Can the entry-level Peugeot Expert van do the business? Steve Walker takes a look.
Ten Second Review
The entry-level Peugeot Expert covers the small basics with little fuss while coming in at a more attractive price than the larger-engined models. Outright pace is not a forte and the problem is compounded by heavy loads but the engine is flexible at low speeds and the Expert handles well. A well designed load area and roomy cabin are plus points but better interior plastics would raise its game.
Just like cars, van model ranges are set out so that there's always something better. The intention is to drag customers up the hierarchy to the more desirable and expensive models, thus wringing some extra cash out of them. Whether customers are susceptible to this ploy depends on a number of factors but key amongst them is whether the person making the buying decision is going to be driving the van. Budget permitting, a driver who'll be in the vehicle day in, day out will specify all the mod cons and the liveliest engine going. A Managing Director or Fleet Manager with a nice German executive saloon in the office car park will more likely choose something like the Peugeot Expert HDi 90. But is that necessarily a bad thing?
The HDi 90 is the entry-level Peugeot Expert and unlike the HDi 120 and the HDi 136, it uses a 1.6-litre HDi diesel engine. The '90' part refers to its modest power output which equates to 89bhp in good old brake horsepower. Performance is sluggish if we go by the usual 0-60mph increment, with the HDi 90 model detaining you for over 17s while it strains its way up to motorway speeds from a standing start. This might sound like a disaster, especially as the 2.0-litre HDi 120 model manages a 12.8s sprint, but if you don't drive like Jenson Button in a hurry, the difference is less noticeable than these figures suggest. With 180Nm of torque from 1750rpm, the HDi 90 Expert has decent flexibility for town driving and will pull strongly through the gears. What it doesn't have is much of a top end and the van will be found out if operators make use of its full payload capacity on a regular basis. For light-duty urban work though, this might be all the Expert you need. The engine is smooth and just as refined as the 2.0-litre units. There's good visibility through the huge expanse of windscreen and in the large door mirrors. Despite being a panel van, the Expert doesn't sit you too high up. The driving position is upright but there's no need to clamber up into it as there is on other panel van models. If you've driven an MPV passenger car, you'll have the general idea.
Design and Build
The styling cues carried over from its Boxer big brother are obvious as soon as you clap eyes on the Expert. Like the Boxer, the van is fruit of Peugeot's commercial vehicle partnership with Citroen and Fiat, so versions of it are also available from these manufacturers badged respectively as the Dispatch and Scudo. Viewed in profile, the Expert has more of a snout on it than the stub-nosed Boxer but the huge Peugeot trademark headlamps and the horizontally split grille will ring bells with owners of the larger van. The windscreen is steeply raked, creating a wedge-shaped front end with thick rubbing strips protecting the flanks and the tail lights mounted high up to help avoid costly parking knocks. Load volumes range from 5m3 to 7m3 thanks to two different load lengths and a pair of roof heights. Then there are two gross payloads, 1,000kg and 1,200kg. With window van, Combi minibus and platform cab options also available, the Expert has the kind of diversity in its line-up to meet a wide spectrum of different operator requirements. There's even a passenger car version intriguingly called the Expert Tepee. The cab area has plenty of space and a good array of storage options with tough plastics used to enhance the longevity of the fixtures and fittings. The design is less successful than the outside and there isn't the high quality feel you get in some of the sector's top efforts but you do get a wide range of storage options to keep the tat in check.
Market and Model
As the entry-level option in the Peugeot Expert range, the HDi 90 has low pricing on its side. There's a premium of over £1,000 to pay if customers want to upgrade to the 2.0-litre HDi 120 model and that's quite a step in a mid-sized panel van. Standard equipment levels are about what you'd expect from a panel van in this sector - sparse. But this helps to keep the cost down and drivers shouldn't feel too hard done by. Electric windows, a CD stereo, twin sliding side doors and a steering column that adjusts for height and reach all make the cut. If you want an Expert with all the mod cons, you can have one courtesy of an options list that's bristling with the likes of air-conditioning, speed limiting cruise control, rear parking sensors, satellite navigation, a Bluetooth hands free kit, the pneumatic rear suspension and ESP stability control. Obviously though, such fripperies will bump the Expert's attractive pricing up to levels at which more expensive rivals may look more appealing.
Practicalities and Costs
The loadbay itself is usefully square in shape, with minimal wheelarch intrusion. It can accommodate a 2,260mm loading length in the short wheelbase Expert and 2,600mm in the long wheelbase van. Heaving weighty cargo aboard is made easier by a low 570mm 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 450mm. All the usual lashing eyes and fixing points of racking systems are present and correct, with access available through the symmetrically split side-hinged rear doors or sliding side doors. A lifting tailgate is available as an option. Performance might be unremarkable but the HDi 90 can deliver on grounds of running costs. Its official combined economy figure is the same as that of the 2.0-litre HDi 120 at just over 39mpg but it's a few points better than that model on the urban cycle. All Expert models get a two-month unlimited mileage warranty and service intervals are every 12,000 miles.
The entry-level model can look a little unappealing in the brochure but in the real world, the difference between it and higher spec versions sometimes isn't that great. The HDi 90 model props up the Peugeot Expert range and it will feel underpowered in certain situations but around town with medium to light loads on board, it should serve operators fine. The main advantage of sticking to this basic model is the lower purchase price and the savings will be music to the ears of many businesses. The Expert is a well designed panel van with a different, more car-like feel than many of its rivals as a result of its lower driving position. Better quality plastics would raise its game but the load bay is well shaped and accessible while standard equipment includes all the basics.