Can you spot the difference? "It's all in the name". Renault Trafic, Opel Vivaro and Nissan Primastar! They are the same vehicle - even made in the same factory, just sold under a different badge. However, the Nissan Primastar has been discontinued in South Africa and the Renault Trafic, which was discontinued and then re-launched, is now only available in a panel van. So if you, like Alwyn Moolman, are after the versatility, spaciousness and comfort of these vehicles, then the Opel Vivaro is the way to go.

Alwyn was injured in a diving accident as a 2nd year electronic engineering student. Thanks to a very open minded and supportive department at University of Pretoria and a supportive rehab team at the then HF Verwoerd Hospital, he switched to an IT degree and was able to continue studying. He earned an Escom bursary and then Cum Lauded his degree. He is now a director of E-Logics, a company that develops transportation systems to optimise performance. His job requires him to travel a lot, so his wheels have always been important to him.

He has worked his way through a number of accessible vehicles during the 19 years that he has been in a wheelchair. As a C5/6 quad he does not drive himself so he has had to figure out suitable passenger solutions. He wanted a vehicle that was practical and good value for money. One of his early cars was a Subaru Forester which required him to transfer into and out of the vehicle but that took too much time and effort with the number of transfers that he needed to do on a daily basis so he started his hunt for wheelchair accessible vehicles. The VW Microbus was one of his favourites, but after having three stolen in quick succession, he decided to try a different brand. In 2005 he bought a Peugeot Partner and lowered the floor so that he could wheel in with his wheelchair. This has been a great solution for him, but then his needs changed radically when his twins arrived and his family suddenly expanded out of the Partner. He needed to go bigger, quickly. That was when he bought his first Opel Vivaro.

One of his key factors was the internal height. Alwyn is exceptionally tall at 1.96m when standing. His height in his wheelchair is 1.33m. This limited his choice as the Caravell, Vito and H1 were too low. With an internal height of 1.34m he is just able to fit inside the Vivaro – even though his head sometimes touches the roof. When he sits on his Jay wheelchair cushion he can fit in the vehicle, but if he sits on his Roho - he is too tall! (Photo  8560) He also liked the fact that the Vivaro came standard with all the extras included in its price - driver and passenger airbags, two sliding doors, the double rear doors, a tow hitch, park assist with four sensors in the rear bumper, front and rear air-conditioning to name a few. When purchasing a VW Transporter each of these items is added separately, pushing the price up higher than the Vivaro, even though the starting price was similar.

Alwyn is now onto his 2nd Vivaro, the 1.9 CDTi Bus. The turbo diesel is remarkably fuel efficient for the size of the vehicle, and Alwyn gets about 14km/litre on the open road (7.1 l/100km), while still having plenty of power for a performance ride, producing 74 Kw of power and 240 Nm of torque. It has a manual gearbox with six gears. Unfortunately, it is not available in automatic which means it is not an option for anyone wanting to drive from their wheelchair. The floor design also does not lend itself to this as it has a step up under the driver and passenger seats. This also prevents Alwyn from being able to sit up front as a passenger.

The CDTi bus usually has three rows of seats, making it a comfortable nine seater.Alwyn has removed the first row of seats behind the driver to create space for his wheelchair. He prefers facing sideways which he finds the most comfortable way of sitting for short distances, and it puts him in easy reach of his twins who have their car seats on the third row of seats. He has quick access through the side doors, and having a sliding door on each side of the vehicle provides added versatility enabling him to get in and out on either side. (Photo 8533) The seating configuration can be modified without tools with both rows of benches easily removable. The back row of seats can be folded forward creating enough space at the back of the vehicle for the wheelchair to be transported if necessary.

The Vivaro driver's comfort has also been well taken care of with adjustable driver's seat, power assisted steering, tilt able steering, radio controls on the steering wheel and cleverly integrated cup holder in the dash. It has innovative storage options including extra-large door pockets and a drawer under the passenger's seat. It has driver and passenger airbags and comes standard with an Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS).

Alwyn has chosen to keep the adaptations to his van to a minimum. He has filled in the step at the sliding door to provide flat access into the vehicle and he uses telescopic ramps for access. He enjoys the simplicity and versatility of these as he frequently uses them at a destination that is not accessible. They get folded away and stored under the rear seats. The floor height from the ground is 0.52m and the ramp length is 1.5 m. This provides a fairly formidable ramp gradient of approx. 1:3, but with the power of his wheelchair and a skilled helper/driver this arrangement works for him. (Photo 8525). Not having a lift in the vehicle leaves the full amount of internal space - which they frequently manage to fill up when going on a family holiday!

The Vivaro comes with a 5 years / 120 000 km Warranty and Roadside Assistance and 5 years / 90 000 km Service Plan, with a starting price on the 1.9CDTI bus from R345 900 and the panel van at R256 000. Being a fully imported vehicle it qualifies for the disability rebate.