This is the second small-scale revision of the Partner light van in this third-generation product’s life cycle. Following on from the first-generation in 1996 and second in 2002, this version of the Partner first arrived in the UK in 2008 and got a first revision in 2012, with the French brand deciding three years later that another makeover is required to keep pace with newer rivals like the Ford Transit Connect, revised Fiat Doblo and forthcoming VW Caddy.
Along with fellow PSA brand Citroen’s Berlingo, the new Partner is easily distinguished from the front, though there are a decent number of changes to the engines and interior to back up the latest refresh.
That most obvious update is the nose job, with a redesign adding a new grille with the Peugeot logo at its centre, rather than the metal-clad front-end of the previous look. There are new headlamps, and the French manufacturer claims the bumper surface receives reinforced protection and including corner panels that can easily be replaced in the event of damage.
Peugeot has enjoyed significant success in the UK with the Partner, last year recording a 46.4% increase in registrations to leapfrog the Citroen Berlingo and VW Caddy to become the best-selling light van in the UK. That 16,636 registrations was the best the van has ever achieved in the UK, and compares with 5539 in 2009, and made it one of the top six biggest-selling light commercials as Peugeot moved ahead of Mercedes-Benz and Citroen into the top four LCV brands.
This update includes a variety of new engine and transmission options, though the UK doesn’t appear to be getting the 120hp diesel that’s the only one to get a new six-seed manual gearbox. The new 100hp BlueHDI diesel that meets Euro6 emissions legislation still only has a five-speed transmission, and that model joins the 75hp and 92hp versions of the 1.6 that will be replaced before September 2016 as they don’t meet the latest emissions laws.
The new engine option is also offered in six-speed ETG automatic form for an extra £550 that is slightly more efficient than the manual, though both are up with the class best. And Peugeot is continuing to offer its Electric Partner with a range of just over 100 miles, though the firm, and sister brand Citroen, has taken a low-key approach marketing its alternative fuel product.
The 100hp Euro6 engine is £450 more than the older-tech 92hp alternative, though it is 10.8mpg more efficient so higher-mileage users may find longer-term benefit in the one with the higher up-front cost. Like most Euro6 engines, the BlueHDI 100hp unit will require a top-up of the Adblue additive that helps reduce local air pollution. Peugeot says it needs doing every 12,500 miles, in line with UK service intervals, and the vehicle alerts the driver when it needs a refill. If that isn’t done, there’s another reminder less than 400 miles later, and the vehicle will stop itself completely in a further 1100 miles or so to prevent engine damage. Top-ups can be done at a dealer, and the 17-litre Adblue tank drops the diesel tank size down by seven litres to 53.
The UK line-up consists of three trim levels – S, SE and Professional, and L1 and L2 lengths, the latter only available in 92hp form (an extra £630) with the S trim and with the 100hp diesel in SE specification for another £430 on top of the L1.
The L2 has the same wheelbase and a longer rear overhang, creating another 248mmn of load length and 0.4m3 of load volume. An additional £870 over the regular L2 model buys the five-seat crew van, available only with the 92hp diesel and in S trim.
The basic S trim level offers a standard equipment list that includes central locking, electric windows, CD player and six tie-down hooks in the load area, while the step-up to SE costs just £380 on comparable engines and adds useful kit including a side-load door (an offside side-load door is another £220 from the options list), 12-volt socket and plastic floor protector in the cargo area, cruise control and speed limiter, 15-inch wheel trims and the handy multi-flex passenger seat that allows the transportation of longer loads by extending the load bay into the passenger seat to add another 1.2metres of load length while still protecting the driver. The passenger seat also folds into the floor to allow the transportation of box-shaped objects in the cabin area, particularly handy for more fragile items.
The top-spec Professional model is a further £1165 from SE and aimed at owner-drivers that like their creature comforts. Air conditioning, rear parking sensors, DAB radio, Bluetooth and TomTom navigation are all included, as is the new seven-inch touchscreen that comes with the Mirrordcreen system that can replicate an Android phone’s display onto the screen for use with navigation, radio streaming and other functions. The bad news is that the touchscreen with Mirrorscreen isn’t even an option on the other two trim levels.
That screen in the Professional trim level is the biggest change on the interior that is otherwise pretty much carry-over and starting to show its age. The screen size is good, but it could have been better integrated by either being angled up or towards the driver, or inset, rather than flat and flush to the dash.
There are plenty of small bits of interior storage but very little that’s big and useful apart from the shelf above the windscreen, and finding somewhere that bottles or cups won’t escape from isn’t easy as even the door bins are shallow. The circular holes in the middle of the dash are particularly useless and look like leftover vents.
But the interior is fundamentally functional, if lacking in some of the car-like design and quality that modern light commercials now offer.
Another example of how the usability of the interior isn’t up with the class best is the aux input socket in the middle of the dash, which means a lead has to be trailed across the cabin to whichever spot the driver feels is best to lay their mobile music device.
The driving position is also a little cramped for larger drivers, and the headrests could do with being a little further forward to become a comfort feature rather than something that stops the occupants banging their head on the bulkhead in an emergency stop.
But the 100hp engine is refined and powerful, negating most of the need for the 120hp version, although a sixth gear would be nice for higher-speed runs. Though we drove the Partner unladen, there was nothing to intimate that it would struggle at all when loaded.
Handling, ride and all-round performance are all decent, in that there’s nothing to complain about but it doesn’t lead the class in any one area. The Partner is basically a very competent all-rounder.
One interesting development coming at the back-end of 2015 is the addition of the Active City Brake system, which at low urban speeds will bring the Partner safely to a stop if the driver fails to react to an impending rear-end collision in traffic. UK pricing hasn’t been set, but in mainland Europe it costs around 500 Euros (£358), though that is part of a package with rear parking sensors.
Peugeot is also continuing to offer the Grip Control version, available in all three trim levels on the 92hp HDI diesel. Costing £700 more than the regular van, Grip Control is a system to enhance the traction on the front-wheel drive van, making it more competent in tougher conditions. It has four driving modes to help the vehicle traverse mud, sand, snow and other slippery settings, and the version, branded ATV with Grip Control, also get suspension raised by 10mm to protect the vehicle off-road, upgraded mud and snow tyres, under-engine protection tray and it comes without wheel trims to avoid them being lost in a forest.
The weights and measures for the Partner remain the same, which means it’s 150kg off the class best for payload, with the majority of mainstream models in the line-up offering 850kg. But the 850kg on most L1 diesels is competitive against rivals of similar size and power – with the rival Ford Transit Connect offering 825kg.
The new Partner is a slight improvement over the old, with a fresher face and a refined and very efficient new engine, combining with good loadspace and payload, though it’s not an option for those looking for maximum load lugging ability. This top-spec model isn’t cheap, with most rivals able to undercut the £15,780 price tag, but better value can be found further down the range, with the middle SE trim being the best compromise of value and equipment, compared to the Spartan S model.
Mild revision increases Partner’s appeal, though others are still stronger