What is it?
Peugeot has brought its Expert van back to the Aussie market after a four-year break just in time to take on the all-new Toyota Hiace, and it gives the Japanese van a run for its money in terms of practicality and driver friendliness.
The Expert comes with a choice of standard and long wheelbases, and three turbo-diesel powertrains.
We drove the Expert Long 150 HDI that features stretched underpinnings and a 110kW/370Nm 2.0-litre engine, with six-speed automatic transmission, and retails for $44,190.
What’s it like to drive?
The Expert Long 150 HDI is the cheaper of the two long-wheelbase versions, with the pricier Expert Long 180 HDI ($45,890) coming with a more powerful 130kW/400Nm version of the 2.0-litre turbodiesel, along with the same six-speed auto transmission (the 150 and 180 denote their horsepower).
Manual gearboxes are only available with the standard length, though if you’re a tradie or driver who does a lot of city work you’ll probably appreciate not having to crunch gears all day.
The automatic powertrain has the refinement you’d expect from a diesel SUV and plenty of power up its sleeve for freeway driving and overtaking.
The Expert shares a chassis with the Peugeot 3008 and 5008 SUVs resulting in a smooth and comfortable ride that manages bumps well even when the cargo area is empty. I used this to help my stepdaughter move house and we both noted how we never once heard the load shift or bounce around.
The driving position is comfortable for my average frame, helped by height and reach adjustable steering wheel. Taller drivers might have issues with the backrest, as the cargo barrier limits reclining when the seat is pushed back. Same goes with the two fixed passenger seats, which are a bit too upright.
Like any panel van, side and rear vision are limited, not helped by the centre seat headrests that restricts the view through the rear-view mirror.
However, the square door mirrors provide good down-the-side vision and are supported by blind-spot warning lights. Front and rear parking sensors and a parking monitor with reverse and top-down view prove invaluable for parking and getting into tight spots.
Frontal vision is excellent through the big windscreen and deep front-door windows that come down low enough for the window ledge to act as an armrest.
The above safety features are standard throughout the Expert range, along with autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, front and side airbags, and even adaptive cruise control.
What’s it like to live with?
The Expert Long is 5.31m in length, which makes things pretty tight in carparks, but you’re rewarded with a 2.86m-long cargo area. The passenger seat can be folded up to accommodate longer narrow items such as pipes or planking up to 4.2m long.
The load space is about 1.4m high and 1.64m wide, with 1.26m between the wheel arches that will easily fit a standard pallet that can be loaded directly with a forklift through the rear barn doors or left and right sliding doors. The low floor makes life easy if you're loading and unloading by hand.
Up front, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re in an SUV. A 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto means you can easily use your favourite navigation app and send/receive text messages without risking a fine.
Other features include rain-sensing windscreen wipers, dusk-sensing headlights and power-folding door mirrors - a far cry from my previous life as a sparky when you were called posh of your van had any kit beyond an AM radio and cigarette lighter.
There are some thoughtful design touches too, such as the fold-down centre backrest that reveals a handy swivelling table on which to secure a laptop, tablet device or old-school writing pad to do some bookwork between jobs. There’s a little tub under the table to store pens and things, and there are three 12-volt sockets and a USB port to keep devices charged.
Lifting the centre seat reveals an insulated storage bin in which to keep your lunch, there's plenty of storage nooks including a large glovebox, and the all-important cup holders are located at each end of the dashboard.
All-in-all this is quite a handy, comfortable and economical van, with a combined fuel consumption rating of 6.4L/100km which stretches out to about 7.3L/100km around town.
The diesel engine requires AdBlue exhaust fluid to help keep the particulate filter clean even if you do a lot of stop-start driving around town.
The Peugeot Expert is backed by a 5-year, 200,000km warranty, with 12-month/20,000km service intervals, which is pretty good for a diesel.
Is it worth the money?
The mid-$40K pricing compares very well to similarly sized and powered rivals, most of which don’t share all its active safety features, which until recently were unheard of in commercial vans.
As well as being well equipped and reasonably comfortable it’s surprisingly enjoyable to drive. We get to drive some fancy cars in this job, but there I was looking forward to driving this nippy white French van whenever I had the chance. I reckon that appreciation would continue if I had to spend a big part of my working week in it.
PROS: Active safety features, refined ride and handling, turbodiesel powertrain
CONS: Passenger seats lack comfort
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