CommercialFleet

First drive: Peugeot Partner and Citroën Berlingo van review (gallery)

"It’s a novel experience travelling in a van in near silence, although perhaps it makes occupants more aware of other noises echoing around the cargo area. But in general, it’s likely to create a calmer environment for the driver and passengers."

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Review

Citroën and Peugeot between them take the lion’s share of the small van market, with the Berlingo and Partner.

For many manufacturers, that alone would be judged as a success, but the brands’ parent company PSA is painfully aware that it punches well below its weight in part of this sector.

The electric van portion of the small van market is small, as is EV presence across the whole LCV sector, but it continues to grow. Yet the two brands’ share of the electric small van segment is dwarfed by that of the Renault-Nissan alliance with the Renault Kangoo ZE and the Nissan e-NV200.

Peugeot and Citroën have offered electric versions of the Partner and Berlingo in the UK for a couple of years, but following the launch of longer wheelbase variants in the spring, PSA has decided it’s time to step up the marketing activity around the zero-emission models – and it believes it has a compelling case to compete against better-known rivals.

According to Helen Lees, head of electric vehicles at PSA Groupe UK, the Berlingo and Partner come with the folding Extenso double passenger seat as standard, allowing them to carry three occupants, or accommodate longer loads on one side of the vehicle (up to 3,250mm) when folded flat. They also offer a choice of body lengths with L1 and L2 variants, 

The 106-mile maximum range forecast of the Partner and Berlingo is lower than the forthcoming uprated battery version of the Renault Kangoo (said to be a maximum of around 168 miles). But the PSA vans have a price advantage, with both offered from £21,750 for the L1 variants, after the plug-in van grant is applied. To keep the procurement process simpler, there is no separate battery lease option. 

The plug-in van grant covers 20% of the cost of the vehicle including VAT, but excluding delivery charges and optional extras. This could be worth up to £5,323.20 for Electric L2 van buyers.

Both vans come with an eight-year battery warranty and are capable of DC rapid charging, reaching 80% of capacity in 30 minutes from specified charge points.

Lees says customers should expect an average range of around 80 miles in everyday driving and, as well as the plug-in van grant, which is currently in place until October, there are other incentives such as 75% off the cost of home charging points, up to a value of £500, and discounts of £300 for up to 20 sockets in the workplace.

The vans also qualify for a discount on the London congestion charge, which could make a significant difference to running costs for a fleet operating in the capital, compared with a diesel alternative.

Even if demand for both vans increases, the volumes involved are still relatively small, at least for now: fewer than 1,000 electric vans were registered in the UK during 2016. But the alternative fuel van sector is forecast to grow in the coming years, and PSA is keen to maximise the opportunity for both Peugeot and Citroën brands.

The new L2 variants have the same motor and battery specifications as the L1, which means a 49kW or 67PS electric motor, with maximum power arriving at 4,000rpm, and maximum torque of 200Nm available instantaneously. The front wheels are driven through a speed reducer and single ratio gearbox.

Apart from badges, they are identical, with the Berlingo coming in LX and the Partner available in SE equipment grades. It means standard air conditioning, electrically adjustable windows and door mirrors, a CD radio, cruise control and satellite navigation. Of course, using systems such as air conditioning will have an impact on the range capability but drivers can make those choices.

When discussing purchase with potential customers, sales representatives are able to offer a cost comparison tool to illustrate whether or not an electric van is cheaper to operate than a diesel one.

Using running cost information provided by KeeResources, the company behind the Commercial Fleet running costs database, van operators can gain a better idea of where a breakeven point might be, and particularly the additional savings to be gained if operating in the London congestion charge zone. That £11.50 a day can make a significant difference even if the van enters the zone two or three times a week.

There is little to distinguish the electric versions from the diesel variants, apart from changes to the instrument panel (a power/charge gauge replaces the rev counter), and drive is engaged via a dashboard-mounted rotary gear selector.

We jumped in the van with an indicated 74 miles or range available, which depleted over the first half of the test route, dominated by high-speed roads. But during the second half, with a greater distance covered on urban roads at lower speeds, the range performance improved. After a total of almost 30 miles, the van still had 60 miles remaining.

When lifting off the accelerator pedal, there is a distinct braking feel, although slowing much less severely than using the brake pedal, as the van harnesses the kinetic energy and returns it to the battery.

The variation in range depending on how the vehicle is being used illustrates that electric vans are absolutely ideal in some environments, but less well-suited to others, and this is a crucial factor for anyone considering procuring them.

It’s a novel experience travelling in a van in near silence, although perhaps it makes occupants more aware of other noises echoing around the cargo area. But in general, it’s likely to create a calmer environment for the driver and passengers, and potentially a less stressful one.

The electric motor with 67PS won’t be able to challenge a Tesla in a sprint, but with all the torque available from a standstill, there is never any concern over performance, and it should feel as rapid as a turbodiesel version.

Although they can’t match the Renault Kangoo Maxi ZE for payload, and they fall short on cargo volume, the Partner and Berlingo L2 have a usefully greater load length (2,050mm vs 1,860mm) and load width (1,380mm vs 1,219mm), while the Extenso seat also boosts available volume.

Verdict: It feels like Peugeot and Citroën are late to the EV party, but it’s easy to forget they’ve been around for a couple of years already. But now they have a strategy for seeking opportunities with fleet operators for EVs, and products will be competitive on price, despite lowing out against some on capability.

Model tested: Electric L2

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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