LDV V80 2013: Launch Review

words - Ken Gratton
Commercial in confidence? New brand fields middle-ranking product keenly priced


Local Launch
Hunter Valley, NSW

What we liked:
>> Easy to drive
>> Well packaged
>> Reasonable ride

Not so much:
>> Central instrument binnacle
>> Peaky engine for a diesel
>> Sixth gear wouldn't hurt

>> European design pitched at canny operators
LDV is a Chinese commercial vehicle range available in Australia for the first time. Owned by the massive SAIC (Shanghai Automotive Industrial Corporation), LDV takes its name from 'Leyland DAF Vans', a joint venture operation originally, subsequently on-sold to SAIC in the period after the Global Financial Crisis.

The first product offered in Australia by the new brand is the V80 van range, which is known elsewhere as the Maxus. Distributed locally by the WMC Group, the LDV brand will be sold through 34 dealers around the country and offered with a three-year/100,000km warranty.

In addition, LDV dealers will offer buyers different ex-factory configurations of vans to transport the wheelchair-bound, converted by local company Byron Industries. In coming months LDV will upgrade the V80 to Euro 5 compliance and relaunch the vehicle in its original home market, the UK. Australia will see the LDV range expanded in two further stages this year, with people mover variants of the V80 and cab chassis models rolled out. At some point along the way, LDV will introduce a six-speed automatic transmission option also, and LDV plans to bring a petrol engine to market late this year.

It's all part of the broader plan for the commercial vehicle range, with the LDV brand sponsoring golfer Danielle Montgomery to headline the company's marketing efforts, and supporting the charity work of the Starlight Foundation.

>> Specification a major factor in market appeal
The V80 offers local buyers the packaging of a larger van for the price of a conventional one-tonner. In fact the Chinese van undercuts better known but smaller vans across a broad front. However LDV stresses that the V80's market appeal won't hinge on pricing alone, and the new entry in the local market offers a high-level specification for the pricing.

"Our position and our strategy is one based around value... but this isn't a vehicle that we're going to go to the market with and just talk about price," the General Manager of LDV, Shannon Taylor told journalists at the launch of LDV last week. "Price is not the only hook we're hanging our hat on."

Three variants of the V80 van currently available comprise the short-wheelbase model tested ($32,990), a long-wheelbase model with mid-roof ($37,990) and a high-roofed LWB variant at $39,990.

Standard equipment at entry-level carries through to the long-wheelbase models as well, and includes: electric windows/mirrors, air conditioning, audio system with USB input, remote central locking, cruise control, dual sliding doors, barn doors, alloy wheels, front fog lights, two-pallet cargo facility, reversing sensors and LED lights. Long-wheelbase variants come with a storage pocked located above the windscreen on the driver's side. Bluetooth connectivity will be introduced locally within three months.

>> Complex pedigree
Although LDV and the Aussie distribution network studiously avoided any mention of the name during the launch, the V80 (Maxus) van was originally a joint development by LDV (pre-SAIC takeover) and Daewoo (pre-GM acquisition).

When Daewoo was snapped up by GM in 2000, LDV negotiated with GM for the exclusive rights to build and sell the V80. GM agreed and LDV shifted the vehicle's manufacturing base from the Daewoo plant in Poland to LDV's own facility in Birmingham, in the UK. Russian corporation GAZ bought LDV in 2006, but the company was placed in the hands of administrators after GAZ failed to fund LDV adequately during the depths of the Global Financial Crisis. The Chinese stepped in during 2009 and shifted production to Wuxi, in the north of Shanghai.

75 per cent of parts in the V80 sold in Australia are provided by new suppliers, contracted since production of the vehicle commenced in China, according to WMC and LDV. The 2.5-litre common-rail turbo-diesel four-cylinder is a DOHC design by VM Motori, built under licence in China. LDV claims output and fuel consumption figures of 100kW, 330Nm and 7.7L/100km (in combined-cycle testing). Mounted transversely, the engine drives to the front wheels through a five-speed manual transaxle built by a Chinese company part-owned by Hyundai.

The underpinnings of the V80 comprise front MacPherson struts, a leaf-sprung dead axle at the rear and four-wheel discs (ventilated at the front) to brake the 16-inch alloy wheels.

>> Three access points for goods carrying
All three variants in the V80 range can carry payloads in excess of a tonne, with the short-wheelbase variant rated at 1.3 tonnes (and a GVM of 3.2 tonnes). Long-wheelbase variants add half a tonne (1.8-tonne payload) and an extra 300kg of gross vehicle mass – 3.5 tonnes.

The manufacturer claims the V80 LWB with high roof can accept loads measuring 11.62 cubic metres, based on the vehicle's load length of 3.3 metres, width of 1.8 metres and height of 1.96 metres. All three variants feature barn doors at the rear and a sliding door each side. Measuring 1120mm wide and 1400mm high (SWB) or 1300mm wide and 1600mm high (LWB), the barn doors open wide enough to accept a standard pallet dropped in at the end of a fork lift. The sliding doors also provide sufficiently wide access for a second pallet to be stowed within. Width between the rear wheel arches measures 1380mm.

>> Cost/benefits analysis at play
The monocoque construction at the core of the V80 design features high-tensile strength material for lighter weight allied with better crash safety.

There's no stability control listed in the V80's safety specifications, but it does come with anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution and Brake Assist. According to WMC, side-impact airbags and stability control are currently under development for the V80 by SAIC, but remain some way off in the future.

The V80 does come with a passenger's airbag – something not offered in at least two of the vehicle's principal market competitors. The reason for that, we're told, is that commercial vehicle operators prefer to leave the passenger airbag on the option list. A passenger airbag is just another expense to be met in the event of a vehicle being involved in a frontal collision – and not warranted if the vehicle never carries passengers on its daily courier runs. But the V80 has it anyway, and is still priced lower than those same competitors.

>> Straddling van segments
The distributor has amassed price-adjusted comparative specification data to show the short-wheelbase V80 represents better value than the least expensive variants of both the Hyundai iLoad and Toyota HiAce – the two largest selling vans in the 2.5 to 3.5-tonne segment.

In point of fact, however, the V80 is sized to compete with larger, heavier vehicles. Properly speaking, the SWB variant's 3.2-tonne GVM lets it off the hook there – but also places it at a weight advantage over Ford's front-driven Transit. V80's two long-wheelbase variants are right in the thick of things in the heavier segment, up against Fiat Ducato, Ford Transit, Iveco Daily, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Renault Master and Volkswagen Crafter.

LDV claims that the V80 is typically better packaged than competitors as diverse as the Transit, Sprinter, Crafter, Ducato and Daily, but it's an argument that needs to be weighed up in light of the core engineering qualities and safety features of at least a couple of those rivals.

>> No boxes injured in the testing of this van
The V80 is a vehicle much more at home in the suburbs or on the freeway than on some of the dreadfully patchy roads around Gresford in New South Wales.

But it was a credit to the vehicle's underpinnings that the ride comfort was acceptable on some of those shockingly bad roads, patched and repatched over a period of years. Some ballast on board helped keep the V80 from bucking and bouncing. Owner/operators will usually run the V80 in a semi-loaded state, so the test conditions seemed appropriate. Out on the freeway back to Sydney the V80 was stabled and unfazed at speeds of 110km/h up and down grades.

The first-generation common-rail turbo-diesel supplied by VM Motori feels peaky and doesn't develop its power and torque at revs as low as some SUVs and modern commercial vehicles. It needs the driver to be proactive about shifting down on hills, and the V80 would also benefit from an extra forward gear (making the total six, rather than five). Turbo lag was evident and the noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) qualities rate a middle order ranking. In addition to the drivetrain, there were also apparent creaks and rattles from the rear end; either leaf springs or brakes.

The V80 is an easy vehicle to drive; the gear shift is not slick in a passenger-car way, but we had little trouble slotting into the next gear. Relative to other commercial vehicles the shift action is reasonably tight and precise, with the lever placed in easy reach of the driver. The steering is quite light – arguably too light at open-road speeds – and there's not much feedback through the wheel, but the V80 is not alone in that. With a dead axle at the rear and ballast on board to even out the ride, handling was not what might be kindly called 'car like'. There are other vehicles around that feel much more secure at open-road speeds, but they cost considerably more too.

Instruments and controls in the V80 were generally laid out sensibly, although the centrally located instrument binnacle will distract drivers from the road. And viewing the speedometer (on the left side of the binnacle) from such an acute angle could lead to drivers speeding without being aware they're breaking the law. The manufacturer is believed to be working on a fix for right-hand drive countries like Australia. Placed between speedo and tacho, the LED tripmeter and odometer burned out in even overcast sunlight glare, making it difficult to read for counting down turns on a drop-off route chart for the drive program. This writer also found the brake pedal was located too high, in contrast with accelerator and clutch pedals.

Lack of Bluetooth – something the distributor advises will be addressed within months – would be a problem for the modern owner/operator for whom hands-free telephony is very much a tool of the trade. So buyers should be wary of purchasing early V80 stock not fitted with the facility.

There's a good field of vision forward from the driver's seat and aft (courtesy of the mirrors), and entry and exit is straightforward, with a concealed step into the cabin on either side. Space in the footwell on the passenger side is slightly compromised by the way the left-hand front wheel arch intrudes into the passenger space, but that aside, there's real seating in the front for three adults. While the V80 comes with remote central locking, the occupants need to unlock the vehicle from the knob at shoulder height before the door can be unlatched. In most other commercial vehicles the central locking system will unlock as soon as the internal door handle is pulled to unlatch, but in the V80 it's a two-stage process. The load height is low enough for easy packing of pallets, either at the two sliding doors or the rear barn doors, but the right-hand barn door won't secure properly without a hefty slam.

At their first attempt to market a new model in Australia, LDV and distributor WMC Group have achieved mixed success. This vehicle was originally designed with right-hand drive markets in mind, but some of that has been lost in translation to Chinese manufacture. The V80 is by no means as sophisticated as the last van of this ilk driven by the reviewer – a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. But what the V80 lacks (quiet but capable diesel, more than five ratios and an IRS system), the Chinese van makes up with low pricing and strong value.

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Published : Friday, 1 February 2013
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