White Van Man has a pretty dodgy reputation. This stereotypical driver of a plain-coloured panel van – traditionally white because it’s the best background for sign-writing – is known for being pushy and inconsiderate in the traffic. Unfairly so, in my view.
First mentioned in print as the ‘scourge of the road’ in 1997, he quickly entered the motoring lexicon so indelibly that for a while he (because van drivers are invariably male) was featured in his own regular column in the Sun newspaper.
Times are changing though, and so are both the colour of vans and the gender of some of the drivers. I have just spent an enjoyable week at the wheel of a Volkswagen Caddy, and although my fellow van drivers are still predominantly male, I noticed more women ploughing the urban traffic furrow in vans than I did while driving one tediously slowly around the country on an economy marathon a few years back.
Blue van woman
The Caddy was not white but blue, so I bucked the white van man stereotype on two counts. Meanwhile other van drivers were busy smashing it. Pushy? Maybe. But inconsiderate? More vans let me out of side turnings in the Caddy than any of the other traffic. There’s camaraderie amongst us van folk.
Volkswagen’s Caddy is the latest version of a popular van that has morphed through four generations since it was first launched back in 1978. This new one is the best yet, smooth-lined and perky, with very decent performance from a tough two-litre diesel engine. Now before you raise a big question mark over that, no it isn’t entwined in the big emissions scandal, because this engine is Euro 6-compliant, meeting the latest EU emissions regulations.
The Caddy is a compact urban van, 4.5 metres long, and priced from £13,500 plus VAT. It can carry 3.2 cubic metres of cargo in a load length of 1,779 mm, accessible either via the rear doors or through a side one, which is standard on one side and optional on the other.
If you haven’t driven a van recently, or maybe not at all, being at the wheel of a modern one like the Caddy is a bit of a revelation. Rustic, clunky, utilitarian? Not a bit of it. Ignore the over-shoulder view of the bulkhead behind the front seats, keep your eyes away from the door mirror reflecting the windowless metal panel aft of you, and looking straight ahead you’re at the wheel of a VW Golf.
The dash layout, all the controls and even the driving position are comfortable, civilised and car-like. Very Golf. Vans have come a very long way since the Millennium, and driving a workhorse doesn’t mean that you have to be treated like one.
If you think you are seeing more vans in the traffic these days, you’re right. Vans are a growing force on Britain’s roads, the busy workhorses of daily life for thousands of drivers up and down the country. Their numbers have been on an upward trend since 2010.
Two years ago, one in ten new vehicles registered in Britain was a van. By the end of last year, vans accounted for 10.9 per cent of all new vehicles joining the roads. This summer they were up to 11.4 per cent, and still on a rising curve.
So these stalwarts of business life are becoming more prolific – with over 360,000 sold last year – and so is the choice available. These were the top ten best-selling vans last year.
1 Ford Transit Custom (33,516)
2 Vauxhall Vivaro (19,364)
3 Volkswagen Transporter (17,221)
4 Peugeot Partner (16,632)
5 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter (16,612)
6 Ford Transit (15,465)
7 Citroen Berlingo (15,309)
8 Ford Transit Connect (12,437)
9 Volkswagen Caddy (9,719)
10 Renault Trafic (9,178)