Compact panel vans that can shift a respectable amount of cargo by weight and by volume but don’t take up too much space in the high street or on a domestic drive are understandably popular. At the forefront of this sector of the market are Citroën’s Dispatch, Fiat’s Scudo and Peugeot’s Expert; collective winners once again of What Van?’s Small Panel Van of the Year award.
The collective accolade is justified because all three front-wheel drive vehicles share the same basic design thanks to a long-established joint venture between Fiat and PSA, Peugeot and Citroën’s parent company.
Buyers can choose from two common rail diesel engines; a 90hp 1.6-litre and a 2.0-litre pumping out either 120hp or 136hp. ABS is a standard feature along with Emergency Braking Assistance.
Cargo space runs from 5.0m3 if you opt for the short-wheelbase standard roof variant rising to 6.0m3 if you select the long-wheelbase standard roof version instead. If that’s insufficient for your needs, then you can always choose the long-wheelbase high roof. That gives you up to 7.0m3 to play with. Whichever one you select, a sliding door provides access to each side of the load bay.
Payload capacity extends from 1,000kg to 1,200kg and don’t forget that platform cab, crew cab and people-carrier variants are also available.
Access to Dispatch/Expert/Scudo’s three-man cab could scarcely be bettered. There’s no step up thanks to the low floor and the handbrake lever won’t get in your way, even though it’s mounted between the driver’s seat and the door.
The comfortable and supportive seat is positioned at exactly the right height for people on multi-drop work who have to leap in and out of the cab continually during the working day delivering packages and parcels.
Quite often these intensive delivery runs will take place in congested city centres; a traffic environment that requires you to have eyes in the back of your head. Fortunately the driving position offers good vision ahead and to either side, with vision backwards along the vehicle’s flanks aided by large exterior mirrors.
It’s worth noting that Dispatch is equipped in almost all cases with Trafficmaster’s Smartnav satellite navigation package.
If you have to keep moving in moderately muddy conditions, but neither want nor need a pukka 4x4, then you might want to take a look at the Dispatch 1200 XTR+. Based on the 120hp 2.0HDi, 1,200kg-capacity L1H1 van, it boasts a multi-plate FAM Reinforced Traction limited slip differential. It can automatically apportion up to 75 per cent of the engine’s torque to either of the driven front wheels depending on which one has the most grip. XTR+ also features a heavy-duty suspension system raised by 30mm.
Light commercials the size of Dispatch/Expert/Scudo are eating away at the smaller end of the full-sized panel van market. In the UK they have the short-wheelbase Ford Transit in their sights — our Highly Commended choice for this sector of the market — but we suspect it will manage to resist their combined assault. The Backbone of Britain looks unlikely to snap for a long time to come.