Wednesday 2 March 2011
With a gaggle of superb models lined up against it, the LDV Maxus LWB 2.8 120bhp will have to be more than just good to succeed.
No-one is underestimating the problems British van manufacturer LDV faces in making a success of its new offering the Maxus. The fact that the Maxus exists at all is a minor miracle - it finally broke cover after five years of back-breaking work and heart-breaking financial twists and turns - but now it is here and on sale, the van is having to battle for sales against a formidable array of rivals. Who would dare to enter the arena and expect to win against the mighty Ford Transit, let alone the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter with its standard ABS brakes and ESP traction control? And that's not to mention other rock solid rivals such as the Vauxhall Movano, Renault Master and Volkswagen LT. Such a pretender is going to have to be made of pretty sturdy stuff.
I first drove the LDV Maxus at the press launch in January and at that time the massed ranks of Britain's LCV press were confined to driving pre-production models. My report then concluded that while the Maxus was a fine looking van and not a bad drive either, there were several rough edges in the fixings and fittings department that needed ironing out. Now with the Maxus having been on sale for six months, I finally got my hands on a ready-to-rock model for a week's appraisal.
The Maxus comes in two wheelbases, gross vehicle weights of between 2.8 tonnes and 3.5 tonnes and three roof heights. Minibus and chassis cab versions are planned for next year but fleets wanting these models will still be able to buy them in the old Convoy format. Load volumes range from seven cubic metres to 11.4 cubic metres and payloads from 917kg to 1,616kg. The vans are powered by Italian VM 2.5-litre common rail turbodiesel engines as seen in vehicles such as the Jeep Cherokee and Chrysler Voyager. There are two power outputs - 95bhp and 120bhp - and a 140bhp version will follow later in the year.
Standard equipment includes power steering, driver's airbag, electric windows and mirrors, a CD player, driver and passenger seatbelt pre-tensioners, remote plip locking, engine immobiliser, height adjustable driver's seat, tachometer and a pollen filter, while paid-for extras include ABS brakes, a passenger airbag, alarm, slamlocks in the rear, plywood flooring and trim, a fully adjustable driver's seat with lumbar adjustment and full steel bulkhead. Warranty is either three years/100,000 miles or four years/60,000 miles and servicing intervals are 20,000 miles. Prices range from £12,995 to £18,495 ex-VAT. Our test van was the 2.8-tonne gvw long wheelbase high roof model with the 120bhp engine and weighed in at £15,295 ex-VAT. (All prices current as at Sept 2005)
So have those gremlins been ironed out now the van is officially on sale? Well, yes and no. While the general build quality in our test van had improved over those launch models, it still came complete with a few minor niggles - the left-hand indicator, for example, didn't cancel itself out and the fuel gauge seemed to have a mind of its own and at one time told me the van was three-quarters full, only to correct itself three seconds later and inform me that it was nearly empty. Worse still, the optional air conditioning system refused to pump out any cold air into the cab.
But these problems apart, how did the Maxus shape up during our test week? Let's have a look...
First impressions are good. The Maxus is a sleek looker with a snub nose not unlike the Toyota Hiace. It's hardly surprising that it has that Far Eastern appearance - the van was designed in Korea in conjunction with the now defunct Daewoo. The silver metallic paint is extra at £300 but it's a good investment as at selling time the van is almost sure to fetch at least £300 more than one with flat paint. There are big plastic bumpers front and rear but no padding at all for the side panels or wheelarches. The rear bumper doubles up as step (an extra at £40) and our test model was equipped with an optional towbar at £250.
Entry to the cab is by remote plip locking and once inside, the sitting area proves light and airy. The driver's seat - a special one at an extra £122 - is firm and supportive and has an adjustable lumbar bar, but our seat appeared to be slightly loose on its mountings, which was a tad disconcerting. All the instruments are housed in a centre binnacle which takes a bit of getting used to but looks neat and stylish. It will make it easier for LDV to produce left-hand drive models if necessary.
The downside is that the CD player is slung low down away from the driver, so you have to take your eyes off the road to make any adjustments. It is, however, a good quality unit, which will please any music-loving drivers. There are large cola bottle bins in each door (hooray!) but the pull-out tray on the dash which is home to two cup/can holders is so flimsy that it looks like it might blow away after a night on the curry. Also of note is the extra-large cab light in the roof, which gives out plenty of light on gloomy nights. Other add-on extras included a glazed bulkhead at £200, passenger airbag at £200 and air conditioning at £800.
The van's side sliding door glides back and forth in a satisfactory manner and the rear doors snick shut nicely. Our test van came with the optional plastic floor and six countersunk load-lashing eyes at £135 and full height ply lining at £302. It may seem a lot to pay but once again is well worth the extra, especially if the van will be carrying loads that may damage the interior. A damaged cargo area at selling time is almost impossible to repair. Payload is 943kg and load volume measures 10.3 cubic metres.
LDV has made a wise choice in its engines. The VM powerplants are smooth and sure and although our test van proved a lusty performer with its 120bhp on tap, most fleets will find the 95bhp version will do just as well. The higher-powered model boasts a respectable 221lb-ft of torque at 1,800rpm while the lower-powered variant has 184lb-ft at the same revs. Either will pull a full load without problems. Meanwhile, the van's power steering is nicely weighted to give just the right amount of feel. But I was less enamoured with the dash-mounted gearlever, which seemed imprecise and made a nasty, clunky, graunchy noise. It's a shame to see that ABS brakes are an optional extra at a hefty £485 but at least the Maxus comes with a standard driver's airbag, unlike the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and several others I could mention.
LDV is going to have to keep a keen eye on its quality control systems to make sure that niggling little faults like the ones on our test van don't get through. The firm is asking a price not far off that of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Ford Transit when standard spec levels are taken into account and buyers will expect similar levels of quality. But provided the vans arrive at fleet depots without faults, there is no reason to suspect they won't give satisfactory service.
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