The changes in how we are living this year have clearly highlighted the requirement for fast and local delivery of food, goods and other supplies. A requirement that is only going to become increasingly more important for small businesses, and there’s no better tool for this than a van.
Not a traditional slab-sided cab-over ‘toaster’ mind you, I’m talking about a compact hatch-based city dweller, like the 2020 Peugeot Partner.
Updated to an all-new EMP2 platform in 2018, the Partner shares its underpinnings with pretty much everything in the PSA catalogue. It is sold overseas in various badge-engineered forms as the Citroen Berlingo III, Opel Combo and Toyota ProAce. If that last one is a surprise, then it should give you some indication of the level of quality and functionality the new Pug has.
The Partner is available as a petrol-powered short wheel-base with either a manual or automatic transmission (from $25,990 for the manual), or a long wheel-base manual diesel (from $30,490). Our car is the Partner SWB 130 petrol automatic and is priced from $31,490 before options and on-road costs.
Contextually, that’s $200 more than the list price on a SWB automatic VW Caddy, but as I’ll cover shortly, the Pug comes with a lot more standard equipment.
Worth noting too, that we’re driving the last of the first-arrival MY19-spec cars which is mechanically identical but misses out on the road-side sliding door and 8.0-inch touchscreen, instead receiving a strange 1970s neo-futuristic radio tuning interface. Retail price on the MY19 cars was originally $500 less than the current Partner ($30,990) but as there are still stocks in final runout, you could expect to pay well under $30k on the road for one of these.
With chunky black plastic bumper bars and 16-inch steel wheels, the Peugeot Partner fully embraces its basic Parisienne livraison roots. Available in five colours, with white the only one not attracting a $690 premium, the Partner is handsome enough as far as rolling white-goods go. The signature quad-headlamps and chromed lion badge give it a familiar Peugeot look, where the lower fog/cornering lamps help balance it all out.
Under the bonnet is the 1.2-litre 3-cylinder turbocharged engine from the 308 hatch. Outputs are identical, with 96kW at 5500rpm and 230Nm from 1750rpm, giving it enough zip off the line for running about town.
|Peugeot Partner 130 SWB|
|Engine configuration||Three-cylinder turbocharged petrol|
|Power||96kW @ 5500rpm|
|Torque||230Nm @ 1750rpm|
|Power to weight ratio||72.0kW/t|
|Transmission||8-speed automatic w/ paddle shift|
|Fuel consumption (combined cycle)||6.3L/100km|
|Fuel tank size||50L|
Fun fact, I actually just sold my 308 Allure hatch, which had been my daily for the past 18 months and have to say that engine, although lacking any real punch above 3500rpm, is really tractable and easy to live with as a city commuter.
In the Partner, the feeling is the same. Dealing with short runs in traffic and at low to middling speeds, the little three-cylinder works well. It handles freeway speeds comfortably, and you find that unless that delivery is running particularly late, a more relaxed driving style simply becomes the norm.
Peugeot claims a combined fuel consumption cycle of 6.3L/100km, which is a tad ambitious. We settled at 8.3L/100km with a mixture of urban and highway driving, which is about the same as my personal experience in the 308.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox is engaged by a rotary selector on the centre console, with shifts able to be changed by the paddles on the wheel, should you feel so inclined. The transmission works well, and suits the set-and-go nature of an urban hustler like the Partner. Remember too that a hatch-based van like the Partner is often a first-time light commercial vehicle for small business owners. That it is as easy and familiar to drive as a regular hatchback is an important consideration, and a job the Partner handles well.
Accommodations behind the wheel are similar to the 308 too, with the iCockpit instrument binnacle and side-plate sized steering wheel providing that unique ‘you get it or you don’t’ Peugeot experience. What is a bit strange is that the needle on the tachometer rotates in a standard clockwise direction, not anti-clockwise as in the 308. How about you save some money and maybe share more components, PSA?
The ride is compliant and comfortable, with the steering feeling light but direct, just like other Peugeots. There’s not the same level of ride control as in the 308 hatch, but even with a small load in the back, the Partner settles well and manages urban imperfections very capably. Simply put, the Partner is quite a fun thing to tootle about in.
Given a van tends to double as a mobile office, the cabin itself is very important, and it’s here where some clever thinking has really come into play. For starters, the shoulder-rubbing three-abreast layout offers handy flexibility, with the centre seat able to be folded into an armrest with integrated laptop desk. No chunky plastic handles to flip and fold though, just strips of ribbony fabric to pull – tres chic!
The cloth seats are comfortable, and the cabin is kept reasonably insulated from noise and temperature thanks to the fixed bulkhead that separates the load bay. You’ll still get a bit of echo at highway speeds, but it’s much better than an open van.
Aside from the comical ‘espresso’ holder in the console, there are handy cupholders either side of the dash, a storage shelf above where the glovebox would be (as in typical Peugeot fashion, the LHD cars have the fuse box here and it isn’t moved as part of the RHD conversion), and another shelf in place of the said glovebox.
There’s another actual glovebox above the shelf above the glovebox-that-isn’t, plus a shelf above the radio unit. Then there is another below the air conditioning controls, and yet another in front of the instruments. Need more space? There are big pockets in the doors and of course a shelf that runs the width of the cabin above the windscreen.
Comfort-wise, you have manual climate control, which heats things up very quickly, and even a switch to activate the heated mirrors. The Partner includes automatic headlamps, wipers and power mirrors, that all work the same as in the 308. You even get the strange-until-you-use-it cruise control and speed limit nodule on the lower left of the wheel.
In terms of infotainment, we’ve rated the car in the context of the whacky non-haptic, touch-sensitive radio tuner in our car. As noted, this is only equipped on MY19 runout stock, which I’d really suggest are best left to bargain hunters. The system works well enough, but the usability falls firmly into the ‘Frraaaance!’ category of not making much sense.
If the car was fitted with the 8.0-inch touchscreen, which as well as running the standard PSA infotainment interface, has support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, we’d not only rate it better, I would have had a more enjoyable week. My tip, go for the new car.
There is an impressive array of other technology though, with a lane departure alert, forward collision warning with AEB, speed sign recognition and a curious rear and side view video camera that replaces the standard rear view mirror.
The image quality isn’t perfect, but it works and allows you to run a continual ‘live’ feed from either the rear or side view at any time. Sounds cool, looks cool… but it's all but useless at night and in the wet.
Thankfully the side mirrors are nice and big, and you also have front and rear parking sensors to avoid those 7th Arrondissement type touch parks.
The cargo area is 1817mm long and has a volume of 3800L. For comparison, the clear ‘small van based on a hatch from the same brand’ segment leader, Volkswagen Caddy, offers 3200L and a length of 1779mm. The Partner also has a neat party trick by including a secret hatch in the bulkhead, which, with the front passenger seat folded, allows items of 3090mm in length to fit in. It’s not a huge hole so think poles and ladders rather than lounge settings.
|Peugeot Partner 130 SWB|
|Cargo bay length||1817mm (3090mm with bulkhead access)|
|Cargo bay height||1243mm|
|Cargo bay width||1527mm (1229mm between arches)|
|GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass kg)||2320kg|
|Cargo volume (max L)||3800L|
|Wheels/tyres||16-inch / 205/60/16 Michelin|
Payload is rated at 1000kg, which feels like a lot, and may change your opinion of the 1.2-litre engine. It’s fair to assume that a van like the Partner is more regularly purchased for smaller, lighter loads, but its good to know you can throw in around 20-wheels of cheese and still be able to carry two people up front if you have to.
At the back, the barn doors can click open past their standard 90-degrees to a full 180-degrees, and of course, on the MY20 Partner, there is the convenience of twin sliding side doors.
There are six tie-down points and a light in the cargo bay too.
Ownership is supported by a five-year, 200,000km warranty and 15,000km or 12-month service intervals. Service prices are capped but adjust year to year, with the first five years coming in at $2795.
|Peugeot Partner 130 SWB|
|Options as tested||$0|
So far this year, the light van segment has moved a total of 1386 units, 69 per cent of which are Caddys. It’s not a big segment by any stretch, with the 107 Partners sold only accounting for eight per cent of total sales. But things are on the up, with July recording the strongest month so far (32 units).
I know that Peugeots aren’t for everyone, but once you get past the uniqueness, and spend time behind the little wheel, you’ll wonder what you and everyone else have been missing for so long. It’s well-priced, comfortable, clever, economical and well-featured, but perhaps better suited to a more regular owner/driver than as an ad-hoc runabout.
Score one with the basic infotainment for a better deal or go for the updated Partner with a touchscreen and smartphone mirroring for some real-world usability.
If local livraison is life for your small business, and you don’t need (or want) the footprint of a more traditional van, then the 2020 Peugeot Partner presents a solid case for an easy, practical and characterful alternative to the VW Caddy.
MORE: Everything Vans