PSA Peugeot-Citroen has great expectations that its new medium van will finally give the group a genuine contender in the biggest sector in the light commercial vehicle marketplace.

With the next generation Peugeot Expert and Citroen Dispatch (badged Jumpy in continental Europe) PSA aims to double its share in the UK from 8.5% to 17% by 2019 in a segment it claims is the only one to have grown consistently across Europe from 2009. In the UK alone growth of this scale would equate to an extra 10,000 units a year.

Traditionally Peugeot, with its Partner and Boxer, and Citroen, with its Berlingo and Relay, have performed far more strongly – particularly in the light but also in the heavy van sectors, while its mid-sized products have failed to keep pace with more accomplished rival vans.

But Martin Gurney, PSA’s Fleet and Used Vehicles director, believes the new middle weights can bridge the gap to their bigger-selling stablemates by appealing to the brands’ existing light van customers who also need larger models.

“We are absolutely confident we can move to this average,” (17%) Gurney says.

“There are lots of Partner and Berlingo customers waiting for an opportunity with Expert and Dispatch.”

Citroen’s UK boss Jeremy Smith calls the new Dispatch, which, like the Expert, is now entering its third generation, as the brand’s most important model launch for two decades, since the introduction of the Berlingo.

Under the skin the two vans are identical and you would struggle to tell the difference between the pair once seated in the cab too.

From the outside, however, they are easy to distinguish – both take design cues from their respective brands’ SUVs but while Citroen has gone for a fluid, softer face with a short bonnet and high headlamps, the Expert is more assertive with a prominent and aggressive grille in which the Peugeot lion comes to the fore in a new three-dimensional arrangement.

PSA says the two vans will meet the “current and future needs” of operators and the company has broken new ground in the sector with the addition of a Compact derivative to the line-ups.

This version is 4.6m long, has a 5.1m3 loadspace but boasts a meaty and class-leading maximum payload of more than 1.4-tonnes in common with the other bodystyles. The Vauxhall Vivaro gets nearest to this with a maximum 1281kg.

The top towing limit of all Dispatch and Expert derivatives has gone up from 2.0 to an impressive 2.5-tonnes. The Ford Transit Custom and VW Transporter can match this but the Mercedes Vito, Renault Trafic and Vauxhall Vivaro max out at 2.0-tonnes.

The Compact has a turning circle of 11.3m, compared to the 12.4m of the Standard and Long vans, which should make life easier for the urban operators at whom it is specifically targeted.

The 4.95m Standard van has a 5.8m3 load box while the Long version measures 5.3m and has a cargo capacity of 6.6m3.

The Trafic and Vivaro offer load volumes of up to 8.6m3 but another selling point PSA is claiming for its mid-sized vans is that they and the Vito are the only ones that will comfortably negotiate the height restrictive barriers at underground car parks and tolling gates across Europe due to the panel vans standing 1.9m tall – down from 1.97m in the second generation vintage.

The PSA vans will be available with a selection of Euro6 1.6 and 2.0 Blue HDI powertrains with outputs ranging from 95hp to 180hp.

The entry-level 95hp unit comes with a five-speed manual gearbox but will also be available with a robotised ETG6-controlled ‘box with stop/start (S&S) from October, a month after the first models arrive in UK showrooms.

The 1.6-litre 115hp S&S comes with a six-speed manual gearbox as do the 120 and 150hp 2.0 S&S derivatives.

The top of the range 180hp S&S gets the EAT6 automatic transmission and, like the ETG6, will arrive in the UK in October.

All of these engines incorporate selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology to meet the Euro6 standard and come with a 22.4-litre Adblue tank with a claimed range of 9320 miles.

The 1.6 115hp engine is the most efficient with official fuel consumption of 55.3mpg and CO2 emissions of just 133g/km. These figures make the PSA model comfortably the most frugal and environmentally-friendly in the sector.

The Ford Transit Custom Euro6 has best official consumption of 49.6mpg with CO2 of 161g/km, the Renault Trafic delivers a best of 47.9mpg with CO2 of 155g/km and the most frugal VW Transporter claims 47.9mpg with CO2 of 153g/km.

PSA is offering both the Expert and the Dispatch in three trim levels and in crew van (up to six seats), combi (up to nine seats) and platform cab (as a base for conversions) formats.

The specification bands mirror each other but in the Peugeot are called Expert S, Expert Professional and Expert Professional Plus whereas Citroen names its levels Dispatch X, Dispatch Enterprise and Dispatch Enterprise Plus.

The entry-level vans are reasonably well-equipped and get DAB radio, Bluetooth, 12 volt sockets in the cab and load area, cruise control with a speed limiter and driver and passenger airbags. Loading is facilitated by electric sliding side doors and its good to see a full steel bulkhead and spare wheel included too.

Step up to the mid-range trim and PSA adds the likes of air-conditioning, rear parking sensors, a more sophisticated infotainment system with a seven-inch touchscreen , which is impressively large on a medium van – the button-operated display screen in the Euro6 Ford Transit Connect measures four inches – and electric door mirrors.

Most significant, however, is the inclusion of the Moduwork configurable passenger bench seat with load-through bulkhead.

This is similar to the load through hatches Ford introduced for its Custom and Renault and Vauxhall employ in their Trafic and Vivaro ranges and extends the load length by 1.16m, making it possible to carry longer pipes or ladders.

Sylvain Champomier, product leader for the Dispatch and Expert, says the Moduwork system differs from the Ford and Renault alternatives, which just provide a hatch in the bulkhead, by allowing the seat to fold upwards to increase load volume by 0.5m3

to 5.1m3 on Compact, 5.8m3 on standard and 6.6m3 on long versions.

The top trim level introduces front fog lights as well as cosmetic upgrades such as 17-inch alloys, metallic paint and body colour bumpers, door mirrors, door handles and side rubbing strips. Automatic lights and windscreen wipers are also part of the package as is Park assist 180, which comprises front and rear parking sensors with a rear view camera.

Prices for both the Citroen and Peugeot ranges start from £17,495 for the 95hp manual panel vans in base trims and rise to £26,545 for the 180hp flagship panel vans with the EAT6 auto box and stop and start.

By comparison, prices of the Euro6 Transit Custom, which goes on sale in August, start from £19,245 and go up to £27,895.

Champomier says the Standard van will be the first to arrive in the UK, on 1 September, followed by the Compact “a few weeks later” and the Long version by the end of the year.

We tested the Peugeot Expert Standard 2.0 150hp S&S in the top Professional plus trim level, which comes with a price tag of £23,445, as does the equivalent Citroen model in Enterprise Plus specification.

Thanks to its reinforced Pseudo Macpherson front axle with an anti-roll bar coupled with a new oblique wishbone rear axle, this van can carry the maximum 1.4t payload.

The one we drove, however, was unladen but the power on tap was sufficient to suggest it could cope comfortably with heavy-duty work.

What’s more, when zipping along uneven and pot-holed roads the ride remained comfortable with most of the expected bump and bounce impressively well suppressed. PSA puts this down to load-sensitive shock absorbers that adjust springing and damping to vehicle use.

The six manual gears are well spaced and not prone to the notchiness that occasionally afflicted Peugeot and Citroen’s older light commercial models and the steering is responsive and remained reassuringly steady even when we found ourselves driving through heavy thunderstorms on winding rural roads.

The PSA vans may not handle quite as well as the best in class, such as the Transit Custom, but they are no longer so far behind and a comparatively high driving position provides a decent view of your surroundings. The stop and start system , which is standard on all but the 95hp manual derivatives, works efficiently whenever you pull up at traffic lights or stop in traffic.

Finished in dark greys and black the interior of our Professional Plus was sober and functional and lacked the stylish flourishes of the Transit Custom, Renault Trafic or Vauxhall Vivaro although everything on the somewhat imposing dashboard  was positioned within easy reach of the driver.

The cab provides plenty of storage space including two glove boxes on the passenger side, one of which is refrigerated and can hold up to five small water bottles. Below this sits an open five-litre compartment with 12-volt and USB sockets.

An A5-size tray atop the dashboard could hold a tablet or notebooks and a cup holder is positioned either side of the dashboard, which also accommodates two key trays.

Big trays in the driver and passenger doors can hold 1.5-litre water bottles and an eight-litre storage space beneath the passenger bench can hold work boots or a small bag, for example.

As a £200 option, our van was fitted with Connect Nav, based on TomTom Traffic, which we reckon could be the most accurate navigation system on the market.

Another plus point is ViseoPark 1, or Top Rear vision in Citroen-speak. This provides a reversing camera with a 180 degree overhead rear view and a zoom function that activates when an object is detected near by and gauges the distance to it. It also incorporates blind spot monitoring to alert the driver to the presence of a vehicle in the adjacent left or right lane that they can not see.

This pack is standard on the highest specification models and a £700 option on the others.

Myriad safety equipment is also up for grabs – the £400 Safety Pack (£600 on mid-trim versions) encompasses four items that use the multi-function camera located at the top of the windscreen.

The Road Sign Reading and Speed Limit Recommendation system alerts the driver on the instrument panel when entering speed limit zones and suggests setting this speed as the value on the cruise control or speed limiter. The driver can do this by clicking the relevant button once for selection and again for confirmation.

Driver Attention Alert measures the van’s swaying through the camera and the steering wheel angle sensor and warns the driver to pay attention via visual and audible prompts. A lane departure warning and main beam switching function are also bundled in.

The Drive Assist Pack, £275 on top of the range models and £475 on mid-level, integrates items on top of the Visibility Pack (auto lights and wipers, front fog lights, electro chrome rear view mirror) that the flagships get as standard.

These include Active Cruise Control, which keeps a distance to the vehicle in front by reducing speed by up to 12.4mph, Distance Alert, which warns the driver of an imminent risk of collision and occurs just before Active Safety Brake, which applies maximum braking if the driver fails to react. PSA claims it can help to avoid impact up to 18mph or otherwise reduce its severity.

It should be noted that these two packs are not available on entry-level vans but items such as parking aids can be specified separately. For example rear parking sensors are £200.

An innovation on all Dispatch and Experts is the hands-free sliding side door feature. This enables the driver to open and close the side door with a movement of the foot under the corner of the rear bumper, triggering a sensor, when their arms are full with packages. The driver must have the electronic key in their possession for the system to function. It also closes and locks the vehicle automatically when the driver moves away. It is an ingenious device but does require the operative to stand on one leg with hands full of goods.

Citroen Dispatch Enterprise Plus 150hp S&S 6spd manual/Peugeot Expert Professional Plus 150hp S&S 6spd manual
Price (ex VAT ) £23,445
Price range (ex VAT) £17,495-£26,545
Insurance group
Service intervals 25,000mls
Load length 3674mm
Load width (min/max) 1260mm/1628mm
Load bay height 1397mm
Gross payload 1400kg
Load volume 5.8m3
Engine size/power 1997cc/150hp
On sale September
Combined fuel economy 53.2mpg
CO2 139g/km