Car Reviews

Peugeot Partner HDi Road Test Review

It’s long been a tradition amongst car manufacturers to take a crowbar to a car, ease the windows out, pull the rear seats up, slap a few big doors on, and then sell it as a light van version. Sometimes this worked rather well, and sometimes it clearly didn’t. The question, asks Tony Bosworth, is which camp does the Peugeot Partner fall into?

Okay, there’s a little bit more to it then just taking stuff out and then adding a bit of new stuff into a car to turn it into a commercial vehicle, but it wasn’t so long ago that VW’s Golf and the Ford Fiesta were just two examples of minimal change from car to van. The problem was, they were literally cars in van form so they weren’t the roomiest or the most practical.

STYLING

Peugeot has gone about it differently with the Partner, and it’s refreshing. Yes, it’s based on the 308 hatchback’s platform but that’s really where the similarities end. The Peugeot Partner is very much a purpose-built van with a cavernous business end seamlessly blended with a comfy and practical cabin.The Partner features sliding doors both sides and what Peugeot calls barn doors at the back (double doors to you and me). The L1 also has the double rear doors but it’s a shorter version (4380mm against the L2’s 4628mm) and features a single sliding door on the left side rather than one either side.

BEHIND THE WHEEL

Getting in and out of the Partner is no different from climbing into a car, which is a big plus for anyone who’s in and out of the cab on deliveries all day, as most Partner owners will be. The front doors are large, so too the glass areas, so it’s a very airy cab and the door mirrors are a decent size also, a must for any van.The driver’s seat is comfortable and manually height adjustable and though reasonably soft it supports extremely well and coupled with a rake and tilt adjustable steering wheel, most drivers will be able to find an ideal driving position. Headroom is simply fantastic, with 1100mm from the base of the seat cushion to the roof.The Peugeot Partner offers a functional cabinAdding to the pluses, there are simply masses of cubby spaces in the cabin, including a very spacious truck-like shelf above the driver and passenger area, and even a big storage bin under the driver’s seat and a sizeable bin on top of the dash in front of the driver.  Your biggest problem may well be finding that item you stored away somewhere in the cab some time ago…On the minus side, the handbrake is far too close to the driver’s seat (it’s on the left hand side). There’s no avoiding that because the middle seat is right snug up next to it – and I haven’t even got especially big hands. If you have, you will find this an issue. The Partner does have Hill Assist though – where the car holds itself on slight slopes until you accelerate – so that goes part way to making the handbrake a little bit redundant. Of course, they could just have moved the handbrake to the other side of the driver’s seat – once again, see the Peugeot Expert for how to do this.All dashboard instruments are refreshingly simple and clear, the switches feel like quality pieces, and on the steering wheel stalks you’ll find standard cruise control on the left (it can operate as a speed limiter too) while on the right stalk it’s wipers and a separate function for the sound system, which by the way is better than most, even by car standards. There’s no major computer (what there is offers a smattering of very simple information) or navigation system, which is a disappointment in a van likely to spend most of its time in city streets or on longer rural runs.

ROOM AND PRACTICALITY

Peugeot says this is a three-seater, and indeed there it is, crammed in between the normal passenger seat and the driver’s. Honestly, the middle seat is far too small for your average workman (or any man, for that matter…) and you have to swing your legs sideways to cater for the centre console, which although it doesn’t go all the way down to the floor, is still in the way of your knees. You can see how a three-seater can be done well in the somewhat larger Peugeot Expert, but in the Partner it’s little more than a seat for a small child (and I know this because I had my seven-year-old try it out).The cargo area is very impressive, with minimal wheel arch intrusion and an almost square shape. There’s also a ribbed metal floor, but I think every van should have a standard rubber covered floor because that stops a lot of cargo from sliding or rolling around. The ribbed floor seems pretty useless to me, at least in terms of cargo roll, and you have to ask who always ties down their load?Having said that, if you do tie it down there are six tie points and a semi-transparent thick plastic sheet between the cargo deck and cabin which appears to cut down on some of the roar you’ll always get from the business end of a van.A thick metal ladder-type frame sits behind the driver’s seat, but there’s nothing behind the passengers’ seats. And there’s no floor lip between the cargo area and cabin to stop even the smallest items coming forwards into the driver and passenger area. Every van should have some form of solid removable bulkhead. What happens if you have a full load onboard and you have to brake hard? Of course it will all come through into the cab.The Peugeot Partner offers a practical bodyThe double back doors – Peugeot’s so-called barn doors – open wide and can be locked in position too. There’s a low load sill, which I’ve been banging on about for years – you just have to have a low load sill – but then I did my normal 30kg bag of firewood test and messed up my back. Why? Well, the sill may be at knee height for most, which is good, but the sizeable rear bumper means you can’t get close enough to the entrance to the load floor, so you have to bend over and forwards to put a heavy item in, your knees against the thick bumper, and that seriously strains your back. Ironically, if the load floor were higher this wouldn’t be too much of a problem.And this issue is not solved if you’re using a forklift truck to place even heavier loads or pallets in because you can’t get it close enough to the actual load floor; again the bumper’s in the way and keeps your forkie too far back. It’s not until you try loading the Partner you notice this issue, so be warned. The biggish bumper is a good safety item, which has nonetheless made loading a bit trickier.Inside the cargo area you’ve got that almost square shape which is excellent, especially for boxy items, and the load sill is just 560mm off the ground by my measuring tape. I want to make a point here – if you look at Peugeot’s figures they (not surprisingly) give the best-case scenario (though I measure the load sill lower than they do…). Their maximum load width, for example, comes in at 1500mm but the fact is, measuring it myself (and at Practical Motoring we do this for all light commercials) the widest bit of the rear opening with the doors fully open measures 1250cm. What if you have an item that measures 1500mm? Well, you won’t be able to get it in. The rear opening is fully bowed out there in the middle and narrows at top and bottom. So, the actual door opening top load width near the roofline is 1120cm.  Best height inside the cargo area is 1250mm but a big steel roof strut running across the width cuts some useable height. Useable load length is 1960mm.Peugeot designers have tried to squeeze as much space into the cargo area as they can, even keeping scalloped areas where windows would have been (in Europe, and the concept is fairly common, you can buy a version with side glazing). A good practical touch – the cargo area doors can be locked and unlocked separately to the cabin doors, and that can be very useful, especially during stop-start dashes into shops or businesses.

PERFORMANCE

Australia gets two Partner variants, the L1 with Peugeot’s well known petrol 1.6-litre which also finds a home in a whole range of the company’s cars, and the longer L2 with 1.6-litre turbo diesel, which we test here.Power output for the diesel is 66kW at 4000rpm and there’s a stonking 215Nm of torque – the actual pulling power – at a very impressive 1750rpm. The gearbox is a five-speed manual, the lever centre console mounted so there’s room for a third front seat (a two-seater is $390 cheaper) and, in theory at least, its occupants legs – but more about that later. In Europe you can also opt for an auto and that comes with a slightly different dashboard design too, but for buyers here it’s the five-speed manual, take it or leave it.The excellent torquey engine performs just like any other diesel Peugeot, that’s to say it’s smooth, very refined, and can hustle along with fast-moving motorway traffic just as competently as it can cleanly pull up steep hills in the mountains where my daily commute takes me.First gear is set especially low for really easy pulling from rest with a full load on board – and yes we did test it with a near full payload – while top gear is a lazy cruising ratio. Even in top though it doesn’t take much to prod the turbocharger into giving you a spurt of power. Honestly, I could happily live with this van and not feel hard done by.All doors lock automatically on the Peugeot PartnerThere is a little bit of road roar from the back end but honestly it’s never annoying. To be fair, the thrumming diesel in a Holden Captiva I drove after the Partner is much more annoying than any noise you’ll ever hear in a Partner, and remember the Peugeot is a van…All doors lock automatically after you’ve travelled a few metres, which is a plus because there’s nothing worse than going around checking all the various doors are locked all the time.As I mentioned earlier, the console does not go down to the floor but I just love this gearlever arrangement in the middle of the console. You’ll see this style on several rivals vans out there; it’s in just the right place and the Partner’s gearbox has a very nice change – well weighted, precise and quick to slot into the next gear.

RIDE AND HANDLING

The speed-sensitive power assisted steering is excellent, providing both good feel and none of the wooliness that used to be so familiar to any light commercial driver. And the Partner handles well too; there’s little body roll, a good bump-soaking ride when unladen, no bucking when it’s empty, and no sogginess when it’s loaded up.Ventilated front disc and solid rear discs brakes with standard ABS anti-locking, are mostly good and quite progressive, but they bite too early and sharply at slow speeds, so they take a bit of getting used to.The Peugeot Partner is perfectly suited to life around town and is more refined than many passenger carsThere’s good cabin width at 1550mm, or just over five feet in old money, and the cabin is nice and airy too, thanks to the high roofline and large glass areas. Despite all these good points, there is a truly dreadful blind spot which can easily hide a vehicle coming past on the motorway. Better mirrors – such as the wider view split lens types on the Expert – would help here. There were more than a few times when my heart was in my mouth as I gingerly started to pull out into the next lane, unable to be sure someone wasn’t lurking up alongside me. While the door mirrors are both electrically adjustable and heated, I’d love to see a flashing light or strip come on on the side of the mirror (as in some VWs, for example) to warn when someone is alongside. It’s a relatively simple thing but it could save you from an accident.

QUALITY

I’m not the man to speak to about Peugeot reliability, because I have a Peugeot 206 – enough said. Still, things (hopefully…) have moved on since I bought that car 13 years ago. Certainly Peugeot publicly accepted some years back that their reliability left something to be desired so by now they should have got their act together. Point is, the Partner is clearly well built, feels solid, doesn’t have too many bells and whistles – you know, the sort of things that start to go wrong down the track – and it comes with a three year, 100,000km mechanical warranty, plus a five-year corrosion warranty.On our test van there were no rattles and squeaks, which is especially impressive in any van because of course there is little rear soundproofing so any noises tend to get heard and swiftly become irritating.

PRICING AND EQUIPMENT

At $26,870 (+ORC), the Partner makes a convincing case, both in terms of practicality and overall value. It’s a well-equipped vehicle without needless gimmicks, it will do the job well and if you’re a small business owner it’s also a van that will definitely help your business’s image.

SAFETY

Aside from that dangerous blind spot, the Partner comes across as a pretty safe vehicle. It sits the road well, handles well and has driver and passenger airbags, ABS anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBFD), Emergency Brake Assist (EBA), Electronic Stability Program (ESP), pretensioning and force limiting outer front seatbelts, driver seat belt warning alarm, automatic door unlocking in the event of an accident, and automatic activation of hazard lights under emergency braking.Peugeot also cites the driver’s ladder frame as a protection measure, but as mentioned, there really needs to be protection for passengers too from potentially moving loads.


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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober