Citroën Dispatch/Peugeot Partner - Test Drive Review
The small panel van sector is already crowded with red-hot contenders and the marketplace for these oh-so-useful vehicles is going to heat up substantially in September when PSA Group launches its all-new twins; the Citroën Dispatch and Peugeot Expert.The current versions, which also appear rebadged as the Fiat Scudo and Toyota Proace, are at present getting pretty long in the tooth and outdated, but the new models — which are completely reworked from the ground-up — offer a number of best-in-class features. Incidentally, unlike Toyota, Fiat won't be taking this new model, but is instead linking with Renault to offer a rebadged Trafic as the Talento. Confusing? Yes you could say that!PSA whipped us off to Paris for a first drive in the new contenders and in left-hand drive format we were pretty impressed. If Brit versions are this good, we can foresee a right old ding dong battle for sales among the various manufacturers in the coming year; good news for buyers as there are likely to be some cracking deals on offer.Car-based PlatformThe new van is based on the Citroën C4 Picasso/Peugeot 308 platform, albeit modified to cope with the stresses and strains of light commercial vehicle life. Uniquely in this sector, three lengths will be on offer on two wheelbases — compact, standard and long — although the current high roof variants will no longer be on offer. This means that at 1.9m in height, all models will be able to winkle into city centre multi-storey car parks.In addition to van versions, there will also be a platform cab on offer, plus crew van and combi variants with up to nine seats. UK prices go from £17,495 to £24,195 (excl VAT).DrivetrainsTwo diesel engines are available; a 1.6-litre unit offering 95hp or 115hp and a 2.0-litre alternative with 120hp, 150hp or a nice rorty 180hp on tap. PSA won't be offering any petrol engines or electric versions.As the vans won't be on sale until after the Euro 5 cut-off date of 1 September 2016, all engines will be Euro 6 compliant. This means the addition of an AdBlue tank which will have to be filled every so often. PSA reckons a tankful will last for 9,300 miles. The tank is filled via a flap in the front of the vehicle. The plus side of Euro 6 is that CO2 emissions will be lower than those in the current vans (as low as 133g/km). Fuel economy is impressive, with the most efficient engine slated to return a class-leading 55.3mpg on the combined cycle, which knocks all the opposition into a cocked hat and could well sway the van-buying public in PSA's direction. Environmentally friendly 'Blue' versions also get a stop/start system as standard. Service intervals are stretched to 25,000 miles or two years, again adding to the vans' low cost of ownership.Load AreaThe three length options means that there is a myriad of different payloads, load volumes and internal cargo measurements. Maximum cargo volume is 6.6m3, while payloads go up to an extremely useful 1,400kg; and that includes on the compact versions which we reckon is an astonishing achievement, despite being a niche requirement for operators. Using a flap in the bulkhead (Moduwork), loads of up to 4.02m can be accommodated. Gross vehicle weights go from 2.7 tonne to 3.1 tonne.And there's a natty little bit of tech available as an optional extra to open or close the sliding side door hands-free by simply waving a foot under the corner of the rear bumper. A great boon for any driver who has to carry heavy loads on a regular basis.In-Cab ComfortPSA has raised the seat height by 110mm in the new vans, but even still, the occupants sit lower than they do in most of the opposition models. This could be a good or bad thing depending on your point of view. On the plus side these vans feel more like driving cars than commercial vehicles. On the downside you aren't as high up and therefore can't see as much of the road ahead. However, the driver's seat is solid and supportive with lots of padding at the sides, which you might need if you choose the 180hp version! The passenger ones were a tad hard and flat and we also felt the quality of the plastics used in the cab was rather downmarket.PSA has placed two coffee cup holders on top of the dash just where they are needed and there is also an extra 12v take-off under the dash.The 7in touchscreen unit in the middle of the dash features all sorts of goodies, such as a TomTom-based sat nav system which can also be operated by voice, media and telephone features plus there's a facility which flags up not only where fuel stations are, but also the prices they are charging. There's also the option of a 'mirror' system so that the driver's smartphone can be linked up to the van, plus the option of a fleet management package which monitors the driver's behaviour and fuel usage on the road.All well and good, but this little lot is only standard on Peugeot Business and Citroën Enterprise variants. Lower specs get a DAB radio instead, which is a shame as Citroën included a Teletrac sat nav and stolen tracking system on all its old Disptaches and this offer will be junked with the new van.SafetyOnce upon a time, you were lucky to get a seatbelt in a van, but nowadays the law dictates that we all get wonderful items such as ABS brakes and ESC traction control as a legal fitment. We reckon those two items alone will probably save thousands of lives.There is, however, also a myriad of other safety goodies on offer, although you'll have to cough up extra for them. There's the option of blind spot monitoring, a vision pack with rear radar parking and assistance equipment, extra grip control, a road sign reading device with speed limit recommendation, a driver attention alert system, lane departure warning system, automatic main beam switching and active safety braking which stops the van when a crash is imminent. This works up to 19mph. Above this speed, the brakes will be applied to help minimise any damage that occurs. All this adds up to a five-star NCAP crash-test rating. Behind the WheelWe tested two models on a variety of roads around Paris; the Dispatch 1.6-litre 115hp and the Expert 2.0-litre 150hp; both proved delightful to drive, with plenty of grunt on offer even with the smaller engine. In fact we'd go as far as saying you won't really need anything more than 115hp unless you want to take part in the traffic light grand prix or maybe Whacky Races. Bearing in mind that the lower-powered van is over £4,000 cheaper, that's where our money would go.Both vehicles proved whisper quiet, even at high speed on the Autoroute and handling proved crisp in the extreme, with a nice slick gearchange and light clutch action. We were particularly enamoured by the optional heads-up display for the driver; every van should be fitted with one. VerdictPSA knew that this van had to be better than good to take on the likes of the rival Volkswagen Transporter and Ford Transit Custom. While build quality may not quite be up to that of those two contenders, the Dispatch and Expert certainly give those market leaders a run for their money; and they win hands down on fuel economy too, which counts for a lot in many buyers' books.
New Citroën Dispatch & Peugeot Expert revealed
Peugeot/Citroën & Toyota reveal new van ranges