You could hardly imagine a worse time to launch a new van – no sooner had Hyundai announced its intention to rejoin the light commercial vehicle fray with the iLoad panel van than half the civilised world’s banking systems collapsed, recession hit us like a hurricane and UK plc put up a temporary (we hope) closed sign.
But before we write off the iLoad as a sales disaster that was no-one’s fault, let me tell you that this capable performer has a couple of aces up its sleeve that might just rescue it.
For the iLoad neatly manages to combine reasonable quality with a rock-bottom list price – and don’t forget that along with all its car brethren it carries a five-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
That’s a not a bad fleet package in anyone’s book.
I’ve long been an admirer of the Hyundai brand in general – it might lack the finesse of some other marques but offers no-nonsense, good old-fashioned quality that won’t let you down and doesn’t cost the earth to buy.
If you doubt me, just look at how many old Hyundai H100 panel vans are still trundling about the highways and byways of Britain despite after being withdrawn from sale back in 2002.
So, assuming that some time in the near future Britain’s fleets are going to have to start buying vans again (you can’t keep plugging away with old ones forever), a lot of those buyers will be strapped for cash and seeking a bargain, which is where the iLoad may score.
Hyundai is pitching its new model against the likes of the smaller Ford Transit, Vauxhall Vivaro, Volkswagen Transporter and Toyota Hiace and is aiming at smaller fleet business.
Predictions are a lowly 300 units in the first year but I can’t help thinking that they might just do better than that.
Predictions, I fear, are more or less a waste of time in the present economic climate.
Built in Korea, three models are available – Classic, Comfort and crewvan (the vehicle on test here) and prices go from £13,595 to £15,595 ex-VAT.
For that price you get, as standard, central locking (not remote), driver airbag, ABS brakes with EBD, engine immobiliser, electric windows, heated rear windows, side sliding doors and a full bulkhead.
Comfort versions add air conditioning and a passenger airbag. Among the options are ESP traction control (£450), metallic paint (£430), alloy wheels (£486) and a built-in sat-nav unit (£596).
At the business end, the iLoad weighs in at 3,230kg gross vehicle weight and has a load volume of 4.3 cubic metres (2.5 cu m for the crew van). Payload, meanwhile, is 1,062 kg (1,059kg for crewvan).
Under the bonnet goes a 2.5-litre common rail diesel unit from the i800 people carrier offering 114bhp at 3,800rpm and 253lb-ft of torque at 1,750-2,500rpm, driven through the rear wheels.
Unfortunately, Hyundai doesn’t quote fuel economy and CO2 emissions figures and as our road test week was somewhat blighted by severe snow, we didn’t manage to elicit our own.
Behind the wheel
As mentioned earlier, I like Hyundais in general and when this dapper performer pitched up at my door a couple of months ago, my expectations were more than fulfilled.
One of the problems with cheap vans is that they often look cheap and a bit cronky compared to the more expensive rivals, but the iLoad sits proudly among the other medium panel van contenders – and, dare I say, it looks a lot better than some of them.
Our test model had the optional metallic paint, which can pay for itself at selling time so is worth considering, along with traction control – which is worth its weight in gold but sadly isn’t a standard fitment here.
Entry is via central but not remote locking, which can be operated either from the driver or passenger doors.
Inside, the cab is light and airy and quite on a par with the more expensive rivals.
The driver’s seat is a sheer delight – it is height adjustable, along with the steering wheel, and is big enough to provide bags of support right up the back and under the thighs.
There’s plenty of side padding too and a good boost in the lumbar area, which is where some van seats tend to fall down.
The passenger seat is as good as the driver’s but the middle one in the front is a curious little ‘dicky’ seat that folds down to reveal a couple of cup holders and a tray. I wouldn’t want to travel far sitting on it.
The three rear seats are accessed via twin sliding doors and while they are a little hard and upright, there is plenty of legroom on offer – and, of course, seating for six people.
Cubby holes are in short supply.
There are two diminutive door pockets, upper and lower gloveboxes on the passenger side – and that’s about it.
Oh dear, where will white van man park his treasured two-litre cola bottle?
A full height bulkhead comes as standard on the van models and includes a glass portion, which – together with glazed rear doors – means the driver can turn round and see out of the back.
On the downside it also means that low-lifes can peer into your cargo area and see what you are carrying, with a view to pinching it.
That cargo area doesn’t have any floor protection but there is half-height padding on the sides and six load-lashing eyes.
Out on the road the pleasant surprises continue.
The clutch action is light, the dash-mounted gearlever snicks into place nicely and the iLoad sails round bends with the utmost aplomb.
That 114bhp may not sound a great deal – and indeed it isn’t compared with some of the monstrous outputs of certain opposition models.
But it comes with a good amount of torque (253lb-ft to be precise) delivered at a low 1,750rpm.
What that means is at lower speeds – indeed, at any legal speeds – this van fairly flies along and feels a lot more powerful than it really is.
The high torque figure also helps when the van is fully loaded and it should never be left struggling for power.
You’ve got to feel sorry for Hyundai being caught out by a recession that’s none of its making.
This van has all the credentials to do well at the smaller end of the fleet market.
It would be such a pity if a set of unfortunate circumstances ganged up against it to spoil its chance of glory.