The introduction of EC Whole Vehicle Type Approval in 2013 has caused a seachange in the van body building industry. The regulations were brought in to try to put an end to back-street dealers converting vans – badly in many cases. Now, any changes to a van, however slight, mean the whole vehicle has to gain new approval. That involves many weeks’ work and thousands of pounds in costs.
As smaller converters go to the wall, the various van manufacturers have been making the most of this new business opportunity by launching more ‘off-the-shelf’ models, including tippers, fridge vans, box vans and lutons.
One of the forerunners in this niche sector is Citroën, which has been offering a ‘Ready To Run’ range for some years and continues to add new models year by year.
The vans on offer may not be exactly what each fleet needs, but they are close enough for most uses – and the advantages are many. The buyer can get the whole deal tied up in one signing without going somewhere else for a special body to be fitted, the conversion is guaranteed to be carried out by a reputable firm and, if anything goes wrong, the Citroën dealer won’t be passing the buck to the bodybuilder as the vehicle is warrantied as a whole entity.
The van on test here is one such offering – the Relay tipper 35 L2 130 with bodywork courtesy of Tipmaster, weighing in at £24,280 ex-VAT. The Relay in its basic form was facelifted last year and now offers smarter front-end looks, better fuel economy and a few other improvements in build quality.
Trucks like this are becoming increasingly popular over “classic” rivals such as the Nissan Cabstar as they offer a more comfortable driving experience. And in many cases, thanks to their lighter construction, payloads are better too.
The Relay tipper’s chunky rear end feels set to last a century. A huge headboard at the front will stop loads flying forwards and injuring occupants in the event of an accident and a hefty girder chassis underneath and at the rear.
The tipping mechanism adds weight and reduces payload but there’s still a reasonable 1,235kg. Tipmaster offers a myriad of aluminium options to replace steel parts on its unit too, so at its lightest the payload increases by 100kg.
The tipping mechanism is operated by a unit clipped into the driver’s side of the cab. It’s on a long lead so the driver can operate it while standing at the rear of the vehicle to make sure any passers-by are not injured.
There is certainly no shortage of cargo room in the back – it measures 3,000mm by 2,032mm.
Underway, the Relay offers plenty of torque for carrying heavy loads and is as pleasant to drive as any of the van versions, with plenty of lumbar support in its comfortable driver’s seat – a far cry from the harsh ride offered in the aforementioned classic trucks. There was, however, a fair amount of banging and rattling from the rear end on bumpy roads, which can be annoying on long journeys.
A tight turning circle makes it easy to manoeuvre in small urban spaces. Although our test vehicle had no reversing sensors, it was easy to park up as the driver can see out of the rear window and the truck corners are clearly visible.