Special Delivery

The results are in for the Canadian Truck King Challenge van competition
Howard J. Elmer
March 12, 2015
Written by Howard J. Elmer
Six expert judges put delivery-style vans from Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Ram ProMaster through their paces.
Six expert judges put delivery-style vans from Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Ram ProMaster through their paces.
The Canadian Truck King Challenge has concerned itself with real-world pickup truck testing since 2006 – and still does. However, over the past few years a one-of-a-kind metamorphosis has taken place in the commercial van market in Canada – one that simply had to be investigated more closely.

Once we approached manufacturers about doing our brand of testing on their products, they wholeheartedly agreed. Now, for those folks who buy and use commercial vans … well, you already know that the landscape has changed. For most everyone else, let me just say that what has happened to the traditional low-roof North American box van (think Ford E-series) is a European invasion. Starting with Mercedes Benz, several years ago, we saw the arrival of the Sprinter with its distinctive high-roof and diesel engine. What followed was Ford products, designed and built in Europe – the smaller Transit Connect and now the full-size Transit. Quick on the heels of these two are the ProMaster vans. Badged as Rams, they started life as Fiats. They too bring a diesel powertrain as well as gas and a unique front-wheel drive design.

From the other side of the globe, Nissan brought a built in North America van – the NV. Gas powered and with various roof heights, it’s a competitor to all the builders mentioned so far. Now Nissan has also offered up a smaller front-wheel-drive van – the NV200.

Six judges evaluated these vans over two days last autumn. Each of these judges is an automotive journalist, a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) and someone who spends a substantial portion of his or her time making a living out of evaluating the working quality of trucks, vans and vehicles. But, that pedigree alone is not enough (as anyone who follows the challenge knows). We drove the vans empty to start with, and then we loaded them with payload; finally, we replicated downtown deliveries.

In total, we drove more than 1,600 kilometres while testing.

For payload, we used shingles – 3,070 pounds on a single pallet for the full-size vans and 1,040 pounds for the three smaller ones. These were supplied by IKO and loaded at Roof Mart in Brampton, Ont.

The following day, we did something rather new to the challenge. We ran a very small route through the congested downtown that took in laneways, parking lots and alleys. And we spent a bit of time with each van backing into narrow docks. The intent of this exercise was to see how well the mirrors were set up, what the sightlines on each vehicle were, and how well it steered in tight quarters. Each judge scored each van based on his or her own observations.

So, while how a vehicle drives and handles is a very subjective process when scoring, determining fuel economy isn’t. Just like last year (and with our Heavy Duty Challenge) we engaged a Kitchener, Ont., company, MyCarma, to install electronic data readers in each of the vans to record fuel consumption over the two-day test period. The results are available by contacting project lead Matthew Stevens at 519-342-7385 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Please keep in mind that the results are as “real world” as it gets. The readers run constantly and the results are a blend of the driving styles of all six judges who circulate through the vans on a rotating basis. What we have done, though, is tried to break out the fuel numbers for when the vans were empty, loaded and during the low-speed simulated downtown delivery segment.

So, who won? Well the Ford Transit came out on top for the full-size vans while the Nissan NV200 squeaked out a win in the smaller category.

And how did that happen? Well the story is in the details. Please have a look at who our competitors were and how the judges scored them – that’s where the story lies.

Who were our competitors?

Ford Transit 250
The Transit was born and raised in Europe and Asia but is now also being built in Kansas City, Mo. It’s a typical front-engine, rear-wheel drive configuration. Ford says the Transit will average 25 per cent better fuel economy than the current E-series, which has ceased production. Variations of this include three body lengths; two wheelbases; three roof heights; and bodies that include van, wagon, chassis cab and cutaway variations. Each engine is paired with an automatic six-speed transmission

Ford Transit Connect
This small van, introduced in 2009, really started the trickle that has become a flood of new van products in Canada. Late last year, the Transit Connect got a nice makeover taking it into this model year. It got two new engines, a tow package, two wheelbases and new trims. Order it with second-row seating, a rear-view camera, 6.5-inch touch screen display with navigation and SYNC with MyFord Touch. Ford suggests that the 1.6L EcoBoost I-4 will provide fuel economy in the 7.8L/100km range.

We had both an EcoBoost and a naturally aspired engine to test.

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
This year, Sprinter has an updated body that features a higher nose, larger grille louvers and new options like Bi-Xenon headlamps. Along with the body update, the V6 BlueTec diesel gets a new base engine partner – the 2.1L I-4 turbodiesel. This engine is said to get a combined fuel rating of 8.9L/100km. Mercedes has also added five new assistance systems to the Sprinter to help drivers avoid accidents. Last, but most interesting, a four-wheel-drive option is now available on these vans. I drove one after our event (and it worked very well); however, a four-wheel-drive model was not available for testing at the time of the challenge. Maybe next year.

Ram ProMaster
The new ProMaster will cover customers’ needs with a variety of body styles and weight categories (1500, 2500 and 3500) in Van, Chassis Cab and Cut-Away versions. However, unlike the Mercedes and Ford it is a front-wheel-drive powertrain, giving it a lower, flat cargo floor.

The two ProMasters we had for testing were both built with the 3.6L Pentastar V6 gas engine. However, the ProMaster is also offered with a 3L I4 EcoDiesel, which was not available at the time of testing. That falls into the “too bad” category because we were very curious to see how it stacked up against Ford and Mercedes. Again, maybe next year.

Nissan NV200
The NV200 is going up against the Ford Transit Connect and the coming ProMaster City. Unlike the others, it has already scored a market by being named the preferred taxi of New York City. Its small front-wheel-drive platform lends itself to fleets and individual business functions. Its low pricing is certainly an advantage.

These were our competitors. A very nice field; however, there were a couple of vehicles missing for one reason or another. They included the full-size Nissan NV, the diesel-engine ProMaster and the ProMaster City – a smaller version of the ProMaster meant to do battle with the Transit Connect and NV200. As for GM – well, it’s offering the NV200 now rebadged as the Chevrolet City Express for its small van market – this entry would have been redundant. And finally, GM still offers its full-size Savana and Express vans. These vans are old-school, and while they have their market, I understand why GM didn’t enter them.

The Results
Each van was evaluated in six categories. The maximum possible score was 100.
 
2015 Ford Transit Connect (2.5L)
  • 6-speed automatic
  • Front-wheel drive
  • Price as Tested: $30,729
  • Final score: 77.7

2015 Ford Transit Connect (1.6L)
  • 6-speed automatic
  • Front-wheel drive
  • Price as Tested: $34,389.00
  • Final score: 74.74

2015 Ford Transit 250 (3.2L diesel)
  • 6-speed automatic
  • Rear-wheel drive
  • Price as Tested: $49,152
  • Final score: 81.18

2015 Ram ProMaster 1500 (3.6L V-6)
  • 6-speed automatic
  • Price as Tested: $36145
  • Final score: 73.5

2015 Ram ProMaster 2500 (3.6L V-6)
  • 6-speed automatic
  • Front-wheel drive
  • Price as Tested: $42,745
  • Final score: 72.47

2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 (BlueTEC V-6)
  • 5-speed automatic
  • Rear-wheel drive
  • Price as Tested: $48,860
  • Final score: 78.25

2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 (2.1L I-4 diesel)
  • 7-speed automatic
  • Rear-wheel drive
  • Price as Tested: $43,810
  • Final score: 78.86


More in this category: « Equipment Trends  |  Sifting Success »

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