Peugeot's Bipper is a hard van to classify size-wise but there's no doubt about its other qualities. Steve Walker reports
Ten Second Review
Bigger than the car-derived vans but not quite as big as the compact vans, the Peugeot Bipper is an intriguing proposition in the UK van market. If its carrying capacity suits, operators will find a sharp handling, practical small van that's refreshingly affordable to run.
Diversification has been a defining trend in the passenger car market over the last few years. Manufacturers have been racing to develop new niche and sub-niche products, in an attempt to out manoeuvre the competition and be first with the next big thing. Now there are signs of this trend for diversification spreading to the commercial vehicle world and Peugeot's Bipper was one of the first in the door of the sub-compact van sector. You used to be able to group virtually all purpose-built light vans into one of three sectors. The compact vans, the small panel vans and the large panel vans but the Peugeot Bipper is none of the above. It's decidedly more compact than the models that traditionally make up the compact van sector but larger in capacity than the crop of car-derived vans that sit in the class below. You'd have to say that the Bipper, along with its Citroen Nemo and Fiat Fiorino sister vehicles, inaugurated the sub-compact van sector. The question is whether van buyers should take any notice.
The Bipper's compact design and resultant modest carrying capacity allows it to get away with a pair of small, economical engines. The diesel option is 1.4-litres in capacity and you'll find it under the bonnets of superminis from Peugeot, Citroen and Ford. It's proven, refined and reassuringly high-tech, using an advanced common-rail fuel injection system. This 70bhp engine makes its maximum torque of 160Nm at 1,750rpm and keeps the majority of it on stream up to 2,750rpm for strong acceleration when laden. There's also a more frugal 75bhp 1.3-litre diesel option that features a Stop-Start system to reduce emissions and can return up to 68.9mpg on the combined cycle whilst putting out as little as 109g/km of CO2. The 1.4-litre petrol unit has 75bhp but just 118Nm available at 2,600rpm. It's less satisfactory in most key areas but is a little quieter if that's your priority. The petrol unit manages 41mpg but there's an excellent 63mpg available from the diesel. The Bipper has a highly user-friendly element to its character out on the road. The steering is an electro-hydraulic set-up that keeps you thoroughly abreast of what the front wheels are doing and is light enough to make parking exercises a breeze. The stubby dash-mounted gear shifter is similarly pleasant to get to grips with, ideally positioned and positive in its action. The Bipper also affords good visibility for the driver with its truncated nose helping with the tight turning circle that can make the lives of urban drivers so much easier.
Design and Build
The Bipper is a small van and buyers considering it will be acutely aware of the capacity issue. Considering that the vehicle is well under four metres in length, its 1.523mm load length is pretty good. Better still, there's an optional folding passenger seat that in creases the available load length to around 2,490mm. The load volume is 2.5m3 without said seat folded or 2.8m3 with it in the down position. The tough torsion beam rear suspension allows the Bipper to carry up to 660kg. These dimensions clearly position the Bipper between the smaller car-derived vans and the larger compact vans in terms of capacity but being designed as a commercial vehicle from the outset, it shares far more with the compact vans on grounds of practicality. There's a good amount of storage space in the cabin and the materials have been chosen for their durability. Operators will also appreciate the upright driving position and the supportive seating.
Market and Model
The Peugeot Bipper is offered in one solitary trim level but operators can enhance the specification with the Plus Pack or delve into the extensive options list. As standard fitment, there's ABS brakes, a driver's airbag, side hinged rear doors with an asymmetric split, a CD stereo and a ladder frame bulkhead. The Bipper is relatively Spartan in this basic S guise but the Plus Pack adds essentials like remote central locking and deadlocks along with one-touch electric front windows and heated door mirrors. Making the choice between the Peugeot Bipper and its key rivals in the sub-compact sector isn't easy because they're virtually identical. The Citroen Nemo and Fiat Fiorino are built on the same production line and it's really only the badges that differentiate them. Calling its model the Bipper looks to be a brave move on Peugeot's part. It's certainly cute, in keeping with van's styling, but if the stereotypes are to be believed, the average UK van driver would prefer to be driving something that sounds little bit more masculine. Peugeot Geezer was a popular suggestion around the office.
Practicalities and Costs
The Bipper's load area is uniformly-shaped and easily accessible. There's some wheelarch intrusion with the potential to hamper anyone trying to squeeze in bulkier objects but 1,046mm between the arches isn't too bad. The read doors open to 180 degrees and are asymmetrically split to improve access with just one door open. The sliding side doors are optional but they don't open particularly wide so you'll end up putting those bulky objects in through the rear. Peugeot has worked hard to minimise the Bipper's running costs and 2-year/20,000-mile service intervals help here. Another bonus is that the replacement of key components has been timed to coincide with service intervals in order to reduce the time the Bipper is off the road.
There's little doubt that Peugeot's Bipper does what it sets out to do very efficiently. Despite its compact external dimensions, the van maximises space inside for passengers and cargo. It's also economical and very comfortable to drive. The only doubt surrounds its positioning in the market. The choice for small van buyers is growing ever more diverse, so will enough operators find that the Bipper is the perfect package for them? There will always be those who play it safe and go for a small van with a larger payload than the Bipper despite the fact that they'll rarely, if ever, use it. Those who can make do with a 660kg payload and 2.5m3 load volume will find very little cause for complaint. The Bipper is cleverly designed around the needs of business users and deserves to find a ready market.