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The Best Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle for 2023
Last updated on April 20, 2023
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The best wheelchair accessible vehicle for 2023 is not easy to nail down to one particular vehicle because, ultimately, it comes down to the suitability for the individual in question. Some shining stars are available in the wheelchair accessible vehicle industry, but it can be hard to research, so we’ve done it for you. Discover what the meaning of WAV is here.
WAVs going forward
As we advance over the next few years, the main issues will be vehicle availability as vehicle shortages bite down, and the switch to alternative fuels affects the manufacturer’s production direction. The variety of available vehicles has shrunk too; there were thirty different models available five years ago, now there are much, much fewer.
If you are waiting for your all-electric family eWAV to be available next week and are putting off buying a WAV because of this, please don’t. Viably priced eWAVs of a manageable size does not look like they will appear anytime soon; it can take years to bring a vehicle to the WAV marketplace; it is a long, costly and complex process.
After two years of lockdowns and restricted movement, many peoples’ mobility has reduced, and the time is now to get out and about more. Larger eWAVs in van form are available now, but these will not suit the family and personal needs marketplace well.
Diesel is here to stay for a while yet, along with a spattering of petrol engines, still available, so we must be content with what will work for wheelchair users now. What price should we put on freedom and the enjoyment it can bring.
Wheelchair accessible vehicles are specialist vehicles, and eWAVs are unlikely to be available for some years yet in numbers, nor will they be accessible to acquire for many. eWAVs will not be cheap, at least not for a few years, even though many electric vehicles are available in the standard build marketplace. None can be converted for wheelchair access, and the EV market is not chasing the mobility car marketplace.
Whilst we won’t all agree on the top wheelchair accessible vehicles for 2023, it is essential to remember that we aren’t discussing highly desirable vehicles here. Remember that only what can be converted for wheelchair access is the driving factor when discussing the end product. Needs must also, and often WAVs choose their suitor because of the nature of individual needs rather than the WAV seeker choosing by preference.
Before we look at the top wheelchair accessible vehicles for 2023, it’s important to look at the reasoning behind the factors used because the deciding factors when people choose a traditional car are somewhat different. The world is your oyster in that arena, and you have all the choices. With WAVs, the choices are much more limited.
Classifying WAVs is entirely different compared to traditional cars due to the nature of the need for wheelchair access. We considered several factors when looking at the premium wheelchair accessible vehicle for 2023. These were availability, accessibility, reliability, flexibility and comfort. In other words, which wheelchair accessible vehicles represent the best overall value to wheelchair users.
There are one or two near-perfect conversions of excellent vehicles out there, and whilst we would stock them in a heartbeat, they are so rare they aren’t worth including. Availability is vital because if there aren’t many about, there isn’t much point in telling you how great one or two specific WAVs are when you would be looking for a needle in a haystack. The bottom line is, what’s the chance of finding the vehicle out there.
A well-designed vehicle conversion should offer a smooth flow through the entire process of a wheelchair user entering, being secured and exiting a WAV with the least possible stress and hassle. Good access should begin from the moment the vehicle is opened up, the ramp or lift deployed, and the securement of the wheelchair, and user, before travel. Ideally, this operation should run smoothly in reverse when a wheelchair user exits a WAV.
There isn’t anything much worse than having an essential tool that doesn’t work properly. It’s the last thing you need, whether something creaks or groans, doesn’t work correctly, or there are breakages or failures of the vehicle or the conversion. A component failure is bad enough, and the last thing you want to hear is it could be costly, or you will have to wait a while for the problem to be solved. For wheelchair users, a lack of reliability makes a WAV worthless to them, so reliability is vital.
It is nice to be surprised and always welcome when we have that moment when we can agree that there is something rather clever about a WAV. Thoughtful conversion options, well-thought-out seating, little extras, and anything that saves time, effort, or adds value to the enjoyment of wheelchair users, their fellow passengers, and the driver are always welcome in WAVs. Inevitably these things are highly valued in vehicles we need rather than want. Ideally, most would like to choose a vehicle and then say how they want it arranged, it’s rarely as simple as this, but it is possible with some vehicles.
A wheelchair user’s comfort is the most crucial factor because the factors that precede this one create that comfort experience. Suppose a wheelchair user can say they are comfortable; in this case, it likely means they did not feel any discomfort on entering the vehicle. They enjoy their position in the WAV, and travel has been a pleasurable experience. If a wheelchair user can say they enjoyed the experience after exiting the WAV, that is the WAV jackpot. Of course, individual comfort will come down to personal experience, and it does happen with one or two wheelchair accessible vehicles.
So what’s out there that stands out and makes the grade in 2023? Let’s take a look and consider the shortlist.
The Ford Tourneo Custom
The Ford Tourneo Custom can allow a wheelchair passenger many seating position options depending on the conversion. As a WAV, it can accommodate a wheelchair passenger either with a flat floor with lift access or a lowered floor with ramp access.
The word “Tourneo” in the Ford Tourneo Custom’s title means car in Ford language. The high specification versions such as the Titanium X or Active are a world away from the Ford Transit Custom, which is also available as a WAV.
Not only can a wheelchair user drive a Tourneo Custom from their wheelchair, but they can also internally transfer to the driver position from their wheelchair or be seated next to the driver in a wheelchair. The Tourneo Custom offers a choice of entry via a side lift, rear lift or a rear ramp, and a wealth of positions are available for wheelchair users in this WAV depending on the conversion.
Most would prefer the uncut level floor, which retains the original vehicle look internally, but this is not always practical for many wheelchair users due to the restrictive door entry height of around 1260mm. As a lowered floor WAV, it offers as much flexibility as a flat floor conversion, and if you must have a flat floor version, it’s only available in Transit Custom form with a higher roof.
The Tourneo Custom is manufactured to feel like a car. The ride quality is surprisingly good; it is spacious and feels safe to be on board. The Tourneo Custom can carry two wheelchair users or have up to seven seated with one wheelchair user present. With a lowered floor conversion, depending on who converted it, it will accommodate the tallest wheelchair users comfortably.
How it ranks:
We feel you get more bang for your buck with the Ford Tourneo Custom. It has a higher specification than most Volkswagen Caravelles and is approximately the same size. We aren’t saying the Caravelle is not worth considering we are looking at this from a wheelchair accessible vehicle point of view.
The VW Caddy has been available to the WAV conversion industry for many years and has been adapted with various conversions over the years. It is converted and favoured for wheelchair driver access, wheelchair passenger upfront travel, driver transfer, a middle wheelchair position and the speedy and efficient travel format of a wheelchair passenger in the rear.
The five-seat conversion with one wheelchair user position in the rear is a well-loved conversion of the Caddy Maxi and probably the most prolific. The slightly longer wheelbase Maxi version makes it ideal for private hire and taxi companies due to its separation of the vehicle’s five-seat “standard” part with the wheelchair accessible area in the rear.
The Caddy’s body shape means that most wheelchair users can travel internally to the front of this WAV to either the driver or passenger side and still have plenty of internal headroom. The internal dynamics make it suitable for the converters too.
Pretty much any vehicle that can have the floor more or less level inside, in theory, makes for the most flexible wheelchair access opportunities.
How it ranks:
The iconic name makes the Caddy a preferred choice for many though generally, its specification is not as high as the Peugeot Rifter and Ford Connect. Its flexibility and accessibility are the primary reasons why it is so popular. Combining these factors with the badge makes it a market leader. It will probably stay that way as the years progress.
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The Ford Tourneo Connect and its slightly longer counterpart, the Grand Connect, are an excellent and often preferred choice to the VW Caddy. The two together are very similar, but they offer some significant differences.
The new Connect, not yet launched, will be yet a further improvement on the previous model, we hope. Especially since the floor pan will be Volkswagen’s Caddy 5 base, now in production, we will have to wait for the new version, which is due to be launched imminently.
Specification on the currently available models of the Connect does make it attractive, especially at the Titanium specification level. With a panoramic roof making this WAV much lighter in the rear, electric folding mirrors, and other features, the Connect often wins here.
The conversion possibilities are very similar to the Connect with the VW Caddy. Still, there is notably more second-row legroom in the Connect, making it highly convertible to a mid-row wheelchair passenger. This feature often makes a significant difference in buyer choice as wheelchair users are usually seated in a highly inclusive position, depending on which company converted the vehicle.
The Ford Connect’s driver-friendly ethos is evident to most that sit in the Ford Connect driver seat over many of its competitors in the WAV sector. The Connect feels more connected to the driver with a clean, smooth auto gearbox that takes the powerful 120bhp engine through the gears in a lively fashion when the need arises. It is probably fair to say that Ford has been focused on the driver’s requirements for the longest with their heritage going back to the Ford Transit in the 1960s.
How it ranks:
The Ford Connect and its longer brother, the Grand Connect, usually play second fiddle to the VW Caddy due to the VW’s iconic status and more significant numbers in the WAV industry. Our advice is don’t dismiss it without taking a look. We feel it is just as good for different reasons. You may prefer it; you never know, and the lack of current choices in the wheelchair accessible vehicle industry means it’s essential to consider all possibilities.
The Peugeot Rifter
The manufacturer group Stellantis builds the Citroen Berlingo, Vauxhall Combo, Fiat Doblo, and the Peugeot Rifter, and they are all similar as they use the same bodies and technology. We always preferred the look of the Peugeot Rifter, and whilst specification levels are similar across these models, where the Rifter wins the WAV race is all in the conversion. And the conversion is where it counts.
You can choose between two to six seats plus a wheelchair user. The winch comes as standard, and a fold-flat ramp system also comes as standard. There are two wheelbase lengths, and we consider this one of the most flexible medium-sized WAVs available. It isn’t too big, neither is it too small. The ride height is good, and the wheelchair position in the short wheelbase version is almost 100% inclusive for most wheelchair users.
Opening the Rifter Horizon up to allow wheelchair user entry is straightforward. The winch and spacious interior make it easier for a wheelchair user to onboard and leave this WAV. Travel is comfortable too for all. Once a wheelchair is secured, most wheelchair users should be able to converse with their fellow passengers more easily in the Rifter, plus the wheelchair ride height is good too. The lower, the better generally for the centre of gravity and inclusion for wheelchair users.
There is even a drive from wheelchair or wheelchair passenger upfront version of the Rifter, too, which comes with a fully automated rear opening system that’ll make life much easier for independent travel.
The petrol version is no longer manufactured, but you might still find the odd one around. It is now only available with a manual or automatic gearbox but diesel only. Our vote goes with the diesel auto; the smooth gearbox mated with the 130bhp 1.5 engine has enough pulling power, and it feels good to be present in the Rifter.
Miraculously, new Peugeot Rifter Horizon WAVs are available to order now. The new production models have the higher “Premium” specification, and with a winch and fold flat ramp as standard, it’s hard to match in conversion.
How it ranks:
Whilst you probably wouldn’t rush out and buy a standard Peugeot Rifter, there is every reason to acquire one as a WAV post-conversion. We believe it is the closest to perfection and a great all-rounder in a medium-sized WAV. It represents excellent value for money, and the good news is they are available used and new. You could even find yourself in the Rifter soon if you order one either on the Motability Scheme or purchase one outright. We have new stock arriving so why not contact us and choose your colour and specification now.
The Peugeot Rifter Horizon is our overall winner. Given its entry and internal dimensions, it will take most wheelchair users, and it’s available in numbers. It will seat two to six seated passengers plus a wheelchair user, and the specification is good. Prices too are keen with new ones starting at £23,495 with delivery to your door in a couple of months.
If you are looking for a medium-size wheelchair accessible vehicle, the Rifter needs to be high on your list of start points as it suits in simplistic terms around 75% of most wheelchair users’ needs. Of course, there are other WAVs available, but most are no longer in production because manufacturers have changed the models making it impossible to convert for wheelchair access.
It is hard to say which is the best wheelchair accessible vehicle for 2023 because everyone’s requirements are different, but we can at least say there are four to consider. The Ford Tourneo Custom is up there, especially compared to the VW Caravelle, if you are looking for a larger WAV. It’s not to say you should ignore the Caravelle; it’s as iconic as the Caddy in the WAV marketplace; we feel it offers better value for money.
Still great WAVs
The VW Caddy and Caddy Maxi, although not readily available new or used right now, is always a favourite, and we’d measure this make and model with the Ford Connect and Grand Connect. Both marques offer similar possibilities, but Ford seem to provide more in second-row seating space and specification, and the WAV to watch will be the new Ford Connect due out soon. However, the WAV industry will have to wait for a while as kit build, and crash testing must happen before they come to market. The VW Caddy is here, in small numbers due to vehicle shortages, but it’s available.
Best is personal
In summary, although there are a few excellent WAVs available, the leading wheelchair adapted car for 2023 is the one that suits your needs the best, and you will likely need independent holistic advice. It may be that one of the WAVs mentioned above is spot on for your needs but wouldn’t you want to have some certainty around that based on focused personal advice.
SMV – The top choice for WAVs in the UK
Whether you suit WAV rental, a Motability new or nearly new WAV, a fully funded or financed WAV, Southern Mobility Vehicles is the first and only port of call you’ll need to make. You can be confident we will recommend the finest wheelchair accessible vehicle to suit your needs. That’s what we are here for, so why not call us on 0800 008 7800, email us at email@example.com or visit us for your peace of mind in a complex world.
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