The PSA brands Peugeot and Citroen, along with their platform-sharing partner Toyota, have emerged as strong challengers in the medium van segment with the introduction in the third quarter of 2016 of their respective Expert, Dispatch and Proace models.
The vans represent a major step up in terms of quality and practicality compared with their predecessors – the PSA versions of which shared the same basic design as the old Fiat Scudo –that have now been replaced by the Renault Trafic-derived Talento.
The sector is packed with high-class products, but the PSA brands and Toyota believe they have carved out a unique selling point for themselves with the introduction of a compact derivative that may tempt some customers out of larger light vans such as the Fiat Doblo Cargo or VW Caddy Maxi.
However, it is the core medium-sized body that will dominate sales and take the fight to rivals such as the Ford Transit Custom, Renault Trafic, Vauxhall Vivaro and VW Transporter.
The Dispatch is available with one roof height of 1.90m and three body lengths of 4.60m for the XS, 4.95m for the M, and 5.30m for the XL.
Power is provided by either a 1.6-litre diesel with outputs of 95hp or 115hp or a 2.0-litre
diesel, which offers 120hp, 150hp or 180hp variants.
Driven here is the 150hp M Blue HDi in the top Enterprise Plus trim.
With the help of stop/start – standard across the range – this model boasts impressive official fuel economy figures of 53.3mpg with CO2 output of 139g/km. This raises the bar in the sector and betters the most frugal models of its competitors. The Transit Custom Euro6, for example, offers 49.6mpg with CO2 of 161g/km while Renault states a best of 47.9mpg and 155g/km for its Trafic.
VW, meanwhile, claims 47.9mpg coupled with CO2 emissions of 153g/km for its greenest Transporter.
The Dispatch is competitive in terms of cargo-carrying ability, with the M bodyshape (and XL) offering a 1,400kg-plus payload that, alongside its Expert and Proace equivalents, is class-leading.
The best of the rest is the Vivaro, which can hump a load of 1281kg. On the other hand, load volume of 5.8m3 even with the Moduwork load-through bulkhead utilised (otherwise it is 5.3m3), falls short of the 6.0m3 space you get in the mid-sized Trafic and Vivaro.
Access to the load bay is via twin rear doors as well as sliding doors on both sides of the vehicle.
On our model the side doors were operated electrically courtesy of the Easy Entry Pack, which is available as an option for £1,125, excluding VAT, and offers hands-free opening as well as keyless entry and start.
On the road, the 150hp engine delivers maximum torque of 370Nm at 1,750rpm, providing impressive acceleration and also making this model well suited to businesses engaged on long-distance assignments involving motorway cruising.
Commendably, cruise control is included from the entry-level van upwards. Even without a load on board the ride is smooth and refined with little discomfort caused by uneven road surfaces, and wind and engine noise is not intrusive.
The height-adjustable driver’s seat and steering column, which can be adjusted by both reach and rake, make it easy for occupants of all shapes and sizes to find the best driving position, and the high-mounted gear stick is within comfortable reach of the driver.
A slick gear change from the six-speed manual transmission helps get the best out of the impressively responsive powertrain.
Interior finishing may not be quite up to the standard of the Transit Custom or Transporter, but the cabin is well laid out and provides useful features such as a middle seat that converts into a desk large enough to accommodate a laptop.
There is also a discreet storage space for items like a smartphone or wallet, which is located by folding back the middle seat cushion.
The doors house three bins each and you also get a couple of cup holders, a dashboard shelf, two 12V power points and a USB port.
Enterprise trim comes with air-conditioning, rear parking sensors and Connect Radio – comprising a seven-inch touchscreen with DAB, Bluetooth and Mirror Link, which enables you to connect your smartphone to the touchscreen.
Cosmetic features such as body-coloured bumpers, door mirrors and handles, 17-inch alloys and metallic paint come on board in Enterprise Plus trim alongside front fog lights, automatic lights and windscreen wipers, and Park Assist, which adds a parking camera to front and rear parking sensors.
For refinement, economy and practical ability, Citroen now has a medium van to compete with the sector’s best in the shape of the new Dispatch.