Road test: Peugeot Rifter
If you need that much space, then wouldn’t a van make more sense?
Road test by James Luckhurst, December 2018
My first sight of the Rifter occurs when I arrive at my friend Peter Baker’s house in Cheadle Hulme. I take a good look and try to understand what I’m seeing. First impressions are of a practical, big, hard-wearing van, with an array of not-quite-successful cosmetic touches designed to make me think this is nine parts SUV.
Peter, who used to edit Granada’s motoring channels and at one time had created more hours of car TV than anyone else alive, groaned. “What’s it meant to be? It’s butt ugly and devoid of charm,” he said. “What a wasted opportunity. They were ideally poised to combine the practicality of a load-lugging little van with the high-up panoramic position you get when you’re driving an SUV. But in my opinion, this doesn’t achieve either objective,” he said.
I can see what he means. I sense a series of conflicting – or at best incongruous design styles that spoil the exterior. There are too many grille details on the front – in fact it looks like one style of grille has been moulded on top of another style. Massive wing mirrors, massive front and side pillars, massive doors. On first acquaintance, the charm does appear to be missing. However, the practicality is there… in spades.
I set off after the rush hour, and head south to attend a conference at St George’s Park in Staffordshire, the Football Association’s training centre. First question: what is something as big, ungainly and unsporty as this doing with a steering wheel the size of a sixpence? I don’t get it. Setting my destination on the vast infotainment screen is frustrating, as I can’t enter a postcode into the satnav – only a ‘city’ address. Time is therefore wasted working out which city I should use to pinpoint my destination. Eventually I get moving, but with the satnav constantly wanting to divert me, I give up on its instructions and follow my nose down towards Uttoxeter on what turns out to be a very scenic and pleasant drive. To give the Rifter its due, it handles well on the main roads, with a firm ride and acceptable acceleration from the 128bhp BlueHDi diesel engine.
Wearing my practicality hat, I make time to get all the doors open and explore the interior – not from a driver’s point of view but assessing just how much space there is to load and store things. And in that regard, you would not be disappointed. Tot up the storage potential for all the pockets and door bins and you hit an impressive 180 litres, including a full width overhead front storage shelf, which I think my son Dylan was rather hoping would convert into a bunk bed.
The tailgate is of aircraft hangar door proportions, and as such would really benefit from some electric help in opening and closing. This is not available across the range, unfortunately.
All today – and in fact through the week of driving – the fuel needle moves only imperceptibly downwards, so from an economy point of view we do very well indeed. We park up at St George’s, and I spend all day – and most of the evening – in the Sir Bobby Robson ballroom.
It becomes clear early on that there is nothing smart or dynamic about the satnav. I have programmed in my home address, and I set off enthusiastically enough. However, I have to find a diversion when the satnav lady tries to send me down a fairly major road that is in the middle of a closure scheduled to last some months. What’s more, yesterday’s self-assured road holding becomes a dim and distant memory as I roll and heave my way along (admittedly poorly maintained) minor roads that eventually bring me to the M6 toll and onward to Telford.
It’s the weekend and for me, as for many parents, that means I’m a taxi service for sports fixtures. Eight-year-old Dylan makes himself comfortable as we head for his football fixture. He remarks on how massive the infotainment system screen is; “like an iPad stuck on top of the panel”. I have a similar view of the driver’s dials, which feel as though they’re in a cheap plastic pod that has been glued to the top of a huge area of black plastic in front of the driver.
I’m grateful for the reversing camera that helps to make parking a simple task, but I’m genuinely concerned by the size of the front and side pillars. The former creates a significant blind spot, while the latter was so big that it required such a turn of the neck that it actually hurt. This would, I think, be a significant detractor for anyone with restrictions to their mobility.
I’m out in the Rifter as darkness falls and it’s this evening that I have a really good look at what’s going on in the car’s interior above me. A big wide ceiling strip light runs the entire length of the inside, and I for one can’t work out how to turn it off. Perhaps I’m stupid, but none of the switches in the most likely region (centre front above rear-view mirror) did the job. Perhaps I can’t adjust it. Frustrating.
A trundle across to foggy Shropshire reveals more frustration with the car. I would say that the gearstick is too high up and too far forward. It’s also too big and serves to obstruct access to the narrow and not clearly-labelled array of air/heat controls that are found on the panel directly in front. Every time I reach to activate a de-mist function or change the temperature, I knock my left hand on the gear stick. What’s more (and maybe this is a failing in me) I keep thinking I am in third or fifth gear and need to pull the stick down, when in fact it needs to go up… and really does feel much too far ahead of me.
“Take control of the wheel!” flashes a message on the dashboard. I hadn’t realised I was not in control of the wheel, but the Rifter seemed to think we were in imminent danger of catastrophe.
So the Rifter was – I fear – not the car for me. Odd on the outside, cheap and plasticky on the inside. But with an on-the-road price of £25,754 (including metallic paint at £545, smart phone charging plate at £100, Park Assist and ‘Vis’ pack at £700 and Safety Pack Plus at £150) it could suit your needs. 65.7mpg is claimed for the combined economy, and I must praise its very frugal engine.
There was lots of rear space, accessed via two somewhat ungainly sliding doors. I had expected to find a third row of seats cunningly concealed at the back, which would surely have helped me love it more (remember those fabulous vast old 505s with seats for seven)… never mind. With the three rear seats in use you get 775 litres, but this rockets to 3000 when you fold then flat. But if you need that much space, then wouldn’t a van make more sense?
WE SAY If you need that much space, then wouldn’t a van make more sense?
AT A GLANCE:
Performance: 0-62 in 10.4 secs