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Cork Independent


Practical pleasures

Wednesday, 3rd April, 2019 4:00pm

The French don’t go in much for luxury nor performance cars.

It’s why, traditionally, even home-grown premium and sporting brands — Alpine, for instance, or latterly DS — rarely raise more than a shrug and a ‘boff’.

For a French person, a car is a mundane beast of burden, something to be used and abused, rather than lionised.

Vans with windows, though? Oh yeah, that’s more like it. Vans with windows are simply massif en France. In fact, they’re more or less a French invention, starting with the original Renault Kangoo Kar and Citroen Berlingo Multispace of the early 2000s.

Being based on small vans, they’re simple, mechanically robust, and hugely roomy. Stick in some glazing, some seats in the back, and maybe throw a half-decent stereo in the front and off you voyage dans les magasins and back.

While the French have invented the segment, it’s the Anglo-Germans that currently dominate it in Ireland, with the top-two selling vehicles in the class being the Ford Tourneo Connect and the Volkswagen Caddy Life. Peugeot, with the old Partner Tepee, languished in third place.

That may be about to change, because Peugeot is replacing the old Tepee with the new Rifter. Once again, it’s a Partner van with windows, but now it gets its own name, and a dash more style than the outgoing Tepee.

It’s hardly an SUV, but with a bonnet that’s mildly flatter you could just about squint a bit and imagine it so. While it is resolutely van-based, the fact that the Partner shares its EMP2 chassis with the likes of the 3008 and new 508 bodes well for an increase in refinement and dynamics.

Much more importantly than that, though, is the fact that the new Rifter comes with a long-wheelbase option. That’s crucial — more than 95 per cent of the Tourneos and Caddys that are sold are the LWB versions, so the old Tepee was boxing above its weight, or perhaps with one hand tied behind. Peugeot Ireland reckons that, based on prior form, now that it has a long-wheelbase model, it can challenge for the top spot.

With either wheelbase, you can have the Rifter as a seven-seater (the extra seats are a €950 option) and in the long one, those extra seats slide and can be lifted out completely. Apparently, there are 48 possible seating configurations, but the most important figures are the boot volume numbers.

If you’ve got a bad Ikea habit, this is the car for you. Without troubling the middle-row passengers, a standard wheelbase Rifter can swallow as much as 775 litres of cargo, and that’s below the luggage cover. For the long-wheelbase model, that expands to 1,050 litres, which is simply enormous.

Fold all the back seats and you can cram it with 4,000 litres worth of whatever it is you need to carry. As far as practicality goes, that’s close to unbeatable.

Up front, the Rifter is entirely pleasant. It gets the Peugeot iCockpit layout with the tiny, hexagonal steering wheel and the high-set main dials, and even the most basic version gets a decent eight-inch infotainment touchscreen.

Just as a French car should, the Rifter provides you with a set of comfy, supportive front seats and if you’re carrying kids in the back, then you’ll love the sliding side doors which make life so much easier in tight car parks.

Power comes from a choice of petrol (1.2 litre, three-cylinder, 110hp or 130hp) or diesel (1.5 litre, 75hp, 100hp, or 130hp) engines and you can have five or six-speed manual or an optional eight-speed automatic gearboxes.

We tried a 100hp diesel model, with the five-speed manual, and its performance could best be described as… leisurely.

Well, what did you expect? I mean, Ferrari might be building an SUV, but Peugeot is hardly going to make a GTI out of a Rifter. 0-100km/h takes 12.5secs, which is fine I guess, but only just. It cruises pretty pleasantly though, once you’ve let that diesel engine warm up a bit — it clatters and rattles when cold.

Overall refinement isn’t great — lots of wind and tyre noise at speed — but it’s better at lower speeds, and fine around town.

Handling? Well, like a kid on roller-skates, it rolls and squeals a lot, and generally doesn’t enjoy corners too much, but again if you’re taking it easy (and honestly; why aren’t you?) it’s just fine and it actually tackles lengthy motorway journeys in its stride.

That’s really not the point, though. The point is climbing into that big, boxy rear body and figuring out just how many people and chattels you can cram in. Spec it up to Allure specification and you get three individual rear seats, all with Isofix child seat anchors which instantly makes this one of the most versatile family cars you can buy.

Actually, speaking of spec, the Rifter has one final joué a tout to play. Its €23,540 entry-level price. That seems fine, on the face of it. About the same money you’d spend on a basic-model conventional five-door hatchback, but here you’re getting a loft conversion and a conservatory.

But wait — check out the entry-level prices for the Ford Tourneo Connect and VW Caddy Life; €29,030 and €35,010 respectively.

That gives the Peugeot an avantage gigantesque in price terms. In fact, Peugeot Ireland claims that you can buy a top-spec GT-Line Rifter, with the 100hp 1.5 diesel engine, for only €140 more than the most basic Tourneo. Quite the saving.

OK, so the Rifter isn’t going to light your fire in a dynamic nor stylistic sense. It’s a car that takes rationality to new extremes, expunging all sense of luxury or fashion in favour of the things that, let’s face it, truly matter — space, comfort, solidity, practicality.

I can really see the appeal of that, though. If you remove all notions of badge snobbery or pretensions of luxury from your motoring, then this is an ideal car. Especially so if you own your own business, and need a car that can perform work as well as family roles, and don’t fancy getting into the messy business of trying to tax a commercial van as a private car (nor get caught for not doing so correctly).

So, Peugeot is all set to dominate this segment, then? Well, perhaps not.

The Rifter has two near-identical sister cars; the Citroen Berlingo Multipsace and the Opel Combo Life, both of which share all its foibles and advantages.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

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