The Connect tops out at 10.5 feet with cargo propped up on the dash. As many have observed, the Prius v lacks a forward-folding front passenger seat, so people buying the v for family use won’t be able to utilize this extra space. Hopefully Toyota will correct that in future versions. Toyota’s fleet sales offices indicate there is considerable interest from commercial customers for the v, specifically as taxis or delivery vehicles. The commercial customer was tired of feeding 15MPG full-sized vans based on their “peak”  cargo capacity needs and after an evaluation of their “average” has decided to purchase a small test fleet of Prius v moels for pick-up and delivery duties.

Powering the v is the same 98HP, 105lb-ft 1.8L four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine found in the Prius liftback, sending power to the front wheels via a lightly revised Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive system which bumps the power up to the same combined 134HP and around 150-160ft-lbs of torque as the Prius liftback. (Toyota does not list an official combined torque figure for their HSD systems.) While the majority of the HSD internals are shared with the liftback, Toyota added water cooling jackets to the motor/generator and shortened the final drive ratio from 3.26 to 3.7 to compensate for the added weight and improve  performance when loaded with cargo. Acceleration is as leisurely as you would expect when 134 horses are asked to move 3,274lbs of Prius and one 180lb driver, with the Prius v hitting 60 in 9.34 seconds. Compared to the Transit Connect however, the Prius v manages to be faster whether empty or loaded with 5 adult passengers, thanks mostly to the electric CVT.

The Prius v has a fairly soft suspension and a fairly long 109.4-inch wheelbase which give the v a smooth ride that is very similar to the Camry hybrid. When the going gets twisty the Prius v’s suspension does an admirable job of keeping the pregnant Prius planted, but the low rolling resistance tires ultimately limit adhesion. While the Prius v scores about as well as many entry-level mid-sized sedans on the skidpad it is much more stable than any of the cargo haulers we have looked into this week and provides more standard safety features to boot. While the NHTSA has yet to test the Prius v for a government star rating, Toyota expects it to receive 5 stars and they are likely right as it earned a Top Safety Pick award on the more stringent IIHS tests. The Transit Connect on the other hand, ranked a lowly two stars overall because of its poor performance in front and side impacts despite being equipped with standard side airbags.

With a starting price of $26,400, the Prius v is $2,400 more than the Prius liftback and $500 more than the 200HP Camry hybrid. Placed up against that competition, the v seems outmatched by the Camry’s performance and the Prius liftback’s 7/8MPG better fuel economy. The v then should appeal to shoppers who wish that really just want a hybrid Camry wagon since dimensionally, the v is about the same size.

On the cargo front the Prius v becomes a more attractive proposition. With a solid 42MPG combined EPA score and our 805 mile average of 43.1MPG, the Prius v literally uses half the gasoline in our testing cycle as the Transit Connect. Equipping the Connect with rear windows and a backup cam (standard on the Prius v) brings the price of the baby Ford to $24,800, just $,1600 less than the Prius v. Depending on your business type and your local gasoline prices, the Prius v would start saving you money compared to a Transit Connect after only 16 months. Downsizing further, the v is actually about $2,00 cheaper than a V6 cargo van from GM. Considering the v’s reliability reputation, fuel consumption, and the ever-increasing cost of gasoline out here on the “left coast,” maybe adding a some Prius love to your fleet isn’t such a crazy idea after all.

 

This is part five of a five-part series on commercial vehicles. Click the links below for the others in this series

2012 Nissan NV

2012 Chevrolet Express / GMC Savana

2012 Ford E-350

2012 Ford Transit Connect

 Toyota provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.09 Seconds

0-60: 9.32 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 17.13 Seconds @ 79.5MPH

Average fuel economy: 43.1MPG over 806 miles

 

2012 Toyota Prius v, Exteruior, side, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Exteruior, side, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Exteruior, wheel, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Exteruior, wheel, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Exteruior, front, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes9 2012 Toyota Prius v, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Exterior, rear, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Exterior, Prius v Logo, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Interior, steering wheel controls, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Interior, steering wheel controls, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Interior, shifter, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Interior, cupholder and ev mode buttons, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Interior, driver's side, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Interior, trunk, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Interior, rear seats, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Interior, dashboard, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Interior, dashboard passenger side, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Interior, glove boxes, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Interior, rear seats folded, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Interior, rear seats folded, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Interior, cargo area storage, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Interior, cargo area showing maximum 11 foot capacity, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Engine, 1.8L Hybrid Synergy Drive, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Engine, 1.8L Hybrid Synergy Drive, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Engine, 1.8L Hybrid Synergy Drive, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Interior, gauges, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Exterior, grille, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Exterior, front bumper, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Exterior, side, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Interior, rear seats, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Interior, rear seats, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Interior, driver's side, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Prius v, Interior, cargo area, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Commercial Week Day Four Review: 2012 Ford Transit Connect http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/commercial-week-day-four-review-2012-ford-transit-connect/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/commercial-week-day-four-review-2012-ford-transit-connect/#comments Thu, 19 Apr 2012 13:49:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=435565 Americans with well worn passports often amaze their less-traveled friends with miraculous tales of a land full of tiny, fuel-efficient vehicles, expensive gasoline and miniature cans of Coke. (Really, those Coke cans are awesome.) The story inevitably ends with, “I wish I could buy X here”.  Ford has so far been the most receptive to […]

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Americans with well worn passports often amaze their less-traveled friends with miraculous tales of a land full of tiny, fuel-efficient vehicles, expensive gasoline and miniature cans of Coke. (Really, those Coke cans are awesome.) The story inevitably ends with, “I wish I could buy X here”.  Ford has so far been the most receptive to these cries, with the tasty Euro Focus, Fiesta (and soon the Fusion/Mondeo) to our shores. But what about some fuel-efficient love for the man-in-the-van? That’s where the Transit Connect fits in according to Ford. TTAC is no stranger to the Transit Connect with our own Sajeev Meta taking a spin in 2009. However in this review, we’ll attempt to compare the Connect to the other commercial options on the market while channeling our inner Joe-six-pack.

The Connect is off to a good start, with sales climbing from 8,834 in 2009 to 31,914 in 2011 proving there is a market for a mini-bread-van. The small hauler even accounted for 21.4% of Ford’s US van sales in 2011. Meanwhile, sales of the ancient and thirsty E-Series increased from 85,735 units to 116,874 from 2010 to 2011. By comparison, GM shifted just 89,211 vans in 2011. The reason behind the sales jump is obvious: high gas prices and no efficient cargo haulers to compete with it. But does that mean you should own one?

The overall look is awkward to the American eye with a tall box grafted onto a long car-like hood, but looks aren’t what this vehicle is about. Compared with the E-150, the full-sized van is 36 inches longer, 9 inches wider but only 3 inches taller on the outside. The inside is where things get interesting. The E-150 supports a cargo hold 120 x 73 x 52 (L x W x H in inches) while Connect provides 81 x 59 x 59, that’s actually 7-inches taller than the E-150. Getting bulky cargo inside the Connect is easy with a cargo hold opening that is 51.1 x 52.1 inches (W x H) compared to the E-Series 53.9 x 49.5. More importantly, the load floor that is 5.5 inches lower and the double doors open a full 255-degrees  magnetically latching to the side of the van. If you prefer to talk in cubes, the Connect will haul 107 fewer cubic feet of widgets (130) than the E-150. Sounding too good to be true? The light 1,600lb maximum payload (half what a base E-150 will haul) limits the Connect to lighter hauling than even a Chrysler minivan (1,800lbs) and should be kept in mind before you buy one for your metal recycling business.

Compared to the RAM C/V, the Transit Connect is 22-inches shorter, 8-inches narrower but 10.4 inches taller. While Chrysler was unable to provide us with a RAM C/V to test, there are a few problems with the blue-collar Caravan you should know about. The C/V retains the Caravan’s tailgate making access more difficult when being loaded by a forklift or tall employee. In addition, despite being nearly two feet longer than the Ford, the RAM’s cargo hold is only 17 inches deeper, and although it is 3 inches wider, it’s nearly a foot shorter. The RAM’s ability to carry 4×8 sheets of whatever is appealing, but the cargo opening is smaller at 45×40 inches vs the Connect’s 50×52 inch opening. Who cares? Pallet fans. All standard North American pallet sizes fit in the Connect while only the smallest of the sizes will fit in the RAM. Where does that leave us on cargo? The Connect’s light payload precludes the baby-Ford from being used in heavy-hauling activities like carpet cleaning where a cleaning unit and waste tank can easily reach 1,900lbs. However, general cargo hauling, palletitzed items, bakeries, dry-cleaners, pet businesses, cleaning services and electricians may find the fuel economy and maneuverability outweigh the payload capacity.

The cabin of the Transit Connect is turn-of-the-century Euro-Ford. From the air vents to the steering wheel and center-mount window switches it’s obvious this Turkish delight hails from the old world. Despite the Connect’s European origins, the seats are broad enough to accommodate even the most American-sized drivers, but the padding could be thicker for long journeys. Due to the proportions, taller drivers downsizing from the E-Series will be surprised by more headroom (an epic 51 inches), an inch more legroom and a footwell that’s considerably wider and taller than the full-sized van  (due to the engine being entirely under the hood half way into the cabin). If you have size 12 or larger feet, the difference is tremendous with the E-150 constantly making me feel as if I was trapped.

For 2012, Ford killed the awful Work Solutions in-dash computer (as pictured above) and replaced it with the optional ($395) SYNC system which is a considerable improvement over the former Euro headunit in terms of iPod and USB connectivity as well as sound quality. On the downside it means that a navigation system is no longer offered. Should you need to GPS track your fleet, Ford offers their Crew Chief solution from the factory for $925.  Aiding inner-city parking are optional parking sensors and a backup cam, available together for $470. For some reason Ford chose not to re-key the Connect for the American market retaining the unusual Tibbe key which is more common across the pond but on these shores are almost exclusively found on pre-2006 Jaguars. The Euro-novelty key can cost up to $200 if you lose it. Ouch.

Shuttling the baby-bread-van around is Ford’s ubiquitous 2.0L four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic borrowed from the previous generation American Focus. With just 136HP at 7,000RPM and 128lb-ft at 4,750RPM on tap, the Connect is far from swift, but considering it weighs 1,900lbs less than the E-150, it’s just as quick as the 235HP full-sized Ford. The missed opportunity with the Connect is obviously the ancient four-speed automatic which seems to hunt for gears frequently when hill climbing and rarely finds what it’s after. Should you feel gaseous, the Connect is available with factory Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) prep for $315 which consists largely of hardened valve seats. To complete the CNG picture, you take your Transit to a conversion company and they remove the gas tank and install the gas cylinders. While there is usually a net loss in cargo space as a result of the conversion, California and a few other states will allow certified conversions to drive solo in HOV lanes which may offset the reduction in capacity for some.

In order to test the Transit Connect properly, I grabbed some friends, loaded it to the gills and went camping. This was possible because our tester was a 5-seat “wagon”, the result of an import tax dodge. Not wanting to bore readers with the details, all Connects are built in Turkey with seats and rear windows and cargo-style floor covering. When they get to Baltimore, those destined for cargo duty have the seats removed and windows replaced with steel inserts. If you want a 5-passenger van, Ford will just skip all the needless destruction. Back to the camping: with three 200lb adults and some 1,000lbs total of camping gear, a generator, 60 gallons of water and 1/8 cord of firewood, the Connect was riding low on the dirt roads of the “lost coast.” Thankfully the combination of FWD and high ground clearance (7.9 inches vs 5.6 on RAM C/V)  and fairly short wheelbase (114 inches) made easy work of the rutted terrain and proved the Connect would perform admirably on the imperfect surfaces of the average construction site. Out on the open road, the Connect doesn’t feel “car-like” despite its car-origins, this is thanks to the solid rear axle and other “heavy duty” suspension tweaks. While feeling more like a little truck than a minivan, the Connect is surprisingly nimble in the city with a 39′ turning radius. That may sound large to some of us, but in the world of commercial vehicles this is positively tiny, cutting a circle 8 feet smaller than the E-Series, 4 feet smaller than GM’s V6 van, 9 feet smaller than GM’s V8 van and a whopping 14-feet smaller than GM’s extended wheelbase wares.

Over 1,100 miles I helped my brother move, commuted in traffic, and spent 4 days driving and camping from San Jose to Eureka. Despite the hauling, commute traffic and sustained 76MPH highway speeds on our road trip (and the resulting 3,100RPMS thanks to ye olde 4-speed automatic), the Connect never dropped below 20 MPG, a significant improvement over the V8 E-Series on essentially the same journey. That 20MPG number is the reason that Jane-six-pack buys the Transit Connect for her trendy cupcake delivery service and it’s also the reason Joe-six-pack should seriously consider whether the space and hauling capacity of the E-Series is required. If not, the Connect makes a compelling case against the full-size work vehicles. Until Fiat/Chrysler bring over the Doblo vans as promised and Nissan brings the baby-NV to market for the commercial segment, the Transit Connect is your best choice for reducing the footprint of your fleet. Or is it? Visit TTAC tomorrow to find out.

 

This is part four of a five-part series on commercial vehicles. Click the links below for the others in this series:

2012 Nissan NV

2012 Chevrolet Express / GMC Savana

2012 Ford E-350


 Ford provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-60: 11.8 Seconds

Average fuel economy: 20.5MPG over 1,105 miles

2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, front 3/4 view, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, front 3/4 view, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, rear 3/4 view, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, front 3/4 view, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, gauges at 77MPH, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, gauges at 77MPH, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, gauges at 77MPH, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, rear doors open, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2010 Ford Transit Connect (North America), photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Commercial Week Day Three Review: 2012 Ford E-Series Cargo Van http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/commercial-week-day-three-review-2012-ford-e-series-cargo-van/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/commercial-week-day-three-review-2012-ford-e-series-cargo-van/#comments Wed, 18 Apr 2012 16:26:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=432087 Our look at Nissan and GM’s van offerings would be out-of-place without including the Van “built Ford tough”. We know that the E-Series days are numbered – Ford recently announced the American Transit van T-Series will come with the holy grail of Ford powertrains, the 3.5L twin-turbo Ecoboost V6. Turbo love aside, is it wise […]

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Our look at Nissan and GM’s van offerings would be out-of-place without including the Van “built Ford tough”. We know that the E-Series days are numbered – Ford recently announced the American Transit van T-Series will come with the holy grail of Ford powertrains, the 3.5L twin-turbo Ecoboost V6. Turbo love aside, is it wise to stock up on old-school vans before the trendy new models come on the scene? If you’re worried about new model glitches and want a van that’s as old as time, with a bullet-proof Ford modular V8 and a transmission that’s a bit shy on gears, it might just be your choice. With the E-Series’ days numbered and the commercial vehicle segment being as exciting as Wonder Bread, the lack of press fleet vans was no surprise. What’s a rag like TTAC to do? Spend a week in a Hertz special.

Although we ended up with a passenger van, and not a commercial van, all E-series vans feature a large front grille and longer hood thanks to a refresh in 2008 to make them look more like the F-series. Wagon and recreation vans use aerodynamic headlamp modules and acres of chrome, while base commercial cargo haulers have a blacked out grille and sealed beam headlamps. The chrome bling and modern headlamps look decidedly more attractive, but on a practicality level there’s a problem: those  snazzy duds are more expensive to repair when John Doe (your least careful employee) rear-ends Ms Daisy on Main Street. For $235 Ford will sell you their middle-of-the-road package which retains the black bumper cover but upgrades the lamps and grille. I’d stick with the base model if you’re not driving your own van. Out back the E-series vans all feature swing-out doors that open to a full 178 degrees making them almost as useful as the doors in the Nissan NV (the NV’s essentially fold flat to the side of the van) and more convenient than the 165 degree doors on the GM competition. Like GM, Ford offers your choice of a sliding or 60/40 split side door.

Our E-350’s interior is circa 2009, when Ford raided the Super Duty parts bin which means Ford’s SYNC radio and navigation units are on the E-series menu, a notable upgrade from GM’s infotainment options. Should your fleet need some big brother love, the CrewChief GPS tracking and monitoring system is available on most models. Our van was a rental, which meant of course that it had been driven hard, put away wet and had a vague aroma of spoilt milk and dog urine. This wasn’t some primped press car folks. After a quick wipe-down to prepare it for the camera, it was obvious the hard plastics inside were built to last showing little wear, just like the GM and Nissan offerings. On the creature comfort side, A/C is standard and Ford makes a backup cam, backup sensors and the aforementioned navigation system with SYNC optional. Volume purchasers beware, adding SYNC will bump your MSRP up $1,010 as it requires you upgrade to the four-speaker package and inexplicably you must add cruise control to the party.  If those items were already on your menu, then SYNC (with Bluetooth) itself becomes a $475 bump. Ford also offers an integrated trailer brake controller for $230 and a set of in-dash auxiliary switches (the same as in the Super Duty trucks) for $85 making it easier to pimp your ride.

If the phrase “all-new drivetrains” sets your loins on fire, skip this section. Ford offers a limited engine selection compared to GM – two V8s and a V10. The observant will notice that a V6 or diesel V8 option are conspicuous by their absence (the V6 was dropped in 2008 and the diesel in 2009).  While Ford markets the E-150 as the only full-sized van with a standard V8, I’m not sure 225HP and 286lb-ft (13/17MPG) are anything to trumpet when Buick’s 2.0L turbo four cylinder beats both figures and delivers them across a broader range (durability concerns aside of course). The optional 5.4L V8 bumps the power figures to (a still less than competitive) 255HP and 350lb-ft (12/16MPG) and was the engine in our rental. Even empty acceleration was sluggish and when loaded with 5 passengers and a weekend’s camping gear it was best described as “glacial”. The problem is not the 255HP, the Ford’s ancient 4-speed automatic which is the only transmission available with either V8. GM’s base 4.8L V8 may deliver less torque at 295lb-ft, yet combined with the modern 6-speed transmission the GM van never feels out of breath even in mountainous terrain. The E-Series on the other-hand often seemed like it was hunting for a gear that didn’t exist, especially on mountain highways and in steep urban settings. Ford’s optional 6.8L V10 brings a newer 5-speed auto, but it is still a cog behind GM. Despite superficially healthy numbers for the Ford V8 (305HP/420lb-ft), GM counters with a 6.0L V8 at 324HP/373lb-ft and one extra gear making it yet again the performance and “driveability” winner. On the green-cred front, Ford’s  V8 engines can be ordered with liquid propane or compressed natural gas prep packages; all you do is have a conversion company add the gas cylinders. Beware though, that the CNG conversion costs $13,000. While your gaseous E-Series may deliver fewer MPGs on the road and the “savings” are dubious, California and a few select states will allow solo CNG drivers in the HOV lanes with permanent stickers if your conversion is done at the time of purchase.

A van’s mission is to shift the most stuff. Both Ford and GM offer extended vans to swallow more, but how they extend differs. Ford offers an extended body while GM extends both the wheelbase and the body. Neither option is an outright winner so which option is better? That depends on what you’re hauling and where. GM’s regular wheelbase of 135 inches is shorter than the E-series’s 138 inch model and this helps GM’s V6 van be the most nimble with a 43-foot turning circle vs the E-Series standard 48-foot. Adding the V8 to GM’s van bumps the circle to 49-feet. The E-Series’ standard 216-inch length (vs the 224-inch long Express) is responsible for its slightly smaller cargo capacity able to swallow 12.5-foot long items vs GM’s standard 13-foot sword swallowing ability. Extending the rear of the E-Series takes cubic cargo capacity from 237 cubic feet to 278 cubic feet and allowed 14.6-foot items to be carried from the dash to the rear doors, while that sounds good, GM’s extended wheelbase vans measure in at a whopping 20-feet-5-inches holding 313 cubic feet of cargo and swallowing items that are 16-feet long (if placed carefully inside). The downside to GM’s wheelbase stretch is the enormous 54-foot turning circle making U-turns difficult even on the widest of expressways. The upside of the extension is superior handling when the cargo area is full by spreading the weight more evenly between the front and rear axles.

As my week with the E-Series van came to a close I had more questions than answers. Why would anyone that owned and operated their own van buy the Ford van over the Nissan NV which offers more creature comforts, more power and better fuel economy? Similarly, who would a large commercial customer buy the E-Series van over GM’s Express/Savana van with a wider selection of options, heavy-duty six-speed transmissions, greater hauling capacity and better fuel economy? At the end of the day the E-Series is a tired workhorse that knows it’s being sent to pasture, yet sales remain high for one reason; companies like a homogeneous fleet. Fleet buyers like being able to buy the same van they brought 10 years ago, knowing the same custom widgets will bolt right on. Perhaps that’s why Ford has pledged that the E-Series will soldier on even after the introduction of the Transit T-Series in America. With an advertised 25% better fuel economy on tap, let’s hope Ford can convince the commercial buyer lemmings to switch to a better product rather than defect to the competition.

 

This is part three of a five-part series on commercial vehicles. Click the links below for the others in this series

2012 Nissan NV

2012 Chevrolet Express / GMC Savana

2012 Ford Transit Connect:

 

 

 TTAC searched high and low, found the best web coupons and rented an E-350 van for a week for this review. Gas was expensive and not included.

Specifications as tested

0-60: 10.1 Seconds

Average fuel economy: 10.4MPG over 896 miles

 

IMG_4337 IMG_4338 IMG_4339 2012 Ford E-350 Van, Exterior, grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L Dykes IMG_4341 IMG_4342 IMG_4343 IMG_4344 IMG_4345 IMG_4346 IMG_4347 IMG_4352 IMG_4357 IMG_4358 IMG_4359 IMG_4361 IMG_4362 IMG_4363 IMG_4364 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail


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Commercial Week Day Two Review: 2012 GMC Savana and Chevrolet Express http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/commercial-week-day-two-review-2012-gmc-savana-and-chevrolet-express/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/commercial-week-day-two-review-2012-gmc-savana-and-chevrolet-express/#comments Tue, 17 Apr 2012 18:28:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=431316 The Nissan NV may be an exciting newcomer, but the tried-and-true GM and Ford vans are the staple of the commercial market. Our own Mike Solowiow took exception with the 2007 Chevrolet Express passenger van as a passenger hauler back in 2008. Will the no-frills cargo hauler variant find favor with us here at TTAC? […]

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The Nissan NV may be an exciting newcomer, but the tried-and-true GM and Ford vans are the staple of the commercial market. Our own Mike Solowiow took exception with the 2007 Chevrolet Express passenger van as a passenger hauler back in 2008. Will the no-frills cargo hauler variant find favor with us here at TTAC? More importantly, can GM’s smorgasbord of configuration options dethrone Ford as the volume van seller during the upcoming T-Series transition?

There’s not much styling to discuss when it comes to GM’s full-size vans, but is that important in a work truck? When you’re buying a fleet of work trucks, or just one or two vans for your delivery employees to drive, repair costs are a critical factor. (Seriously, have you seen how cargo-van-drivers drive?) If this describes your employees, buying a Nissan NV with it’s large shiny chrome bumper could be a bad business move, as bumper covers for the Express and Savana go for $75 online. The story is the same from stem to stern eschewing expensive aerodynamic plastic headlamp assemblies (available on the passenger vans) for sealed-beam halogen units, acres of easy-to-Bondo panels and a rear end that’s as discount as it gets. Shoppers have their choice of four standard paint colors, four $150 optional colors, or the ever so popular full-body vinyl wrap. If you’re shopping off the lot, expect to get any color you want so long as its white. 1500 models get a 17-inch steel wheel while 2500 and 3500 models get a 16-inch wheel wrapped in 245 width 75 series rubber for added load capacity.

Nissan’s NV is clearly designed for owner-operators, and it shows with driver oriented features, comfy seats and the positioning of human-room over cargo room. If you thought the last van sporting engine access inside the cabin was driven by the A-Team, think again. Because cargo is king for the GM vans, the engine is pushed as far into the cabin as possible maximizing interior volume and minimizing the external footprint (that’s all relative of course). Having the engine located between the driver and front passenger footwells both limits legroom and cooks the driver’s right leg on long drives. It also means the transmission is under the van between the seats resulting in a fairly high step-in height. On the flip side it means the Savana and Express can swallow 13-foot items in short wheelbase form and the long wheelbase version can schlep 15-foot goods. (The E-series comes in at 12.5 feet and 14.6 feet). Standard equipment includes seats and a steering wheel but stops short of in-dash entertainment of any variety. Buyers have the option of an AM/FM radio, a mid-level unit with a CD player and a higher end unit that brings basic iPod/iPhone functionality. Sadly no navigation system is available in any model.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Let’s be honest. If I’m buying a van for my business and my employees are the ones driving it around, all talk of driver comfort is comparatively less important than the rest of this review, so let’s talk hauling. No other commercial vehicle comes in as many variations as GM’s vans. From 8-15 passenger versions for Zeta Cartel affiliates, two different wheelbases, and cab-only cutaways for shuttle bus and ambulance duty all of which can be had with a variety of engine and transmission choices, there are more variations than you can imagine. As you would expect, payload capacities range from 2,000lbs 1500 models to 4,184lbs in 3500 models. The only area where the Nissan NV clearly trumps GM’s offerings is height with it’s optional 6’2″ interior cargo area. Although you can have a conversion company extend your roof, it’s not as clean as Nissan’s solution and usually the doors left at their regular height, making it difficult to load large cargo. GM fights back with hinged side doors and a considerably longer cargo hold in the extended version.

Although GM offers the widest selection of engines,shoppers should choose carefully as there are some questionable selections on the menu. Let’s start with the 1500 series vans. First up is the ancient 190HP, 260lb-ft 4.3L V6 delivering the best fuel economy at 15/20MPG (city/highway), a 310HP, 334lbft 5.3L V8 with variable valve timing is optional on the 1500 RWD (13/18MPG) and standard on the 1500 AWD van (13/18MPG). Both engines are mated to a light duty four-speed 4L60E automatic transmission. Buyers should know, our informal polling of several large GM fleet customers indicated the 4L60E is notably less reliable than the heavy-duty 6-speed 6L90 used in 2500 and 3500 vans since 2010.

All 2500 and 3500 models come standard with a recently revised 280HP, 192lb-ft 4.8L V8 with VVT mated to GM’s 6-speed automatic good for 13/18MPG. An optional ($995) 324HP, 373lb-ft 6.0L V8 with VVT is available should you feel the need for speed in your cargo hauler. If you believe in burning oil, GM is happy to sell you their 6.6L Duramax V8 diesel engine which is de-tuned from truck duty to 260HP and 525lb-ft (from 397HP/765lb-ft) and delivered 18.8MPG on average for us. Don’t expect the diesel to save you money however as buying it will set you back a whopping $12,000. Perhaps the most enticing option for the GM vans however is the factory built CNG version, one of only two factory built CNG vehicles on the road (the other is the Honda Civic GX). Based on the 6.0L V8 and putting down 279HP and 320lb-ft of twist in gaseous-guise the option will set you back $15,885 and provides a 300+ mile range at the expense of a 5 cubic feet reduction in cargo capacity. While the option seems best suites to markets like the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles where there is a moderate CNG infrastructure (or if you install a “home” refill station), at $1.95 per gallon “equivalent” in the option will pay for itself before you hit 100,000 miles. (Based on current California gasoline prices)

Nissan does not release MPG numbers for the NV vans, but our high-top V8 averaged 14.2MPG and a 40 mile test drive in a standard roof V8 yielded 14.8MPG. From the blue oval competition their 4.6L V8 will do 13/17, the 5.4L V8 drops to 12/16 and the 6.8L V10 rounds out the bottom at 10/14. We average a solid 17MPG during a 90 mile mixed-driving trip with the 4.8L V8 in a base 2500 series van making it the best cost/performance ratio option in this segment.

Towing may not seem like an obvious consideration, but a quick check with the construction crowd confirmed it is important. While the V6 Nissan NV 1500 boasts a 7,000lb tow rating vs GM’s 4,300lb rating for their 1500 series V6 van, Nissan’s 261HP/281lb-ft V6 is probably best pitted against GM’s 4.8L V8 (280HP/296lb-ft) which starts with a 7,400lb towing capacity. We were only able to get our hands on a 5,000lb load to haul with the Nissan and GM vans, but  the difference was enlightening. (Note: tests with the 1500 series GM van were completed with a 4,000lb trailer because if its reduced towing capacity). With trailer attached, GM’s V6 van could barely get out of its own way, while Nissan’s more powerful V6 and 5-speed transmission performed well maintaining 55MPH on a 6% grade, but passing wasn’t really in the cards. GM’s hunt-happy four-speed automatic was as much to blame for this problem as the V6’s specs.

Nissan’s V8 (317HP/385lb-ft) proved a willing tow companion on the same grade able to accelerate from 50-60MPG without drama for passing uphill. GM fights back their 6-speed automatic making the 6.0L V8 the better tow partner, but most importantly making the 4.8L V8 a logical and economical alternative. For those considering the jump from 1500 to 2500 series vans to get the 6-cog transmission, our up-hill towing test demonstrated just how important extra gear ratios are with the less powerful 2500 series (4.8L V8) easily outperforming the 1500 (5.3L V8) due to the two extra gears. Should you need the maximum schlepping ability, GM’s 3500 van with the 6.6L diesel V8 is good for a class leading 10,000lbs of trailering and 4,148lbs of in-van hauling. Ford is of course the other major player in this market, but time and progress have left the E-Series behind. Ford offers only three engine options at this time: a 225HP/286lb-ft 4.6L modular V8, a 255HP/350lb-ft 5.4L V8 and a 305HP/420lb-ft 6.8L V10. Both V8s are available only with a four-speed automatic while the V10 gets a 5-speed.

As I said in our review of the NV, pricing commentary is difficult when it comes to a commercial vehicle. I was unable to get specific rebate numbers, but I am told that fleet buyers should expect around $1000 back with a purchase of five vans and around $2,500 for 25 vans plus the usual bevy of enticing freebies. Don’t take those numbers as gospel, fleet buyers should contact the manufacturers for ordering details as the configurations are near endless. While the NV 1500 is a hair cheaper than a Chevy Express 1500, GM’s 2500 series van is only around $755 more expensive than an NV 1500 netting the buyer the heavy-duty transmission, brakes, and increased hauling capacity. Compared to the present competition, GM’s Chevy Express and GMC Savana twins deliver high-capacity hauling, more variations, and thanks to the new 6-speed transmissions, class leading fuel economy making them easily the top pick for fleet use. If however you’re driving your own van, the slight reduction in utility  and observed fuel economy of the Nissan NV are offset by vastly improved creature comforts and more room for the driver at a very compelling price. Until the blue oval can get the new T-Series van online, the best hauling options on the market seem to be from Nissan and GM, check out our E-Series review for more on that tomorrow.

 

This is part two of a five-part series on commercial vehicles. Click the links below for the others in this series:

2012 Nissan NV

2012 Ford E-350

2012 Ford Transit Connect

 

General Motors provided the vehicle, one tank of diesel and insurance for this review

0-60: 9.4 Seconds

 Average fuel economy: 18.8MPG over 435 miles

IMG_4221 2012 GMC Savana Cargo Van, 6.6L Duramax diesel engine, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes IMG_4224 IMG_4225 IMG_4227 IMG_4228 2012 GMC Savanna 3500 Diesel Cargo Van, Exterior, rear doors open, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes IMG_4231 IMG_4232 IMG_4233 IMG_4234 2012 GMC Savanna 3500 Diesel Cargo Van, Exterior, Side doors open, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes IMG_4236 IMG_4240 IMG_4241 IMG_4242 IMG_4243 IMG_4244 IMG_4245 IMG_4246 IMG_4247 IMG_4248 IMG_4249 IMG_4250 IMG_4251 IMG_4320 IMG_4321 IMG_4322 IMG_4323 IMG_4324 2012 GMC Savanna 3500 Diesel Cargo Van, Exterior, headlamps and grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 GMC Savanna 3500 Diesel Cargo Van, Exterior, Duramax diesel engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes IMG_4329 IMG_4330 IMG_4334 2012 GMC Savanna 3500 Diesel Cargo Van, Interior, Driver's side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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