The idea is simple - make as much cargo space inside the van's perimeter as possible. Simple stuff, really, but then it gets hard.

Make the van safe - preferably with a five-star crash rating like the Mercedes Vito. Load it with passenger-car features, make it flexible with seating, ensure ride comfort and quietness are on car levels and then make the whole package look stylish. Now do all that on a small scale to suit city duties.

There are five main players in the small end of the van market - Citroen Berlingo, Peugeot Partner, Renault Kangoo, Suzuki APV and Volkswagen Caddy.

Volkswagen Caddy and Caddy Life

Volkswagen's Caddy is the state's top seller, almost doubling the sales of the neat Indonesian-built Suzuki APV van. While the APV is a traditional one-box van shape, the Caddy - and the others in this segment - are based on passenger cars and use most of the body structure and drivetrain of those cars.

That greatly reduces production costs and simplifies parts and service procedures and costs. Volkswagen started with the Polo-based Caddy and built on the model, extending its wheelbase for the Caddy Maxi and adding seats for the dual-purpose Caddy Life.

The Life can become the working tool for tradies and couriers and become the family car on weekends. There's even a third row, two-person seat option for about $700 that turns it into a seven seat van and an all-wheel drive model.

Engine choice is a 77kW/175Nm 1.2-litre turbo-petrol and two turbo-diesels, a 75kW/250Nm 1.6-litre and a 103kW/320Nm 2-litre. The petrol is manual gearbox only while the 1.6 gets the option of a seven-speed auto. The 2-litre comes only as a six-speed auto.

Payloads vary from 780kg to 850kg with a load capacity of 3.2cu.m for the standard Caddy and 4.2cu.m for the Caddy Maxi. Prices start at $21,990 for the petrol manual and up to $32,990 for the 2-litre auto Maxi. The Maxi AWD is $36,490.

Citroen Berlingo

Citroen has been making clever delivery vans for crowded Parisian streets since the early decades of the past century. The latest is the 2012 Citroen Berlingo with a choice of two bodies, two engines and more features and reduced pricing.

The two models - a standard body with 3.2cu.m capacity and the extended body with 3.7cu.m. Payloads are 850kg and 750kg respectively. Engines are similar capacity at 1.6-litres and each has a 66kW output but one is a diesel and the other a petrol. The standard body petrol Berlingo is $19,990 and the long body turbo-diesel is $22,990.

Based on the Citroen C4 Picasso, the Berlingo models share a 2728mm wheelbase with the long body adding 240mm for more load space.

Suzuki APV

If price is everything and luxury is only something in a dream, the Suzuki APV makes a lot of financial sense. At $18,990 it's the cheapest way to haul 3.4cu.m of stuff. And with a 9.8m turning circle, probably the most nimble way as well.

The APV has a large 2005mm load length tucked within its compact 4155mm body length. It has only one drivetrain - a 68kW/127Nm 1.6-litre petrol attached to a five-speed manual gearbox - that gets an average of 8.2 L/100km.