There is something about the DFSK Loadhopper that doesn’t quite sit well with a UK audience. Perhaps it's something about the way it looks. Who knows? But one thing that was very obvious was that while driving many fingers were pointed at the DFSK Loadhopper. We could even hear the sound of laughter in our general direction too. Maybe that's because with the demise of the minivan, the Loadhopper’s silhouette is an uncommon sight. Or maybe it's something else?
Of course the startling resemblance this Chinese import’s front end bears to older products from a certain Bavarian car manufacturer may have contributed to the sniggers. But coincidental similarities to a BMW aside, it is still a fairly ugly and unusual creation.
Imported by Swindon based Vestatec, the UK Loadhopper range consists of single-cab, double-cab, tipper and panel van models. We've got the van here with a 1-litre petrol engine.
It has a price of just £8,495 at launch. That's £3000 less than the next most affordable van in it’s “class” the Peugeot Bipper. Of course for that money there are understandably some compromises.
The DFSK Loadhopper is powered by a pathetically feeble (and extremely noisy) 1-litre petrol engine. It procudes just 52hp and 78Nm of torque. As a result, performance is virtually non-existent. The little power that it does generate comes through a five-speed manual gearbox and is sent to the rear-wheels.
So, it's a rear-wheel-drive BMW. Sort of. Except it's a van. And definitely not a BMW.
The Loadhopper’s centre of gravity is quite high, and the traction afforded by the skinny tyres doesn’t inspire confidence. Fast cornering therefore requires faith and courage. But when done smoothly (no easy task with the light and woolly steering) can be bizarrely rewarding. Straight-line speed is an issue, unless you want to wear ear defenders and wring the DFSK Loadhopper’s neck. Around town, though, and when not in a hurry, the Loadhopper is comfortable tottering about.
The suspension setup is fairly firm. Little difference is made whether you are driving with or without a payload, but the DFSK rides out the bumps with a minimum of fuss.
In fact, its suspension is arguably its finest point. It's still not close to an acceptable level of comfort, though.
It all sounds fairly negative, doesn't it? In truth it is still a decent van, despite these flaws. And you do get a lot of capacity for your money...
With a loadspace measuring 1,940mm x 1,300mm x 1,210mm in length, width and height, there is 3.2m3 of load volume. There's also a maximum payload potential of 548kg. On the plus side, a ply-lining for the rear floor comes as standard.
However, you shouldn't overlook the well being of the driver. Unfortunately the DFSK Loadhopper has little to be optimistic about in this regard.
Read our DFSK EC35 review to find out about the all-electric successor to the Loadhopper
The cheap starting price reflects the quality of the interior. Typically Chinese plastics. The sort perhaps best reserved for the abundance of robust consumer electricals manufactured in the country. However, it feels strong enough to withstand a tough working life, and at this price that is all you can expect. There is a decent radio – which you’ll need to drown out the noise – an engine immobiliser and central locking, but material quality and comfort are lacking in every aspect. Although the seat can be moved a good distance from the wheel, it is basic in the extreme. It's also not properly in line with the pedals and steering wheel. That only adds to the awkwardness of the van.
Visibility through the wing mirrors above town speed can also be very difficult due to wobbling, and the lack of a wiper blade on the glazed rear window doesn’t help the view to the rear either in winter conditions. Nevertheless, we can see a market for the Loadhopper in small communities where journey times are short and requirements basic. But, as a modern van for the modern metropolis it falls drastically short, and on the motorway it is entirely inappropriate.
It’s too noisy, and the driver feels too vulnerable, but we are sure this won’t be the situation with Chinese vans for long.
The unusual pressings on the loadspace’s body panels are perhaps prophetic of a van that will one-day emerge. The DFSK Loadhopper is a rough diamond that will, one-day, come good.
Update: The Loadhopper went off sale in the UK mid-decade in the 2010s, however, that wasn't the end of the DFSK story. The brand has reappeared with imports of the DFSK EC35, a more modern and slightly more appropriate van.