Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Peugeot is a big brand in the European commercial van segment, and locally it hopes its Expert will throw shade at New Zealand’s traditional big players.

Covid-19 might be playing merry hell with industry and markets worldwide, but there’s always a place for delivery or service vehicles and the light van market here in New Zealand. The under-2500kg GVM van segment grew 1.5% to the end of October last year over the same period in 2019, while vans over 2500kg GVM fell 22.7%, and utes almost as much. No matter the economy, vans are still needed to cart stuff about. This Peugeot Expert van is a new kid on the block here, but the French marque is the best-selling van brand in Europe, and Peugeot New Zealand hopes Kiwis will get the message. Our tester was the medium wheelbase version – there’s an LWB too – which, pricewise, pitches against the Renault Trafic (which also underpins Mitsubishi’s Express), Ford’s Transit Custom, and the VW Transporter. This is another example of a van that brings many comfort and safety features designed and sold initially on passenger cars into the light commercial arena. Yet it’s not just the safety tech this van steals from the passenger car range: it’s fitted with 8-speed auto transmission, linked to a 2.0- litre, 4-cylinder turbodiesel.

Dashboard minimalist in design; note gear selector dial.  

That many cogs – a first in our van arena – makes for close ratios and the ability to quickly shift to whichever is the most efficient for the speed and load you’re fielding. The result is a claimed fuel consumption of 6.3l/100km (combined) or 7.2 (urban). We logged 7.7l/100km showing after 524km, much of it semi-rural hill driving in the Waitakeres, west of Auckland, with a full day spent running between Auckland’s Ponsonby and Albany suburbs. Up front, its three-person seating proved ample, with a 1.9-metre, medium-build man, a pregnant woman, and this average-sized female driver comfortably aboard. The same trip confirmed, for those who find visualising images easier than numbers, that it’s certainly practical. The sliding doors both sides and dual glazed rear doors that open out to 180o eased loading and tying down the load, and the three-Euro-pallet cargo space held a king-single bed with headboard very comfortably, then an entire house-load of used carpet and underlay, with space to spare. Expert’s fixed glazed bulkhead not only keeps front occupants safe from cargo in an emergency stop, it also keeps the cab as quiet as any large diesel car, an absolute boon for anyone spending long hours at the wheel; we found conversation as effortless as in a passenger car, unlike many vans.

Photo: Rear doors split 50/50.

Photo: Twin side doors aid practicality.

That bulkhead also means the heater or air-con is more efficient, as there’s less volume to work on. However, the bulkhead doesn’t help the already compromised rear visibility from a box van. It’s helpfully offset by parking sensors front and rear, plus an excellent 180o reversing camera, which works extremely well when reversing from a parking space to alert you of approaching traffic. However, exits from awkwardly angled side roads can be tricky, with the view 45o over one’s left shoulder particularly restricted. We were, however, impressed with the Expert’s ride, especially when unladen. It’s far more compliant and less prone to waywardness over bumps than expected in this bracket, and the tight turning circle and light steering all help this van seem very wieldy. The motor seemed responsive too, with power and torque peaking just where required. You can keep an eye on economy and other functions via the multifunction onboard trip with its temperature display while comfortably ensconced in the driver’s seat. The seat also includes height and lumbar adjust, plus a height and reach adjust steering wheel armed with controls to many of the van’s functions, though as it also has voice recognition, you’ll often use that instead. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included in the specification, as well as amenities like dashboard cup holders and three 12-volt sockets.

Photo: 180° opening doors, padded floor and bulkhead that somewhat affects rear visibility.

Photo: Easy access to the nifty throughloading portal in the bulkhead.

These days it’s becoming a given that any van will be loaded with a suite of auto safety aids which, until recently, might have been reserved for high-end passenger cars. Autonomous emergency braking is standard, along with a forward-collision warning system, an efficient (and in a van, extremely valuable) blind-spot monitoring system, adaptive cruise control and speed limiter, a basic drive attention alert for those using the van for long distances, plus other goodies like electrically adjustable, heated and folding wing mirrors, an autodimming rear-view mirror, and auto wipers. The MWB Expert costs $54,990 standard, but our test example came with cost options that included the Moduwork and Look packs. The latter includes body-colour front and rear bumpers, side rubbing strips and exterior door handles, plus LED daytime running lights and 17” alloy wheels with Agilis tyres for a total of $2800. But it’s the former that helps you make the most of your Expert. Moduwork comes with a dual passenger bench seat with fold-up outer seat, a load-through flap under the outer passenger seat to extend the load length for longer, slim items – think a pipe bundle, for example – a fold-down writing table in the central seat back, and under-squab storage for the central passenger seat. The storage is not only useful for keeping loose clutter tucked away but also for hiding the driver’s valuables while they’re diving in and out of the unlocked van. We often comment that vans increasingly resemble passenger cars up front, a bonus in safety and comfort terms, but also making them easier for a wider range of driver sizes and experience to use. That vans like this Peugeot Expert manage that without apparent compromises in load-hauling terms is impressive indeed.

Reversing camera a boon for manoeuvrability. Plenty of storage spaces dotted around the cabin.