It's a motoring magazine’s nightmare! Three vans from three manufacturers being relaunched at the same time, but coming off the same production line.
Three foreign launches to attend and three sales and marketing pitches to listen to, all for what is essentially the same product.
We must be fair and give equal coverage to all but we have two major problems. We couldn’t spare a staffer to attend one of the launches and editor Trevor Gelken missed the flight to Italy to attend another of the test drives (a first in 11 years).
So let’s get the apologies out of the way first and we’ll get down to the serious business of bringing you the lowdown on our new triplets – the Citroën Relay, Peugeot Boxer and Fiat Ducato. To all those at Fiat who paid for the editor’s plane ticket to Milan and left without him while he was sitting forlornly in a queue on the M25: we’re truly sorry. Apparently we missed a splendid ‘do’ in Italy and it will take us a long time to live down that particular misdemeanour.
To all those at Peugeot who invited Fleet Van to drive the new Boxer in France, we’re truly sorry that staff problems meant we couldn’t attend. Once again, by all accounts, the driving and other associated activities were first class.
Which leaves the Citroën Relay.
For our on-the-road impressions featured later, when we say ‘Citroën’, readers can think ‘Peugeot’ or ‘Fiat’ as all three vans are identical apart from the badges and a few minor spec differences. So let’s get down to the nitty gritty...
THERE are four vehicle lengths available, on three wheelbases and with a choice of three roof heights. The vans have been designed to offer improved comfort and stability, thanks to wishbone and McPherson front suspension with an anti-roll bar and single or dual leaf springs at the rear. Air suspension is also an option at the back end, offering a kneeling function to provide a low floor height for loading and unloading.
Three Euro IV engines are available, two based on a 2.2-litre motor along with a range-topping 3.0-litre powerplant. The base 2.2-litre offers 100bhp with 184lb-ft of torque available from 1,500-2,800rpm. This engine comes mated to a five-speed manual gearbox.
The mid-range engine, which is expected to account for 40-50% of UK sales, has 120bhp on tap backed up by 236lb-ft of torque at a slightly higher 2,000-2,300rpm.
The top-of-the-range 3.0-litre comes with 157bhp and 295lb-ft of torque at 1,700-2,550rpm. Both the higher-powered 2.2-litre engine and the 3.0-litre motor have a six-speed manual gearbox. At present there are no plans to offer either an automatic transmission or an automated manual box.
The engines sit behind what can only be described as a distinctive nose, which juts out below the bonnet line. It’s a striking design, with the headlights well up out of harm’s way above a three-piece main bumper.
Following current trends, however, indicator repeaters are mounted in the outer edge of the door mirrors, which means that they’ll be the first things to get hit by careless drivers.
The vans have disc brakes all round and ABS with brake assist is standard. ASR and ESP remain on the options list, however. It’s a similar story inside, where the driver’s airbag comes as standard, but passenger, side and curtain airbags are cost options.
Elsewhere inside it’s all good news. The dash layout is really good, with more storage compartments than even the most harassed driver could ever fill.
What’s more, they are useful storage compartments that actually work, rather than simply ledges that will lose their load at the first roundabout.
Perhaps reflecting the move into higher gross weights, you can even order the van with a suspended driver’s seat, which makes it a very comfortable place in which to spend the day.
At the rear, the load volumes go from 8-17cubic metres.
A large sliding side door is standard and the rear doors offer full height access to the interior.
However, you will have to go to the options list again if you want the rear doors to open to 270 degrees.
Access to the rear has been made easier though, as the new broader rear bumper offers a wide non-slip step.
If you are prepared to spend a bit more from the options list, and the fact that the current model sales are split equally between fleets and small independent businesses suggests that some owners will, you can add air conditioning, parking assistance with a rear view camera, a CD player, Bluetooth phone connection and navigation systems.
On the road
FLEET Van tried the mid-range Citroën Relay 120bhp van, in medium wheelbase and mid-height roof configuration, on a variety of roads to the north of Paris.
The lasting impression of the drive was just how quiet it was. Our test vehicles had a full height bulkhead, which helps to keep noise down, but on the move the engine was barely audible.
The test vehicles were unladen, which meant that 120bhp was more than enough to ensure rapid progress and a very relaxed cruise. The dash-mounted gearshift was a bit notchy, but other testers reported that this was variable depending on the van. Perhaps a few more miles on the clock would see that ease.
Steering and handling were almost car-like, and it was easy to place the van on the road and in the corners. This was helped by good visibility to the front and sides and wide mirrors.
As mentioned, a suspension seat made the drive very comfortable, but even from the new passenger seat the ride was smooth and composed.
FIRST impressions are extremely favourable, although it must be noted that while the Sevel trio has been upgraded, the opposition Ford Transit and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter also have blistering new models out this year.
As first UK vans become available for testing here, we’ll be hearing a lot more of these three.
Gross vehicle weight (kg): 3,000-4,000
Payloads (kg): 1,000-2,000
Load volumes (cu m): 8-17
Max power (bhp): 100-157
Max torque (lb-ft): 184-295