Joint ventures are nothing new in the LCV industry, but the collaboration of Peugeot, Citroen and Toyota on their respective Expert, Dispatch and Proace medium vans, which are all built on the same platform and under the skin are essentially the same product, has had a major impact on the largest sector in the market.
This isn’t the first year these vans have won our Medium Van Award either – last time out they took the prize away from the Renault Trafic and Vauxhall Vivaro, which had previously taken the category for three consecutive years.
So what makes them deserving of the title now? They have entered the biggest-selling, and therefore most competitive, UK LCV market, with the likes of the Ford Transit Custom and VW Transporter high on fleet and SME choice lists.
All three vans are distinguished by external styling differences, and while the Dispatch has a soft, friendly look to it with headlamps mounted high up and a short bonnet, the Expert has a more aggressive appearance. The Proace is more in tune with Toyota’s current house style.
A particular strength the trio have in common is a broad range, including compact versions that broke new ground in the sector. The compact versions are 4.6m long and have a 5.1m3 load space, but boast a hefty 1.0t payload.
They also have a turning circle of 11.3m, compared with the 12.4m of the standard and long vans, which make them an appealing proposition for the urban operators at whom they are targeted.
In the rest of the range customers are faced with a van with one roof height but three body lengths, with up to 6.6m3 of cargo space.
Payload capacity is up by around 200kg compared with the previous offerings, and power comes courtesy of either 1.6-litre (95hp, 115hp) or 2.0-litre diesel (120hp, 150hp, 180hp) engines.
We particularly liked the hands-free sliding door feature, which enables the driver to open and close the side door with a movement of the foot under the corner of the rear bumper, a technology seen in the car sector, but usually only in luxury models.
The driver must have the electronic key in their possession for the system to function. The key also closes and locks the vehicle automatically when the driver moves away – very handy if you have your hands full with tools.
Economic engines that are miles better than the previous-generation models are of great fleet appeal through offering an official combined fuel economy figure of 53.3mpg, which is facilitated by the fitting of stop/start.
The two PSA Group (Peugeot and Citroen) vans are available with a selection of Euro6 1.6 and 2.0 BlueHDI powertrains, with outputs ranging from 96hp to 180hp.
The Proace shares the same engines but goes up to a maximum output of 120hp in panel van form.
The trio of vehicles are currently holding off stiff competition, but this will get even tougher next year with the Ford Transit Custom facelift. Only time will tell if the three vans can hold on to the top spot.
The Ford Transit Custom, which is the UK’s biggest seller, raised the bar in the segment and has previously scooped the What Van? LCV of the Year Award.
Praise has been heaped on the Custom for its ride, handling and excellent build qualities as well as great styling and a high standard of equipment for the sector.
Last year, Ford replaced the 2.2-litre TDCi engine with a 2.0-litre unit and added selective catalytic reduction technology with a 21-litre AdBlue tank.
Innovations such as the load-through hatch, allowing extra-long loads to slide through a gap in the bulkhead leading under the double front passenger seat, and the optional roof rack that folds into the van roof, help make life easier for users, as do features such as the optional LED load area lighting that’s a real boon for anyone working inside their vehicle after dark.
The van, which got an auto gearbox in May, will see a facelift next year and Ford has even announced it will build a plug-in hybrid version, which is due to go on sale in 2019.