The French Reconnection | VAN REVIEW – Peugeot

Peugeot returns to the Australian LCV market  By Richard Robertson

The combined entity of French brands Peugeot and Citroen has always been a niche player in Australia, even though Citroen celebrates its centenary here this year. From peak sales figures of close to 13,000 in 2007, combined brand sales dwindled to just over 4000 in 2016 and the following year, long-time agent Sime Darby passed the croissant-shaped distribution baton to global auto giant, Inchcape. Amongst other things in Australia, Inchcape is the driving force behind Subaru’s success, and now the company has set its sights on revitalising Peugeot Citroen Australia (PCA).

Rather than chasing sales volume at any cost, Inchcape is pursuing a more bespoke approach. Peugeot is being repositioned as an aspirational, premium brand, with Citroen aimed at younger, ‘funkier’ buyers. Of the two, only Peugeot will offer LCVs (for now, at least), via a three-model line-up comprising the small Partner, mid-size Expert and large Boxer vans.

Peugeot LCVs will be sold through all dealers and while not discussing volume aspirations, it’s clear PCA Managing Director Ben Farlow doesn’t see any reason Inchcape can’t take both brands to new sales heights. If the professionalism and passion at the recent launch was any indication, Delivery has no reason to doubt him.

While the Partner and Boxer vans were on display, the launch event was all about the totally new Expert, which brings new levels of technology, safety and refinement to the LCV market. Before looking at models, specs and pricing, here is what’s industry-leading – and standard equipment – across the new Expert range:Autonomous Emergency Braking with Active City Brake

  • Adaptive Cruise Control
  • Speed limiter with speed sign recognition
  • Blind-spot monitoring and a reversing camera with 360-degree display
  • Front and curtain airbags
  • A five-star Euro NCAP safety rating
  • Dual sliding doors and 180-degree rear barn doors
  • Peugeot’s flexible ModuWork system, which provides an extra 1.16m of load length

Additional standard features include ABS, traction and electric stability controls, front and rear parking sensors, airconditioning, paddle shifters on auto models, auto wipers and headlights with auto-dim, one-touch windows, electric mirrors that fold on locking, front foglights with cornering activation, Bluetooth, and a seven-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and Mirror Link. In fact, apart from metallic paint there are no options other than body lengths, engines and transmissions.

The Expert is front-wheel drive and comes with a single 3725 mm wheelbase and two body lengths: Standard (4959 mm) and Long (5309 mm). Depending on driveline choices, load capacities range from 1000 to 1300 kg and 1250 to 1300 kg, respectively.

Overall heights vary from 1895 mm for the Standard with the smallest engine to 1935 mm for the Long with the most powerful engine, while external width is 2204 mm (2010 mm with folded mirrors) on all models.

Load lengths are 2512 mm for the Standard and 2862 mm for the Long, but both increase by 1162 mm to handle longer items thanks to a cargo barrier hatch that accesses the space under the passenger seat and through into the footwell. Cubic carrying capacities are 5.8 cubic metres for the Standard and 6.6 cu m for the Long. Across the range, the load space between the arches is 1258 mm (good for three Euro pallets); the max load width is 1636 mm and max load height is 1397 mm.

Standard Expert comes with a 1.6-litre, 85 kW/300 Nm Euro 6 turbo-diesel and six-speed manual gearbox for $36,490. Optional is a 2.0-litre, 110 kW/370 Nm Euro 5 turbo-diesel with a six-speed manual ($39,990) or six-speed automatic ($42,990).

Long Expert comes with either the same 2.0-litre Euro 5 turbo-diesel as above ($44,190) or a 2.0-litre, 130 kW/400 Nm Euro 6 turbo-diesel ($45,890); both driving through a six-speed automatic. Note: prices exclude on-road costs.

PCA expects the 2.0-litre Euro 5 engine to be the big seller and it’s easy to understand why: Apart from giving away little in real-world driveability to its bigger brother, being Euro 5 means there’s no need for AdBlue, saving money and meaning one less thing for a driver to forget. It also expects auto sales to easily trump the manual. Combined fuel figures are impressive, ranging from 5.2 L/100 km for the base manual to just 6.2 L/100 km for the 130 kW auto.

All Experts are backed by a five-year/200,000 km warranty with 12-month/20,000 km service intervals, plus the option of a five-year service plan costing between $2869 and $2982 depending on engine choice (a 10 percent discount applies for upfront purchase). 

Expert Drive

Underneath, the Expert rides on Peugeot-Citroen’s Modular Platform 2 (EMP2), which also underpins dual European Car of The Year winners, Peugeot’s 308 hatchback and 3008 SUV.

“The EMP2 platform, tailored to the constraints of a utility vehicle, again demonstrates its efficiency and modularity with the Peugeot Expert,” says Peugeot Expert Vehicle Base Chief Engineer, Rémi Seimpere.

Suspension-wise, this version of the EMP2 combines a reinforced pseudo-McPherson front end with anti-roll bar and oblique wishbone trailing arms at the rear. This essentially means Expert is independently coil sprung all-round, which translates to ride and handling advantages. All models have excellent Continental 215/65R16C 106T ‘ContiVanContact’ tyres, something that no doubt also contributes to the Experts’ ride and handling prowess.

Unusually for an LCV launch, our drive program was in unladen vans. Standard practice is to load a cement bag or six to soften the ride and hear comments from apologetic PR people like, “It’s a bit rough now, but rides really nicely with a full load”.

The good news is the Expert’s unladen ride quality is excellent and its handling truly close to car-like. That might have you thinking it probably wallows like a pig when laden, but not so. We only had a brief chance to try one with 1000kg tightly strapped down in the back, but it was on a slalom course and we were encouraged to evaluate it to the full. When pushed hard through the cones, it went with little perceptible difference to the empty ‘control’ vehicle we first drove around the course, including the emergency braking at the end. Given most vans will probably ‘cube out’ before reaching maximum payload capacity, it seems Peugeot has done a remarkable job of balancing everyday livability with serious load ability.

On the road, the 85 kW manual was refined and undemanding, with a light clutch and smooth, tractable power. At the other end of the line-up, the 130 kW auto was a rocket and huge fun, if probably a bit excessive. I’d agree the 110 kW auto is likely to prove most popular, sitting as it does in the Goldilocks zone of price, ability and economy.

In a week living with a range-topping Expert, the adaptive cruise control and speed limiter proved invaluable in daily driving. Ditto the blind spot monitoring, reversing camera with its 360-degree view, and front and rear parking sensors. Visibility was good, there was little body roll and the 12.4-metre turning circle actually felt tighter. Having sliding doors on both sides made load access a breeze, and while the rear barn doors lacked the weather protection of a tailgate, they were easier to operate individually and could be folded back against the body.

From a workday perspective the three-seater cab has a lot going for it, starting with a sporty reach-and-tilt adjustable, multi-function steering wheel. Cleverly, the middle-seat base cushion lifts to access insulated storage, while its backrest drops to reveal a swivelling work desk. Decor is business black-and-grey, with all plastics feeling sturdy and durable, albeit a bit hard. Seat travel seemed limited due to the steel cargo barrier, but despite legroom initially feeling a bit lacking, it was actually quite reasonable thanks to intelligent dash-shaping design.

From distinctive looks to excellent safety, a high level of standard equipment, performance and all-round liveability, the Expert appears to be a winner. What remains to be seen is if Inchcape can convince enough local buyers to think outside the box and become part of the French reconnection. Bonne chance!

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