The front-wheel drive Partner slots in neatly above Partner Origin, the new Bipper and the 207 Van, but below Expert and Boxer. The line-up neatly illustrates the way in which the van market is fragmenting, with manufacturers increasingly offering models designed for quite tightly defined applications; a trend spotted in the car market sometime ago.
Citroën covers roughly the same ground in the marketplace as its stablemate, and in addition offers an extensive selection of Ready to Go to Work special conversions. However, it's gone a step further with the addition of a van version of the 4x4 C-Crosser. Peugeot markets the same model in car guise as the 4007. Be interesting to see if it introduces a commercial variant too.
Partner can be ordered with an 89hp 1.6-litre petrol engine or a 1.6-litre four-cylinder 16-valve HDi diesel with either 75hp or 90hp on tap. It seems a shame that the 110hp version of the HDi isn't being offered too. Be that as it may, we opted for the most powerful of the available HDi lumps, the smaller body size and the more upmarket SE level of trim with a three-man cab; unusual on this size of vehicles.
Top power kicks in at 4,000rpm, with maximum torque of 215Nm biting at 1,750rpm, and the engine is married to a five-speed gearbox. Hydraulic power-assisted steering comes as standard offering an 11m turning circle between kerbs and 11.5m between walls. Independent MacPherson-type suspension is fitted at the front with lower wishbone suspension arms. At the back you'll find an independent trailing arm set-up with a semi-deformable transverse beam plus inclined dampers on hydraulic mounts. Anti-roll bars are installed front and back.
Disc brakes are deployed all round — ventilated at the front, solid at the rear — and ABS and EBA are included in the package. Our demonstrator's pleasantly-trimmed 15in steel wheels were shod with Michelin Energy Saver 195/65 R15 tyres.
Gross payload capacity is 851kg with a gross weight of 2,205kg. This means that the Peugeot is subject to light commercial speed limits rather than the higher ones that apply to passenger cars. It can haul a braked trailer grossing at 900kg.
Open the asymmetric unglazed back doors — the narrower of the two is on the offside with a storage pocket on its inside face — and you'll reveal a 3.3m3 cargo area with six floor-mounted load tie-down points. The bigger Partner referred to earlier offers 3.7m3.
The doors can be swung through 90°, or through 180° if you release the easy-to-unlatch stays, and SE Partner is additionally equipped with a sliding cargo door on the nearside of the vehicle. A tailored plastic cover protects the floor, with panels partly defending the sides and doors against minor scratches and scrapes. Prudent operators may wish to invest in a ply lining kit, however, to provide a more comprehensive defence.
Supplying a removable torch that sits in an offside compartment close to the back door near a 12v power point and provides a secondary source of lighting for the cargo box — a conventional courtesy light is fitted too — probably seemed like a really neat idea in the design studio. In the real world, however, it's likely to be stolen, lost, or broken fairly quickly.
A rather better idea is the ability to flip down the outboard passenger seat and extend the cargo bed if you're carrying pipes, lengths of timber or ladders that cannot be accommodated any other way. That makes installing a bulkhead somewhat problematic, but at least the driver is protected from shifting load by a cargo restraint frame mounted behind the seat. Fold both the passenger seats and your load cube expands to a notional 3.7m3.
Maximum length is 1,800mm rising to 3,000mm with the seats folded while maximum height is 1,250mm. Maximum width is 1,500mm narrowing to 1,229mm between the rear wheelboxes, while the rear loading height is 609mm. The back door aperture is 1,250mm wide and 1,148mm high. Dimensions for the sliding side door are 737mm and 1,192mm respectively.
Who'd want to be piggy-in-the-middle in Partner's three-man cab with its Multi Flex passenger seats? Not anybody from What Van?'s editorial staff, that's for sure. There's no leg room and precious little shoulder room either.
At least the centre perch is fitted with a lap-and-diagonal belt, but that's its only saving grace as passenger accommodation. It's comfortless, pointless and should be done away with. PSA admits that it is only really suitable for a short trip of no more than 20 minutes. In our view that's 20 minutes too long.
It does, however, offer two benefits. Flip the back down and it turns into a handy desk, complete with an elasticated strap to keep paperwork together. Raise the cushion and you reveal a hidden storage compartment.
One thing Partner's cab does not suffer from is a lack of storage space. For your money you get a full-width shelf above the windscreen, two bins in each door — the larger of the pair is shaped to hold a soft drink can or bottle — and a lidded but not lockable glovebox with an upper shelf inside.
In addition there's a shelf on top of the facia on the passenger side plus a pigeon hole on each side of the heating and ventilation controls and a lidded compartment above the instrument panel. Glance downwards and you'll see two floor-mounted cup holders, one of which plays host to the removable ashtray.
The stick for the five-speed gearbox — how come no six-speeder is available? — sprouts from a moulding that bulges out from the middle of the dashboard. The moulding also plays host to the central locking switches — the cargo area can be unlocked separately — the prominent button for the hazard warning lights, the buttons for the electric windows and a compartment for small change.
Electrically-adjustable and heated mirrors are fitted too, along with a driver's airbag. The passenger airbag is a £100 option; all prices quoted here exclude VAT. With plenty of head and shoulder room — assuming you're not carrying two passengers — even the bulkiest driver should find few reasons to complain.
As with the previous model, the seat is positioned at just the right height to make hopping in and out of the cab if you happen to be on multi-drop work a doddle, and decent-sized door apertures make the exercise even easier. If the right height isn't the right height for you, however, then you'll be glad to know that the seat is height-adjustable, as is the steering column.
An MP3-compatible radio/CD player comes as standard with steering column remote controls. Our van was additionally equipped with air-conditioning along with an athermic windscreen for an extra £600.
Opt for the 90hp HDi and complaining about a lack of performance will be the last thing on your mind. It packs more than sufficient punch for all types of work, and a decent gearchange allows you to exploit its abilities to the full.
While Partner's suspension is a touch on the soft side it seem more than capable of coping with a few of the nastier potholes and ridges Britain's Third World road surface insists on throwing at hapless van drivers. Peugeot's newcomer rolls slightly on corners and the steering feels a little spongy at times. Otherwise the handling is competent, with noise levels well-suppressed apart from some droning from the tyres.
As far as fuel consumption is concerned we averaged 45mpg during the test period.
Good to see that Partner comes with three-button remote central locking — all the doors lock automatically at above 6mph — and deep side rubbing strips, the better to prevent minor damage. Our van was finished in metallic silver for an extra £295.
Service intervals are set at 12,500 miles/two years. They could probably stand to be slightly more generous in this day and age, but at least the cam belt only needs swapping every 150,000 miles/10 years. Partner 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, but reacts solely to warrantable faults on the vehicle; not if you've run out of diesel or lost your keys.
With no lack of performance, a perfectly acceptable gearchange and a competent ride, the 90hp HDi diesel L1 Peugeot Partner is more than capable of keeping most van drivers happy. In SE trim it is well-equipped, and the way in which the outboard passenger seat's fold-down back allows you to extend the cargo bed will be a boon to anybody transporting over-length items. However the three-seater configuration provides far too little room for the centre passenger and the at-times-spongy steering does the handling no favours. These drawbacks, however, do not outweigh the latest Partner's merits. It's a worthy addition to an impressive line-up.