With style and size on its side, the latest Peugeot Expert is ready to do battle with the small panel van sector's big hitters. Jonathan Crouch checks out the revised Euro5 version
Ten Second Review
With style and size now on its side, Peugeot's improved Euro5-compatible second generation Expert has much to offer if you're looking for a versatile medium range Transit-class van.
Want a job done properly? Then call in an Expert. In this case, we're talking LCVs, Transit-sized ones to be exact. This is Peugeot's improved now Euro5-compatible entry in the volume medium-range van sector where VW Transporters, Vauxhall Vivaros, Mercedes Vitos, Renault Trafics and yes, Ford Transits rule the roost. Taking on this lot isn't something you'd want to do single-handed, so the French brand has chosen to share this design with both Citroen and Fiat, whose Dispatch and Scudo models are pretty much identical. The first generation version of this vehicle occupied a kind of no-man's land in the market, bigger than something compact but not large enough to rival Transit-class vehicles. This MK2 model though, has got itself sorted out, with load volumes between 5 and 7m3 that rival anything in the class. You get clever design, proven engines and low running costs in a package that certainly works on paper. Whether it'll cut the mustard day-in-day-out though is what we're here to find out.
Engine choice in an Expert is pretty straightforward, provided you've a clear idea of the kind of work you want it to do. Sensibly, all the Euro5 units on offer are diesels and if your needs are mainly based around lighter loads and short distance urban work, then the entry-level 90bhp 1.6-litre HDi with its 179Nm of torque will be quite sufficient. For heavier payloads and longer journeys however, you'll be needing the 2.0-litre HDi model which also gives you a 6-speed gearbox in space of the 1.6's 5-speeder. The 120bhp version is quite sufficient, offering a full 300Nm of torque, quite enough to handle haul a braked trailer grossing at up to 2,000kg. If you do feel the need for more power, then there's also a 136bhp version of the same unit on offer boasting 320Nm. Or a 163bhp variant with a clever 6-speed auto gearbox. On the move, this Peugeot copes admirably with the atrocious surfaces offered up by poorer sections of the British road network and its relaxed approach does also extend to the power steering which at speed, could offer a bit more feel. You appreciate its lightness around town though, where this van is impressively manoeuvrable for its size, with a 12.6m turning circle. Indeed, a key factor behind the success of the first generation Expert was the way it remained compact and wieldy in the manner of smaller, more car-like vans from the class below. This model's bigger of course, but it retains much of that same usability around town.
Design and Build
Visually, it's quite hard to pigeon-hole this vehicle into a particular market category. You can see that it's bigger than something like a Berlingo or Kangoo-sized Peugeot Partner but you might question whether it has the volume to take on medium range vans of Transit or Vito size. As we'll see, it has. The windscreen is steeply raked creating a wedge-shaped front end which now has a smarter look, but keeps the usual huge Peugeot headlamps and the marque's familiar horizontally split grille. Moving backwards, thick rubbing strips protect the flanks and the tail lights are mounted high up to help avoid costly parking knocks. As for interior comforts, well the low floor means that the cab's easy to get in and though the handbrake lever's oddly situated between the driver's seat and the door, it doesn't get in the way. The seat itself is positioned to suit those who've to jump in and out of their vehicle all the time, with limited height adjustability and a rake and reach-adjustable steering wheel. An advantage this Expert offers over Peugeot's smaller Partner is a properly sized middle third seat. To free up space for this and make it easier for the driver to slide over to the passenger side of the cab, the gearstick has been taken from the floor and mounted on a protruding moulding in the centre of the dash.
Market and Model
List pricing suggests that you'll probably be paying somewhere in the £16,000 to £21,000 bracket for your Expert, depending upon the bodystyle you choose. Unless you're only going to be using it around town, it'll probably be well worth finding the premium of just over £1,000 to go from 1.6 to 2.0-litre HDi power. Under the bonnet, almost everyone chooses the 120bhp 2.0-litre HDi diesel that I've got here: the extra power of the 136bhp 2.0 HDi variant is pretty marginal and the 90bhp 1.6 HDi variant isn't ideal for fully-laden longer trips. All models come with a reasonable spec that runs to twin sliding doors, electric windows, central locking, a decent quality CD stereo with steering wheel controls and a 12-volt powerpoint. Safetywise, you get ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution to maximise its effectiveness, plus a driver's airbag. Model-wise, there are two load lengths and two roof heights which you'll choose between to suit the bodystyle you've chosen. Apart from this conventional van or a platform cab, passenger carriers can select the Expert Tepee people carrier that taxi drivers like so much, or the more basic Windowvan or Combi minibus designs. Whatever your choice, payload options of 1,000kg and 1,200kg ensure that the Expert can cope with a wide variety of weight.
Practicalities and Costs
It seems strange to think now that the original Expert model thought itself big with only 4.0m3 of carriage space to offer, a figure now routinely matched and beaten by many compact little vans. This second generation version is of course, much better provided for, offering from 5.0m3 (if you go for the short wheelbase standard roof version) rising to 6.0m3 if you choose the long wheelbase standard roof model, before culminating at 7.0m3 for those favouring the long wheelbase high roof version. That latter figure is only 1.0m3 less than Peugeot's entry-level Boxer model from the next class up. So far so good: let's check the practicality. A lifting tailgate is an option, but most will choose the conventional twin side-hinged rear doors I've got here that, as usual, open initially to 90-degrees or back to 180-degrees if you unlock the door stays. Heaving weighty cargo aboard is made easier by a low 540mm rear loading sill height and if you do a lot of heaving in your line of work, the pneumatic suspension option can reduce this further, dropping down as low as 500mm. Either way, the rear door aperture of 1245mm in width and 1272mm in height should enable you to get most loads in quite easily. Once you do, there's a useful load length of 2255mm in the short wheelbase model (2586mm in the lwb version) and height that's measured at 1450mm in the standard roof version and 1750mm if you've gone for a high roof. Whichever Expert you choose, the load area width is 1602mm, which narrows to 1250mm between the wheelboxes. For those occasions when it's easier to get things in at the side, there's a couple of sliding doors provided with apertures (924mm wide and 1293mm high) big enough to accept a euro pallet.
Despite the recent growth in sales of ever-larger compact vans, you can see why so many operators still choose to play it safe and opt for a larger but still relatively light and manoeuvrable LCV like this one. The Expert's designers have clearly looked very closely at what modern businesses need and this smarter Euro5 version makes even more sense on the balance sheet. It's more than competitive against the Transits, Vivaros and Trafics of this world, but whether you'd want one over its Citroen and Fiat design stablemates will depend as usual much upon the deal that you're offered and the proximity of your local franchise. Still, Peugeot's huge dealer network and tight pricing sets it up nicely here. It's user-friendly - just like this van.