2019 was a big year for the Australian mid-sized van market. The first all-new version of the top-selling Toyota HiAce in 14 years arrived, and through the sheer weight of its popularity had the biggest impact on the state of play.
It moved away from its former ‘forward control’ layout, which put occupants ahead of the engine and front subframe, to a more typical bonneted design that pushes the engine forward and adds more crash space for occupants.
At the other end of the popularity scale was the quieter return of Peugeot to the commercial market with the new Expert, its rival to the HiAce and Hyundai iLoad, plus the Renault Trafic, Volkswagen Transporter and Ford Transit Custom.
But why not put this pair head-to-head? Should you just buy another HiAce like usual, or kick the tyres on something French?
Price and specs
Price-wise, there's a solitary pineapple in it. The list price (before on-road costs) for the Toyota HiAce LWB is $44,140, while for the Peugeot Expert 150 HDI LWB it is $44,190.
Naturally, you can get both of these vans in numerous other derivations, comprising different engines, wheelbases, and cargo lengths. For that data read our Expert pricing and specs story here, and our HiAce one here.
We reckon this pair represent the sweet spots in their respective ranges.
Both come very well equipped, proving that the days where tradies and delivery drivers went without the latest tech are mercifully behind us. Moreover, the inclusion of active safety tech is outstanding news.
The Toyota and Peugeot come standard with 7.0-inch touchscreens with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth, USB connections, reversing cameras, parking sensors at either end, autonomous emergency braking for moving and static objects, blind-spot monitoring, speed-sign recognition, side airbags, and auto headlights.
The Expert is the only van here with active cruise control (the Toyota's version is passive, not speed-matching) and a standard bulkhead dividing the cabin and cargo area, while the HiAce is alone in getting lane-departure alert and embedded satellite navigation.
|Peugeot Expert||Toyota HiAce|
|Parking sensors||Front and rear||Front and rear|
Cabins and cargo
Just as the standard features list will surprise any owners of older-generation vans, so will the cabin layouts. Both will be a dream for eight-hour-a-day delivery drivers used to battling with cramped and noisy work environments.
Not only do both feature solid build quality and typically good ergonomics thanks to telescopic/rake steering columns and ample seat movement, but they're also furnished in a distinctly modern way.
The Peugeot's (slightly short-in-the-base) seats are finished in a combination of hard-wearing cloth and vinyl-like material, and the small wheel with buttons both on it, and behind it, is nice to hold. That circular gear shifter dial is unusual, but not offensive.
Cargo storage options include a flip-down work table between the two outboard seats, which you may as well leave down because the middle seat is rendered useless by that protuberant gear shifter. There are big door bins, two cupholders, a foam-coated section under the centre seat base, and an open section atop the dash.
The reversing camera is good, but the overhead view is not much good since it 'creates' or pieces together the image as you move. The presence of phone mirroring and a digital speedo are good useable tech, though some may rue the lack of embedded sat-nav. I'm happy with Waze.
The driving position is typically high and outward vision is generally good, with the exception of the barn-door join that does impinge rear vision when unladen. But the Expert's real trump card is the standard solid bulkhead with window that keeps the cabin hushed and retains the temperature. It also improves occupant safety. Big tick.
To the HiAce. There's a solid argument that it has a nicer interior than the HiLux. The seating position feels more natural and less upright than before, and leg room is far superior to the old model.
The lovely leather wheel with simple-to-use buttons, crisp analogue gauges with digital trip computer and speedo, simple-to-operate centre screen that's embedded flush within the fascia, chunky rotary ventilation gauges, and high-mounted cupholders make it a nice working environment.
Storage in the door bins and glovebox is generous, but there’s not a wealth of other hidey-holes. Most vans feature a mix of overhead shelving, laptop and notepad storage, and other open or secured areas – Toyota is light-on by comparison.
Another fly in the ointment when it comes to day-to-day operations are the wide windscreen pillars that can impinge on outward vision in spite of the huge side windows, particularly for shorter drivers, and those people used to the old 'cab-over' HiAce might find themselves batting to judge where the front bumper is until they're familiar.
The HiAce comes with no bulkhead – of course, like any van, you can source any number of bulkhead options including a mesh crash barrier or solid wall (rubber sealed but not fixed in place like the Expert). But the Peugeot's standard one is great...
In the cargo area department, the Peugeot offers more length and height, but the Toyota's storage area is wider. The Pug's 1300kg payload is superior, and it has two extra tie-down points.
Both vans here had dual sliding side doors. At the rear, the Toyota maintains its top-hinged single door, whereas the Expert came with a forklift-friendly set of centre-opening barn doors that open to 180 degrees, but frustratingly wouldn't lock into place.
Peugeot also has a really clever 'Moduwork' bench seat set-up that lets you slide longer (lower) items through the bulkhead. This expands the theoretical loading area to a whopping 4m in length.
|Peugeot Expert||Toyota HiAce|
|Cargo length at floor||2862mm||2530mm|
|Length inc. bulkhead||2400mm approx.||NA|
|Width between arches||1260mm||1268mm|
|Cargo volume||6.1 cubic-metres||6.2 cubic-metres|
Both vans here use diesel engines, though the Toyota can be had with a potent 3.5-litre petrol V6 for those unconcerned by fuel bills.
The Peugeot '150' rocks a Euro 5-compliant 2.0-litre turbo unit making 110kW and 370Nm. You can also get an uprated '180' version meeting Euro 6 emissions regs thanks to an AdBlue tank, making 130kW/400Nm.
Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic sending power to the front wheels, and claimed combined-cycle fuel use is 6.4 litres per 100km for the 150.
By contrast, the HiAce runs the HiLux's '1GD-FTV' 2.8-litre unit with a DPF forced burn-off switch and making 130kW/450Nm. Those greater outputs are countered by the Toyota's almost 300kg greater weight.
A manual 'box is available but the six-speed auto is the bigger seller, and unlike most vans these days, in this case the HiAce remains rear-wheel drive, meaning the active wheels are directly beneath any load.
The Peugeot's engine has less immediate punch than the Toyota's, but the superior cabin sound-deadening makes your progress a smidgen more relaxing. Where it really wins is fuel consumption, which is 28 per cent superior to the Toyota's.
The automatic also features paddle shifters for when you want to change gears yourself – not that you'll ever feel like an F1 driver, but that's not the point – which offer snappier shifts when required.
The Toyota's newer-generation engine and the sound-deadening around it make for a more peaceful office on the go. You’ll still encounter some vibrations from the engine, but it is vastly more refined than the old one.
It’ll also happily trickle along in grinding traffic if need be with no stuttering or jerkiness in stop-start driving. One quirk is the stop/start system, which you need to really smoosh the brakes hard to activate.
Both models offer maximum braked towing capacities of 1500kg, though the manual HiAce ups this to 1900kg.
|Peugeot Expert||Toyota HiAce|
|Power||110kW @ 4000rpm||130kW @ 3400rpm|
|Torque||370Nm @ 2000rpm||450Nm @ 1600–2400rpm|
|Transmission||6-speed auto||6-speed auto|
|Fuel consumption||6.4L/100km (7.2L CA test)||8.2L/100km (9.6L CA test)|
The Expert has a MacPherson strut front suspension set-up and an oblique wishbone trailing arm rear set-up, betraying its car- and SUV-like origins (it sits on a version of the EMP2 modular architecture that underpins the Peugeot 308, 3008 and 5008).
It also sports disc brakes at both ends, and electrically assisted power steering with 3.5 turns lock-to-lock, and a turning circle of 12.4m.
The ride comfort even when unladen is excellent for a van, with the body control remaining quite disciplined. The NVH suppression is also first rate. However, the brakes were very touchy upon initial application and the light steering is utterly devoid of feel and feedback.
The fitment of active cruise control that matches the speed of any vehicle ahead of you makes highway stints more relaxing, and the blind-spot monitor and load-ready ESC system give you surety. These latter two points also stand in the HiAce's case.
Like the Peugeot, this Toyota has disc brakes at both ends in auto form (drums at the back on the manual, oddly), and a more conventional leaf-sprung rigid axle that prefers weight aboard to settle down.
When travelling unladen, there’s not much in the way of sound deadening in the floor, but an upholstered roof liner does absorb some of the noise generated in the interior and prevents too much boom or echo. But the Peugeot is always quieter.
Overall, I couldn't stop thinking how much less skippy this iteration is compared to the old HiAce, how much more progressive its steering felt, and how much more planted on the road it proved to be. The tight 11m turning circle is also worthy of a tick.
Toyota’s use of hydraulic power steering precludes the fitment of full lane-keep assist (also not on the Peugeot), but the car will attempt to nudge you back into your lane by braking one side of the vehicle to keep things on track. Every little bit helps!
The Peugeot Expert's servicing intervals are annual or 20,000km, with the first four visits capped at $467, $785, $467, and $790. Note that Peugeot has far, far fewer dealers than the ubiquitous Toyota, though. Finally, the standard factory warranty is five years and 200,000km.
By contrast, the Toyota's servicing intervals are irritatingly short at six months/10,000km. But at least each of the first four visits is capped at a reasonable $240 a pop. Toyota's warranty is five years with no distance limit except for commercial operators, which have a 160,000km cap.
This was a hard test to find a definitive result for, which may surprise.
But the Peugeot Expert is a pretty impressive van despite the lack of badge cred, offering car-like comfort and refinement, excellent fuel economy, and even relatively decent value for money (albeit it can't compete with the cut-price and lower-specified Renault Trafic).
If you're willing to overlook the fact that Peugeot's dealer network is modest, there's no reason why as a tradie or delivery driver you shouldn't take a closer look.
But the HiAce proved more impressive to me, because as the incumbent top-seller with huge numbers of captive buyers (fleets work that way, and resale values favour that), it's such a vast improvement on its tired and comparatively unsafe predecessor.
The simple fact is, anyone hopping into this new one out of an old one will be staggered, even though the continuation of short servicing intervals will grate like nails on a chalkboard.