Between them Citroën, Fiat and Peugeot created a new sector in the market in early 2008 — the so-called sub-compacts — with the introduction of the Nemo, Fiorino and Bipper respectively. They were joined later in the year by the new Renault Kangoo Compact.
The first three are basically the same van as they are the result of a joint development project between PSA Peugeot Citroën, Fiat and Turkish manufacturer Tofas. The last named is responsible for building all three versions. The only real difference is that Fiat uses its own 1.3-litre JTD diesel for the Fiorino.
These small, compact wheel-at-each-corner vans are designed primarily for delivery work in high congestion urban areas and we’ve been behind the wheel of Peugeot’s latest addition to its substantial van range to see how it copes with the crowded battleground that is the UK’s road network.
Just like its close relative the Citroën Nemo power comes courtesy of a four-cylinder common rail diesel capable of producing 70hp at 4,000rpm. Peak torque of 160Nm kicks in at 1,750rpm and the engine is married to a five-speed manual gearbox. For the ‘green’ at heart as far as CO2 emissions are concerned, we’re talking 119g/km.
A semi-automatic ‘box marketed under the 2-Tronic banner can be specified for an additional £700, but not with the 75hp 1.4-litre petrol lump that is also available.
The front suspension employs MacPherson struts while an independent trailing arm set-up helps support the rear. You’ll find anti-roll bars front and back and our demonstrator’s 14in steel wheels were fitted with 175/70 R14 tyres. Power-assisted steering is provided with 2.8 turns lock-to-lock and offering a sub-10m kerb-to-kerb turning circle. Ventilated disc brakes are fitted at the front, drums provide the braking effort at the back and ABS comes as standard.
Gross weight is 1,700kg, which means Bipper is thankfully subject to passenger car speed limits instead of the higher ones imposed on commercial vehicles. Gross payload capacity is 610kg and our white demonstrator could haul a braked trailer grossing at 600kg.
Rear entry to Bipper’s load compartment is through asymmetric twin doors with the slimmer of the two mounted on the offside. They can be pushed through 90° and through 170° if you release the easy-to-unlatch door stays.
Our test van’s back doors were unglazed which is perfectly fine by us on security grounds, but having fitted a steel bulkhead with a mesh infill at the top for £110 why not go the whole hog and make it a solid barrier? The driver can’t see out of the back doors anyway, even if there was a rear-view mirror. All prices quoted here exclude VAT.
The rear doors open to reveal a small but nonetheless useful 2.5m3 load box equipped with half-a-dozen load tie-down rings. That’s quite a lot for a van of this size. The doors are lined to half their height, as are the panels where the optional sliding side doors would be if fitted, but the rest of the load bay will need some protection against minor scrapes and scratches.
Maximum cargo length is 1,523mm and if you want to extend it further you can always specify a fold-flat passenger seat. It extends the available length to 2,491mm. Load bay width is 1,473mm, narrowing to 1,046mm between the wheel boxes, while maximum height is 1,205mm. Rear loading height is 527mm. The rear door aperture is 1,060mm high and 1,140 mm wide while the dimensions for the side door aperture are 1,041mm and 644mm respectively.
One of the big surprises when you slide into Bipper’s cab is how roomy it is given the vehicle’s compact dimensions. Admittedly What Van? is inhabited by the vertically challenged, but even sensibly sized people should have few problems with head, leg, and shoulder room.
Both the comfortable driver’s seat and the steering wheel are height-adjustable — the seat’s got lumbar adjustment too — courtesy of a Comfort Pack (£120) which also includes a lid for the glovebox. The driver is protected by an airbag. A deep windscreen plus deep, power-operated, door windows aid vision ahead and to either side while heated and electrically adjustable exterior rear view mirrors make it easy for the driver to see down each side of the vehicle. The electric one-touch windows and mirrors are part of the £360 Plus Pack fitted to the demonstrator.
Storage space includes a spacious, lidded but not lockable glovebox plus bins in each of the doors with a moulding that will clasp a soft drink can or a small bottle of water. You’ll find trays for your small change in each door, another change tray to the right of the steering column and a tray for your pens directly in front of the gearstick. There are a couple of cup-holders between the seats plus a 12v power point.
The prominent hazard warning lights button on the facia is a welcome touch. Good to see a pop-up map/directions-to-destination holder mounted on top of the dashboard, but it partly obscures the view out of the windscreen if used while on the move.
An RDS radio/MP3-compatible CD player comes as standard as do a multi-function trip computer and remote central locking with deadlocks. You can lock the load bay separately and all the doors lock automatically anyway once the van is in motion.
There’s no getting away from the fact that Bipper is a spritely little mover. It nips through urban traffic briskly, tackles rural routes with aplomb and is a far better motorway cruiser in practice than it would seem on paper. A slick gearchange allows drivers to get the most out of 1.4HDi turbodiesel and there’s ample feedback from the responsive steering. That’s good news for the, surprisingly impressive, handling. Noise levels are well under control for such a compact vehicle.
There is a downside, however, and that’s the ride. Even when Bipper was half-laden it was, to say the least, nervous. We felt every one of the numerous pot holes we encountered during the test period and the whole van seemed to resonate every time we crossed a sharp ridge. This is hardly surprising, however, given Bipper’s short wheelbase and the fact that it can cart about 610kg means that the rear suspension will be pretty substantial.
So is diesel Bipper any slower than the slightly more powerful Fiorino diesel? It is, but only ever so slightly and in reality no one is going to notice the difference. We averaged 54mpg; virtually the same figure we achieved when we sampled the Citroën Nemo.
A side rubbing strip on each side help protect Bipper’s paintwork against minor damage. Open the self-supporting bonnet and you’ll obtain ready access to the dipstick, the screenwash reservoir and the oil top-up point.
Service intervals are a more than reasonable 20,000 miles or two-years and as with all Peugeot light commercials Bipper is protected by a three-year/60,000 mile warranty with no mileage restriction in the first two years. A year's roadside assistance is provided too.
The Bipper, or the Nemo and Fiorino for that matter, has to be one of the easiest vans to drive. All the controls are light, the driving position is nigh-on perfect and it has a commendably small turning circle. The tried and tested 1.4HDi is a little gem of an engine with low emissions and good fuel economy, but the ride does need some attention. The suspension settings don’t suit British roads. Despite its compact external dimensions Bipper can accommodate a fair-sized load and the payload is impressive. We love the concept and are sure it will rapidly become a common sight in towns and cities up and down the country.