So you’ve just started a new business. Now you need a vehicle. Maybe you need to haul stuff around town, or maybe it will even be your mobile office. You need a cargo van that’s dependable, and able to do the job, but why stop there? Today’s cargo vans offer much of the same tech available in passenger cars. From Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to adaptive cruise control, you can have it all, plus room for tools, merchandise, or whatever else you need to haul. When it comes to the best cargo vans for small businesses, these are our top picks.
The Ford Transit has been the go-to van for businesses around the world for decades, but it’s only been on sale in the United States since the 2015 model year. The Transit marked a major change from the old Ford E-Series, with a more space-efficient design and downsized engines for better fuel economy.
The Transit is getting a major update for the 2020 model year that adds more tech features to that solid foundation. A standard WiFi hotspot can support up to 10 devices, and works up to 50 feet away from the van. The 2020 Transit is also available with tech from Ford’s passenger cars, including the Sync 3 infotainment system with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility, and driver aids like autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and post-collision braking. Ford’s Sync AppLink also allows drivers to use certain apps without plugging in their phones.
On the power side, the 2020 Transit is available with a 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder engine. Ford claims this engine will produce more torque than the outgoing 3.2-liter inline-five diesel, while returning better fuel economy. Two gasoline 3.5-liter V6 engines – one turbocharged, one naturally aspirated – are also available. For 2020, Ford’s ubiquitous 10-speed automatic transmission is standard across the board – offering a wider spread of gear ratios than any other full-size van. All-wheel drive is also available as an option for the first time.
Ford Transit Connect
Ford was the first automaker to bring a modern small van to the United States, and the current-generation Transit Connect is still a great option for small businesses. It’s a perfect fit if you need to haul cargo, but don’t need a full-size van.
With its relatively low seating position and compact proportions, the Transit Connect drives more like a car than a traditional van. Power comes from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with direct injection (Ford also offers a more basic 2.5-liter four-banger for fleet customers). For 2020, the Transit Connect also gets several new driver aids, including adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and autonomous emergency braking.
The Transit Connect has plenty of connectivity tech, too. Like the larger Transit, it’s available with a WiFi hotspot that can support up to 10 devices, as well as Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a wireless phone charger.
The recently-redesigned Sprinter borrows some tech from Mercedes’ passenger cars. It was actually one of the first vehicles to get the MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) infotainment system, which includes natural-language voice recognition and a voice assistant that responds to the prompt “Hey Mercedes.” Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available as well, and the larger optional touchscreens have pinch-and-zoom capability.
If you’ve got more than one van, Mercedes also offers a data-management platform to help you keep track of them. A built-in modem allows owners to track everything from a van’s current location to its maintenance records. That makes it easier to schedule when vans will be used, and when they will be taken out of service for maintenance work. It’s also presumably a way for nosy bosses to keep tabs on van drivers.
The Sprinter is available in a seemingly-endless array of configurations, but the largest version offers more cargo space than competitors from Ford, Nissan, and Ram. The default engine in the U.S. is a puny 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline unit, but a more powerful 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 is also available. Plus, there’s still a chance Mercedes will bring the upcoming all-electric Sprinter to the U.S.
Ram ProMaster City
The final verdict on Chrysler’s merger with Fiat has yet to be written, but it’s certainly been good for U.S. van buyers. The merger gave Ram access to European-market Fiat vans, leading to the creation of the Ram ProMaster (based on the Fiat Ducato), and the smaller ProMaster City – a Fiat Doblo adapted for the U.S. market.
Like the Ford Transit Connect, the ProMaster City is much smaller than the average American van, and has a lower seating position for a more car-like feel. But the Ram has a larger cargo area than the Ford, and a higher payload capacity. That’s partly thanks to the ProMaster City’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, which produces a respectable 178 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque. The engine comes with a nine-speed automatic transmission and a cool name – Tigershark.
The ProMaster City is a bit light on tech, but you do get Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ (FCA) Uconnect infotainment system, which is one of the most intuitive in the business. There’s some cleverness in other areas, too. The Ram’s cargo doors can swing out up to 180 degrees, and the passenger-side door is narrower than the driver-side door, to avoid blocking sidewalks when open.
The Nissan NV200 is a compact van that tries to maintain some of the feel of larger vans. Its tall seating position and cab-forward design will likely be more familiar to drivers stepping down from full-size vans than the rival Ford Transit Connect and Ram ProMaster City.
Like the Ram, the Nissan has asymmetrical doors that can open up to 180 degrees. Interestingly, Nissan took the opposite approach to Ram, placing the narrower door on the driver’s side so it doesn’t get ripped off by passing cars. Maybe someone should just figure out a way to make van doors smaller.
The NV200 is a bit light on tech, but it does offer better warranty coverage than its rivals, at five years/100,000 miles for both the basic and powertrain warranties. The passenger version of the NV200 has also proven to be pretty rugged in New York City taxi service.
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