Peugeot's Boxer van is back and looking very confident at the weigh-in. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
Peugeot's Boxer looks better, is built stronger, carries more and does so while consuming less fuel than its predecessor. In a cut-throat market, Peugeot has forensically focused on the things that make a real difference to fleet operators in order to give its heavyweight the best chance of a unanimous decision.
When choosing a van that can punch above its weight, Peugeot might not be the first name that springs to mind. In fact, you might well associate the brand with smaller commercials like the Partner and Expert. If you need something big and tough, chances are that you might have looked at the Ford Transit, the Vauxhall Movano or maybe the Volkswagen Transporter. Overlooking Peugeot's Boxer is easy to do but could well bring on an acute case of buyer's remorse.
The Boxer has quietly edged itself into position to challenge the very best in this market and the latest model, a beneficiary of more than two million miles of testing in extreme conditions, brings the sort of quality, robustness and durability that commercial operators demand. Couple that with what's promised to be the best fuel economy in the market and a wide range of bodies and load capacities and you have a vehicle that's capable of doing the business.
Peugeot offers a strong line up of five diesel engines, all fitted with diesel particulate filters. The four-cylinder 2.2-litre HDi 110 develops 110PS, as its badge suggests, and 250Nm at 1,750rpm. Step up to the 130PS and 150PS versions of this engine and you get 320 and 350Nm respectively coupled with a specific piston cooling system and engine mapping. The 130PS engine can also be specified with a fuel-saving Stop & Start system. At the top of the range is the beefy 3.0-litre HDi 180 motor, which is good for 400Nm at 1,400rpm, an exceptional torque figure for the category. Bigger brakes, stronger suspension mountings and a more rigid body all improve the driving characteristics.
The ESP stability control system is particularly refined on this van, with a Load Adaptive Control function which adapts the point at which the ESP intervenes, according to the load in the vehicle and its distribution. There's also Hill Start Assist, built into the ESP software. This system is activated when the vehicle is stationary, engine running, foot on the brake pedal, on a slope steeper than 5 per cent, in forward gear going up or reverse gear going down. Under these conditions, braking pressure is maintained for around two seconds after the driver releases the brake pedal, offering assurance and ease in moving off without the vehicle dropping back, whatever the load in the vehicle.
Design and Build
Normally when manufacturers try to translate exterior design cues from cars onto vans, the how approach fails and comes across as a bit desperate, but the latest Peugeot Boxer actually looks pretty slick with a big chromed grille. The headlights are interesting too, looking like rather feline eyes, garnished with a daytime running light strip. The front moulding that wraps beneath the grille and lights is a complex shape and the rake of the windscreen is a bit more laid back than in many panel vans. It's not just aesthetics though. Just above the front foglights, two rectangular recesses serve as steps to facilitate cleaning the windscreen. Clever.
The interior is nicely executed with far better materials quality than the outgoing van. The steering wheel looks more car-like and can be trimmed in perforated leather as an option. The dashboard gets a revised control panel with a better range of audio systems, while black 'Darko' cloth punctuated with red and grey is adopted for the seats, with brown Achille trim as an option. The whole effect contributes towards the perception of improved quality and modern appearance of the cabin. It's no mere perception that this van feels tough. This Boxer has benefited from testing such as 1,500 hours at temperatures from -20??C to +40??C to ensure resistance to ageing by the components and materials used in mechanical, plastic and electronic parts. It's been subjected to 1,000 dunkings in 10cm of water or 3cm with saline spray, with no washing of the vehicle during the following 1,000 km, to validate the sealing and resistance to corrosion. Half a million door opening test cycles were carried out at temperatures of -30??C to +80??C, to simulate ten years of hard use.
Market and Model
Peugeot's fighting for a share of a revitalised post-recession large van market, which now represents around 500,000 vehicles a year in Europe. The sector grew by around 0.25 per cent between 2009 and 2013 and Boxer sales doubled that rate of growth, sales rising by 0.5 per cent. The latest version should do even better.
It's certainly well equipped, even at the entry-level point. Safe too, with anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control and emergency braking assistance, a driver's airbag and electric windows all part of the standard equipment, together with a steel bulkhead between the cabin and the loading area, contributing towards better noise suppression. There's Bluetooth and a USB port, plus various storage areas, as well as a document holder and writing table built into the folding backrest of the centre seat. Step up to the Professional model and there's cruise control with a speed limiter function, rear parking sensors and a 5'' colour touch screen. This allows the operation of all functions, such as audio streaming, reading SMS text messages and an integrated satellite navigation system, as well as the display of the image from the reversing camera.
Practicalities and Costs
The entry-level Boxer is an L1H1 (short wheelbase, low roof) panel van which can be specified in 3.0 and 3.3 tonne gross weights and has a load space volume of 8.0 cubic metres. Despite this being the smallest van in the range, it still has a load length of 2670mm, an internal load compartment height of 1662mm, a maximum load width of 1870mm and a between-the-wheel arches dimension of 1420mm - wide enough for an 8ft x 4ft sheet to be loaded flat on the floor.
Graduate to the medium wheelbase L2 model and you can get both standard and high roof formats, giving respective load volumes of 10 cubic metres and 11.5 cubic metres. The Boxer L2 panel van has a load deck length of 3120mm and either an interior load height of 1662mm (H1) or 1932mm (H2). It can also be specified in 3.3, 3.5 and 4.005 tonne gross weight versions. Should you really need some capacity, the long wheelbase L3 format will be the ticket. In this configuration, the New Relay van has a load deck length of 3705mm and an internal load height of 1932mm, which gives a 13 cubic metre capacity. The Boxer also offers a record load width of 1.87m and 1.42m between wheel arches, a low load sill, between 493 and 602mm, one o two sliding doors and rear doors that open to 96?? and extended to 180?? due to a folding check strap and to 270?? as an optional feature.
The 2.2 litre turbo-charged diesel engines offer better fuel economy than before, with the 110PS engine returning a creditable 41.5mpg. This rises to around 43mpg for the same van with the Stop & Start-equipped HDi 130 engine.
The Boxer is faced with some really strong rivals but rather than shy away from the challenge, Peugeot has come out swinging. It's hard to argue with a van that offers this sort of refinement inside while also being able to claim such excellent economy figures and backing it up with a large and practical load bay which boasts the broadest load width in the sector. Perhaps the most interesting challenge to the Boxer will be the internecine challenge from its sister vehicles, the Citroen Relay and the Fiat Ducato. Much will come down to the individual deals you can gouge from your dealer there, but the Peugeot might just win out, in this country at least.
A lot of thought has gone into making the Boxer work for its operators. The service intervals have gone out to two years or 30,000 miles. It runs on 15-inch tyres, which are the cheapest and easiest to get hold of for van fleets. The engines are chain rather than belt driven so don't require replacement every 60,000 miles. Small things like this make a difference. Peugeot hopes so in any case.