Iveco Daily Natural Power review: the CNG alternative to electric vans?

  • Compressed natural gas powered Iveco tested
  • Clean alternative to diesel – if you can refuel it
  • Only CNG van sold in the UK – based on the Daily

The Iveco Daily Natural Power is likely to be even more of a niche option in the UK market than any of the small-volume electric vans on sale. That’s because the Natural Power moniker means this vehicle is powered by compressed natural gas (CNG), a fuel that’s never taken off in the UK but is popular in the rest of Europe.

Yet it offers some very real advantages over diesel or electric vans, and given that Iveco is selling these as proper factory vehicles, the Daily CNG is well worth a closer look – even if that’s only to satisfy our curiosity.

What exactly is CNG?

CNG stands for compressed natural gas. It’s the same gas that’s supplied to homes across the country for use in cooking or heating – but in this application, it’s stored in a highly compressed form to make it suitable for use as a vehicle fuel.

Iveco Daily Natural Power review - front view, tipper, CNG, 2019

CNG can be a fossil fuel, but it can also be produced from biomethane – that’s gas collected from decomposing landfills or refuse sites.

Its advantages are impressive. If running on CNG refined from biomethane, it can claim near-zero net CO2 emissions. Even running on a standard supply, CO2 emissions are far lower than the equivalent diesel, with nitrogen oxides and particulates being especially minimal. The Daily CNG undercuts Euro 6 emissions standards by a significant amount, neatly sidestepping regulations to ban polluting vehicles from city centres.

Disadvantages include a high purchase price, lower range and, most significantly, difficulty filling up. There’s fewer than 10 CNG filling stations across the whole of the UK, so these vehicles are currently only an option if you live near one or – more likely – you’re a large fleet customer willing to invest in your own refuelling station.

What’s the Iveco Daily CNG like to drive?

First impressions of the Daily CNG are overwhelmingly positive. Stepping out of a 2.3-litre conventional diesel model, the 3.0-litre CNG engine is night and day in terms of refinement. It’s quiet, smooth and quite unlike the sort of powertrain you’d expect in a heavyset van like this.

Iveco Daily Natural Power review - high front view, driving, tipper, CNG, 2019

Though the 3.0-litre diesel Daily is available with outputs up to 210hp, the CNG models are limited to 136hp and 350Nm of torque.

In smaller vans, that’s plenty, though we suspect larger vans may feel a bit tardy. Still, the CNG is available, along with the rest of the Daily range, on chassis of up to 7.2 tonnes gross vehicle weight – that’s unmatched by any other panel van, and is thanks to the truck-style ladder chassis.

Payloads are also unchanged, something you can’t say about the electric vans currently on the market.

Is CNG better than electric for vans?

A big bugbear of electric vans is their range, which is often less than 100 miles. The CNG Daily is a little better than this – medium wheelbase models can carry 194 litres of gas, which gives a range of just under 150 miles. Long-wheelbase vans get a 246-litre tank, with a range of 186 miles.

For emergencies, vans under the 7.0-tonne mark can be fitted with a 14-litre petrol tank, giving a further 60 or so miles. The appeal compared with electricity is that refuelling will take a few minutes, rather than a few hours.

Iveco Daily Natural Power review - cab interior, Hi-Matic, CNG, 2019

Daily CNGs are paired up with the Hi-Matic automatic gearbox. It’s very slick and makes piloting the Daily absolutely effortless. No small wonder, as it’s a variation of the ZF eight-speed torque converter you’ll find in thousands of high-performance passenger cars. Slightly counterintuitive shift pattern aside, it’s just as good as the automatic fitted in the Volkswagen Crafter (because it’s the same one).

Quietness aside, driving dynamics are unchanged from the conventional Daily. The heavy truck chassis means it’s not as car-like as rivals such as the Crafter or Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.

Even our test van – loaded with more than a tonne of weight in its tipper bed – was quite bouncy on the road, while the electronically assisted power steering is over-light and not totally reassuring. Should you, for some reason, want it even lighter, there’s a ‘City’ mode that makes it almost totally weightless. It feels very strange.

Iveco Daily Natural Power review - Hi-Matic automatic gearbox, 2019

Funnily enough, though, it’s very well suited to the city despite its large size. The Daily’s rear-wheel drive chassis means that the front wheels can turn to impressive angles, and endow the van with a class-leading turning circle. You won’t quite be doing U-turns like a London cab but it does mean three-point turns and tight corners are significantly easier than in some rivals.

Wind and road noise are well contained at speed, and we were surprised that even the boxy tipper body on our text van kept quiet. It’s not actually Iveco’s work, though, so well done Brit-Tippers. Top job.

What’s the interior like?

The air of rugged quality continues with the interior, which is rather workmanlike and hardwearing rather than plush.

The wide cabin seats three without too many complaints and the pod for the gear selector is closer to the driver than usual, so the middle seat passenger won’t suffer its intrusion.

Iveco Daily Natural Power review - cab interior, seats, 2019

The standard seats aren’t hugely comfortable or supportive, though, and considering the size of the vehicle there’s not a great amount of room for taller drivers. There’s plenty of adjustment in both seat and steering wheel, however.

Iveco is part of the Fiat group so if you look closely you’ll notice fittings from elsewhere. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though – the 7.0-inch touchscreen is the same UConnect system you’ll find in Fiat and Jeep cars, for example, while the steering wheel is straight from the Jeep range.

How about all that driver assistance tech?

There’s quite a list, so let’s go through them. First, autonomous emergency braking. This is likely a response to VW installing the system as standard on all of its new vans, and it’s a good addition for some peace of mind. Iveco’s realistic about its capabilities, and showed us an extensive graph of the speeds within which it would work.

Iveco Daily Natural Power review - driver assistance display, 2019

Crosswind assist will be useful especially in the largest vans, though it’s worth mentioning it’s a system that operates via the brakes. A steering-based system would be preferable, and eminently possible thanks to the electronic power steering.

Hill descent control is intended for heavily loaded vans which may be driving on building sites or challenging terrain – it moderates the speed of the vehicle without locking up the wheels, aiding control. As for getting up the hill in the first place, there’s new traction assist, which sends power to whichever rear wheel has the most traction.

The Daily’s lane-keeping assistance system is less paranoid than some rivals, too, but is only intended for safety rather than allowing hands-off control.

Iveco Daily Natural Power review - side view, driving, tipper, CNG, 2019

Finally, there’s a new adaptive cruise control system that works much as it does on a car, with three preset distances available. It even works in stop-start traffic, but even though it’s named ‘Traffic Assist’ you’ll still need to deal with steering the vehicle yourself – there’s no clever semi-autonomous system here.

Should I buy an Iveco Daily Natural Power?

If you’re lucky enough to be near one of the UK’s all-too-few CNG stations, or have the means to invest in your own infrastructure, yes. CNG is clean, and the engines that run it are every bit as flexible as a diesel.

The Daily Natural Power is in a class of one by offering this power, from the factory in the UK van market, and as such we have to call it best in class. Of course, judged more objectively against other models, its truck origins count against it, and it can’t compete with rivals such as the Volkswagen Crafter and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter on refinement, driving ability or even payload.

Also read:

>> Iveco Daily full review

>> CNG-powered VW Caddy TGI review

>> The Parkers guide to electric vans