A minibus, believe it or not. Gerald Haigh goes cruising in style
Finished in bright lemon yellow, with reflective body stripes, the latest school minibus from LDV, a Birmingham vehicle manufacturer, attracts a great deal of attention on the road.
The colour is just one of the features that has been incorporated into the design after a special concept prototype was exhibited at the 1996 Motor Show. This prototype had been loaded with features for maximum safety and comfort. Visitors to the show, as well as some 31,000 British schools, were then asked what they thought about it in a questionnaire.
After taking into account their responses and doing further research, LDV has now produced this distinctive 17-seater bus. School livery is available free of charge if preferred - there are high-level lights and the words "school bus" are prominent on the front and rear.
Such is the progress that the industry has made in recent years that you take for granted the fitting of fully-tested safety seats with lap and diagonal belts. This bus has them, as well as anti-lock braking and overhead luggage racks with elasticated nets. These racks solve the problem of having bags and sports equipment cluttering up the floor.
The 2.5 litre diesel engine provides all the performance such a vehicle needs. The power steering and big side mirrors make it easier to park than some modern cars. But the high top - there is six feet of headroom - needs to be taken into account when driving into multi-storey car parks.
Driving this, or any minibus, calls for a deliberately unhurried, smooth approach. The relatively low gearing means that you cruise somewhat slower on the motorway than you might in your car - which is no bad thing. The paintwork gives it enormous presence - you are even treated with greater courtesy by other vehicles.
A group of Year 6 children who shared the bus with me for a road test were most impressed, especially with the colour. They also quickly spotted the advantage of the luggage racks and the tallest children enjoyed being able to walk upright inside.
Driving the children around also showed up the excellent effectiveness of the ventilation system - an important safety feature, because on damp days it can be difficult to keep the windows clear of condensation.
Underneath is still the venerable LDV Convoy van, much facelifted, but you get a lot of minibus for your money.
* Prices pound;20,997 for diesel model, pound;21,995 for turbo diesel. Schools package includes free RoSPA driver training for up to three members of staff. Free school livery; fire extinguisher, first-aid kit, reversing bleeper and rear-window view-scope all fitted free.
* LDV, Bromford House, Drews Lane, Birmingham B8 2QG. Tel: 0800 614656. Stand K54