With style, size and technology now on its side, Peugeot's much improved Euro6.2-compatible MK3 model Expert has much to offer if you're looking for a versatile medium range Transit-class van.
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 Euro6.2-compliant units on offer are diesels and if your needs are mainly based around lighter loads and short distance urban work, then the entry-level 100hp 1.5-litre BlueHDi unit may well be quite sufficient. Otherwise, you'll be looking at a 2.0-litre BlueHDi diesel, either the BlueHDi 120, the BlueHDi 150 or the BlueHDi 180 (the latter unit available only with 8-speed EAT8 automatic transmission).
A key factor behind the success of the previous 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 and rides much better thanks to revised suspension and a stiffer EMP2 platform. Special wishbone filtering dampens the impacts of our country's terrible tarmac and the variable stiffness springs and shock absorbers deliver surprising levels of comfort whether the vehicle is loaded or unloaded. Peugeot also claims that refinement is much improved this time round. And, as before, there's the option of a Grip Control traction system. We also like the 'Driving time warning system' which flashes up a dash warning after two hours of uninterrupted driving at speeds of 40mph and above.
This new generation Expert certainly has a little more road presence than its predecessor. The restyled grille features a smarter brand logo, while more sleekly designed side panels are structured with sharp lines and sculpted by concave door sills. There are low side protection strips and a solid black front bumper, this integrating air inlets across the entire width of the vehicle and aiming to emphasise what Peugeot hopes is a robust appearance. 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.
On board, Peugeot's designers have concentrated on improving ergonomics and driving comfort this time round. You get the usual high seating position and three-person bench. And there's certainly more cab storage space - 49-litres of it in the standard van version. Providing you haven't bought in with entry-level trim, the first thing you'll probably notice about the restyled interior is 7-inch colour touchscreen that's now been added. It can work with voice control and offers the usual 'phone and media features, plus an optional 3D Navigation system.
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 new generation Euro6 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.Click here to find out more about our Peugeot Expert range
The revitalised Mercedes Vito van offers an efficient range of powerful frugal diesel engines, smart styling, a quality cabin and decent levels of equipment. Buyers get a choice of 1.6 or 2.1-litre diesel power and there's the option of either front or rear-wheel drive. As a result, Stuttgart's medium-sized Crew Van contender looks better equipped than ever to take the fight to an increasingly impressive array of Volkswagen Transporter and Vauxhall Vivaro-sized rivals.
The big news with this modernday Vito range is the option it offers of front-wheel drive, a format that comes mated to a 1.6-litre diesel engined borrowed from Renault's Trafic. There's the choice of it in either 88hp '109 CDI' form or in 114hp '111 CDI' guise. Beyond that, as before, the powerplant that forms the backbone of the range is a redesigned version of Mercedes' stalwart 2.1-litre four-cylinder common rail diesel borrowed from the larger Sprinter model, an engine which has already gained a good reputation for its combination of performance, economy and refinement and, almost uniquely for a four cylinder LCV diesel, is fitted with balancer shafts to eliminate vibration and improve what were already class-leading levels of refinement.
As with previous Vito models, this 2.1-litre unit comes in three states of tune, the options beginning with the 136hp '114 CDI' entry level version. Beyond that, there's a 163hp '116 CDI' model and a 190hp '119 CDI' flagship diesel variant. The latter model comes only with 7-speed '7G-TRONIC PLUS' automatic transmission, the most sophisticated auto gearbox in the segment. It's an option for '116 CDI' customers.
And over bumps and around corners? The ride might be a slightly firmer than you're used to but it's an undeniably supple and well-controlled one you'll quickly adapt to and appreciate. There's also the fact that, a little unusually in this class, this van is rear rather than front driven, meaning more rewarding handling than you might be expecting and a tighter turning circle.
The face of this improved Vito has a chunkier, more robust look that takes its cues from the current Mercedes passenger car line up.
Rear twin doors are standard for the van models, which can be opened back to the 180?? position or locked in place at an angle of 90??. A tailgate is standard on the crew van and Tourer models, as well as being a no-cost option for panel van models. Easy access is also achieved to the loadspace via side sliding doors, fitted to both sides of the vehicle as standard, with a wide entry. In addition, a full-height bulkhead is fitted to panel vans as standard. The Vito comes in three handy and not so handy lengths: L1, L2 and L3.
The biggest compliment I could pay the revised Vito would be to suggest it to be the least van-like van I've driven to date. Transit-class designs don't usually also have to function as luxury, up-market people carriers as this one does and the difference in build excellence is obvious as soon as you take a seat inside. But nice though it is to have a quality feeling behind the wheel of one of your company's LCVs, that doesn't pay the business bills. So Mercedes has looked at the best that its competitors can offer and borrowed high technology from its luxury car line-up in order to match them.
The result is a benchmark among vans that you can buy with head as well as heart and one that can carry heavier loads with more speed, less noise, greater comfort, sharper handling, reduced fuel consumption and cleaner emissions. Medium range Transit-class customers will always have cheaper options of course. Nearly all though, are lacking this van's one most crucial ingredient: Star Quality.Click here to find out more about our Mercedes-Benz Vito range
Ford Transit Custom
Ford's Transit has ruled the British large LCV market for around half a century, its very name synonymous with its purpose. In the past, this may have had a great deal to do with tradition and the vast choice of derivatives on offer but today's sales success is very much down to quality of product. Take this Transit Custom, now improved with smarter styling and more efficient EcoBlue diesel engines. It slots into the range beneath the largest model, known simply as 'Transit', and is there to take on Vito and Vivaro-sized Medium-sized vans in the volume part of the LCV sector. It's a very complete commercial vehicle indeed.
Under the bonnet, the important news is this LCV's 2.0-litre Ford EcoBlue engine. It's offered in 105PS, 130PS and 170PS power ratings and with this updated model, buyers of the 105PS variant also get the option of a frugally-focused 'ECOnetic' variant. Across the range, customers get the option of a smooth, efficient automatic gearbox, a 6-speed SelectShift set-up. The EcoBlue powerplant has been engineered to provide strong low-end pulling power - enough to be able to tow a braked trailer of up to 2.0 tonnes. The other thing you notice at the wheel with these engines is how relatively quiet they are, thanks in part to the 6-speed manual transmission with its long gearing. And of course the provision of a standard bulkhead across the range helps further here.
The sprightly handling and performance makes it important that the brakes are up to the job - they are. You'll also want this vehicle to be manoeuvrable, hence a decently tight turning circle that varies between 11.6m (kerb-to-kerb) and 12.2m (wall-to-wall). And should you be at an uphill junction, standard Hill Launch Assist will help you get away smoothly.
This revised Transit Custom has a smarter look that's based around a high-mounted trapezoidal grille and dynamic, slim headlamps. The cabin has been completely upgraded, with an instrument panel based on Ford's latest interior design philosophy which offers a user-centric layout influenced by consumer interactions with smart devices and tablets. High-series models feature a floating, tablet-inspired eight-inch 'SYNC 3' colour centre-dash touchscreen for communications and entertainment.
Most models get the option of being able to fold down the middle of the three seats to create an impromptu desk big enough for a laptop or a clipboard with two cupholders, a pentray and an elasticated band that'll keep your paperwork in place. We also like the way that folding the base cushions of both the passenger seats forward opens up a roomy, concealed 93-litre storage area for hiding away valuable items like tools.
What about the load bay? Well certainly the bulky stuff should go in OK, with even the lowroof version offering a rear door aperture 1400mm wide and 1340mm high, though of course that'll be higher if you've specified the high roof option. The roof height, along with your selection between short and long wheelbases, will also of course determine your loadspace volume. At the bottom of the range, short wheelbase low roof customers get a very decent 6.0m3, which, thanks to a loadspace length of 2555mm and a class-leading width between the wheelarches of 1,390mm, is enough to make this the only vehicle in the SWB medium range van class able to transport up to three europallets with a one metre-high load. Make use of all that space and you'll be glad of a payload of at least 883kgs.
So, in short, you may not need the long wheelbase version we tried, but if you do, then you'll find that the extra 0.37m of length is enough to up the loadspace volume to 6.8m3, while to match it, payload rises to anywhere between 1,014 and 1,414kgs, depending on the Gross Vehicle Weight you choose.
In summary, very few rivals can these days beat either this Ford's practicality or its day-to-day operating costs. It is, once again, number one for a reason.Click here to find out more about our Ford Transit Custom range