Comment: Is the car based van a dying breed?

When was the last time you saw one of these? Car based vans such as the Austin Maestro van and Ford Escort van used to litter every town and high street but there are no modern equivalents. Even the ubiqitous Vauxhall Astravan is no more, having ended production in late 2012, a fact which we mourned in our feature.

In fact only MINI seems to be bucking the trend with the Clubvan - based on the Clubman - but this is less a work horse and more a 'statement' van, the kind of thing a posh florists might use. Instead the big van manufacturers have moved to more specialist vehicles so instead of the Escort van we now have the Ford Transit Connect - and soon the Transit Courier.

It's a similar story with Vauxhall. The Combo used to be based on the old Corsa but the new model is a purpose built van - in fact it's a rebadged Fiat Doblo Cargo. If you're after a small or compact van there is so much choice, so whatever your business the chances are that there's a van out there that will perfectly fit the bill.

And to say vans have moved on the past 10 to 15 years is an understatement. Quality, refinement and comfort are vastly superior to what they once were. Just because a van is a work horse it doesn't mean it has to be rough and ready. And when you're spending a large chunk of your day - if not the majority of it - behind the wheel, you don't want to feel merely like professional ballast just there to hold the steering wheel.

The real marker that vans have moved on is the number of van-based MPVs on the market. While there are few car-based vans, there are numerous van-based cars. The likes of the Citroen Berlingo Multispace, Renault Kangoo, Hyundai i800 and Ford Tourneo are all proof while the Mercedes-Benz Viano and Volkswagen Caravelle show the premium end of the market.

Sitting behind the wheel of something like the Volkswagen Caravelle - the minibus version of the Volkswagen Transporter - is very much like sitting behind the wheel of the Volkswagen Passat. The steering wheel, dials and switches are all similar and the quality is up to the same standards. Yes it's still a van underneath and you're never going to hide the fact it's got a big boxy shape - but in terms of ride comfort and refinement - it's as good as a passenger car. This is no longer a poor relation in the range.

Of all the brands it's Ford that is leading the way. It's worked to close the gap between its passenger cars and commercial vehicles. So that now dealers have to know about both kinds of products, while at a management level, there's no longer separate heads of cars and commercial vehicles. The idea is that someone wanting a car might just as equally be interested in something closer to commercial vehicle - like a Ford Tourneo Custom.

Of course there will always be a stigma associated with a car that's based on a van. As though it needs to hide its commercial vehicles roots to be successful. But as vans get better that may not be the case. Many of the latest vans coming through are a darn sight better to drive than many cars.

Ford Escort Van