Peugeot's little Bipper van is out to persuade British businesses that it's big enough to be all the compact van they really need. Jonathan Crouch reports
Bigger than the car-derived vans but not quite as big as the compact vans, the Peugeot Bipper is an intriguing proposition in the UK van market. If its carrying capacity suits, operators will find a sharp handling, practical small van that's refreshingly affordable to run.
Diversification has been a defining trend in the passenger car market over the last few years. Manufacturers have been racing to develop new niche and sub-niche products, in an attempt to out manoeuvre the competition and be first with the next big thing. Now there are signs of this trend for diversification spreading to the commercial vehicle world and Peugeot's Bipper was one of the first in the door of the sub-compact van sector. Here's a truly multi-cultural little van. Sold by a French brand, designed on the platform of an Italian car (Fiat's Grande Punto) and built in a Turkish factory, it's a product that British businesses have taken well to. Here, it not only wears the Peugeot badge but is also marketed as a Citroen Nemo and a Fiat Fiorino. In all its forms however, the aim of this vehicle's clever design is simple: to impress people with just how much you can fit into just how little and to then persuade businesses that its 2.5 cubic metres of loadspace if cleverly used will suit their needs perfectly. Let's find out if it all adds up.
The Bipper's compact design and resultant modest carrying capacity allows it to get away with a small, economical engine. The sole diesel HDi option on offer is 1.3-litres in capacity and it's a proven common-rail fuel injection unit. This 80bhp engine makes its maximum torque of 200Nm at 1,750rpm and keeps the majority of it on stream up to 2,750rpm for strong acceleration when laden. The Bipper has a highly user-friendly element to its character out on the road. The steering is an electro-hydraulic set-up that keeps you thoroughly abreast of what the front wheels are doing and is light enough to make parking exercises a breeze. The stubby dash-mounted gear shifter is similarly pleasant to get to grips with, ideally positioned and positive in its action. The Bipper also affords good visibility for the driver, with its truncated nose helping with the tight turning circle that can make the lives of urban drivers so much easier.
It really is remarkable just how much carrying capacity a vehicle with such a small footprint can offer. In the Bipper's case, the reasons have much to do with the way that the wheels are pushed to the corners of the vehicle to maximise both interior space and manoeuvrability, Equally sensible is the front end design, its huge wraparound bumper protecting against parking knocks while siting expensive components like the headlamps, bonnet and radiator well back to lessen the chance of them coming to harm. The interior of the Bipper may feel a little confined to those familiar with full size compact vans but there's reasonable space for driver and passenger. The driving position is upright and affords a good view of your surroundings with the seat and the steering wheel offering a good range of adjustability. Cab stowage space for oddments is less generous than in models from the next class up but with 12 compartments to choose from, there should be room for most of the essentials.
Prices including VAT range between around £16,000 and aeound £18,000. The Peugeot Bipper is offered in 'S', 'SE' or 'Professional' trim levels, with top and bottom variants also available in 'ATV'-spec, which basically means that your Bipper will come with a useful 'Grip Control' system to help with tractrion on slippery surfaces. As standard fitment, there's ABS brakes, a driver's airbag, side hinged rear doors with an asymmetric split, a CD stereo and a ladder frame bulkhead. The Bipper is relatively Spartan in its basic 'S' guise but higher trim levels add niceties like remote central locking, along with one-touch electric front windows and heated door mirrors. Making the choice between the Peugeot Bipper and its key rivals in the sub-compact sector isn't easy because they're virtually identical. The Citroen Nemo and Fiat Fiorino are built on the same production line and it's really only the badges that differentiate them.
The Bipper's load area is uniformly-shaped and easily accessible. There's some wheelarch intrusion with the potential to hamper anyone trying to squeeze in bulkier objects but 1,046mm between the arches isn't too bad. The rear doors open to 180 degrees and are asymmetrically split to improve access with just one door open. The sliding side doors are optional but they don't open particularly wide so you'll end up putting those bulky objects in through the rear. Considering that the vehicle is well under four metres in length, its 1.523mm load length is pretty good. Better still, there's an optional folding passenger seat that in creases the available load length to around 2,490mm. The load volume is 2.5m3 without said seat folded or 2.8m3 with it in the down position. The tough torsion beam rear suspension allows the Bipper to carry up to 660kg. Peugeot has worked hard to minimise the Bipper's running costs and 2-year/20,000-mile service intervals help here. Expect 64.2mpg on the combined cycle and 115g/km of CO2 from the 1.3-litre HDi engine.
I can imagine that an awful lot of British business people currently running around in LCVs that are Peugeot Partner, Citroen Berlingo or Renault Kangoo-sized would be much better served by something like this Bipper. After all, companies with models like these have traditionally had no more than around 3.0 cubic metres of loadspace to play with, a figure that this Peugeot can all but match if you exercise all its loading options. That it can do this whilst being significantly to run and more manoeuvrable to drive is impressive and it says much that this Bipper's main competition comes from the Fiat and Citroen models that share its design. Against these, the considerable scale of Peugeot's dealer network may offer an advantage. After all, size matters. Or does it?
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