- First drive: Citroen e-Relay/Peugeot e-Boxer
First drive: Citroen e-Relay/Peugeot e-Boxer
- Respectable range with the larger battery
- Cheaper than rival electric vans
- 50KW rapid charging is standard
Not so great
- Feels like the aftermarket conversion it is
- Low-speed performance is sluggish
- Throttle is tricky to modulate
What is it?
Peugeot and Citroen's attempt at muscling in on the growing electric van market with its largest models, the identical Boxer and Relay. While electric cars have become fairly mainstream now, the van market (large vans in particular) is still overwhelmingly dominated by diesel. But with more options arriving, business and fleet customers have more choice.
Oddly, Peugeot and Citroen have chosen to outsource the e-Boxer and e-Relay to an EV conversion specialist, rather than build them in house. That's different to both company's smaller electric vans, and also their Stellantis cousin, Fiat, whose similar-looking e-Ducato is an in-house design.
The e-Boxer and e-Relay leave the factory as diesel models, before being transported over to Turkey where a third-party manufacturer converts them into EVs. Fitted in place of the engine and gearbox is a 120PS electric motor driving the front wheels. That's mated to either a 37kWh or 70kWh lithium-ion battery pack mounted under the van's floor.
You can immediately tell this is an aftermarket van conversion when stepping inside. For starters, the instruments are exactly the same as the diesel Peugeot Boxer and Citroen Relay, but all of the needles bar the one for the speedo have been removed, making most of the dials useless. Where's the range display you ask? Well, it's buried in a tricky to read aftermarket display built into the rear-view mirror.
Instead of the usual manual or automatic gearlever, the conversion company has installed drive, neutral and reverse buttons on the dash. The manual handbrake remains, though, which feels odd in an EV. More rudimentary is the heating and ventilation system: the fans still work, but the temperature knob on the dash isn't connected because the standard van's heater has gone. Instead, you adjust the temperature via a little dot matrix display to the right of the steering wheel - it looks a bit like one of those cheap thermometers, but it works.
Elsewhere, it's a standard issue Boxer and Relay interior. The design's getting on a bit now, as is the basic infotainment screen, but it's hard-wearing, comfortable enough and filled with handy storage compartments. In the back, the battery hasn't made a dent in the vast cargo space: it's available in three sizes (with a window van and chassis cab also available), the largest of which offering 15 cubic metres of cargo space and a payload of up to 1150kg.
How does it drive?
To drive, the Peugeot e-Boxer and Citroen e-Relay are both absolutely identical. We drove the bigger battery version, which is good for a useful (but not outstanding) 139 miles of range. It's certainly more useful than the 37kWh model, which manages just 73 miles of range. Although these vans are clearly designed for short, urban delivery routes, we can't think of much of a use case for the smaller battery version.
While 120PS seems like a reasonable amount for the unladen van we were driving, progress off the line is pretty leisurely. It feels as if the electric motor is programmed not to deliver full power from the off, possibly to conserve range or look after the drivetrain.
But it's a far cry from the peppy low-speed performance of even the cheapest electric cars, and if you mistime an exit from a junction or onto a roundabout you risk hearing quite a few horns. We imagine that, laden full of delivery boxes or suchlike, it might struggle with slow-speed inclines.
Still, once above 20mph or so it starts to pick up to pace, with no issues getting the van (eventually) up to 70mph. The top speed is a decent 75mph - by comparison an e-Ducato is limited to just 62mph, or 56mph on the heavier versions.
The lack of gears and engine noise means it's definitely more relaxing than the diesel version, although the throttle response isn't very linear, meaning keeping the van at a steady 30mph requires concentration. The brakes are fine, and the regenerative braking seems to work, although it sometimes coasts more than you'd expect.
How much does it cost and what is charging like?
Prices for the Citroen e-Relay start from £51,285, including the £5000 plug-in vehicle grant but excluding VAT. The bigger 70kWh battery version starts at £57,035 on the same basis.
Prices for the Peugeot e-Boxer are broadly similar. That makes them cheaper than the equivalent Fiat e-Ducato, although not by much, and a lot pricier than the equivalent diesel version. Although individual operators will have to weigh that up with the potential savings in fuel costs.
Peugeot and Citroen claim the decision to go for an aftermarket conversion rather than develop one in-house is the most cost-effective solution, but the savings over the in-house developed Fiat don't seem big enough to justify that.
However, the e-Boxer and e-Relay have the better of the Mercedes e-Sprinter, which has a maximum range of 96 miles and is only available in one body size with a modest payload rating. There's also the Renault Master ZE, which does have different versions to choose from, although the maximum range is 124 miles.
In terms of charging, the e-Boxer and e-Relay are both capable of 50KW DC rapid charging. That's enough for 80% charge in around an hour - perfect for working drivers to top up the battery on their lunch break. Using a three-phase 22kW wallbox charging is complete in around nine hours on the bigger battery version.
Overall, it's pretty clear that Peugeot and Citroen hasn't invested anything like the same amount of money to develop its electric large vans at is has its smaller vans or its cars. But the e-Boxer and e-Relay are competitive on price, range and charging terms with rivals, if you can look past the rather rudimentary EV conversion.
Citroen e-Relay/ Peugeot e-Boxer: the facts
Model tested: Citroen e-Relay
Engine: Front-mounted electric motor
Range: 139 miles
Price from: £51,285
As tested: £57,035
How much are the Citroen e-Relay/Peugeot e-Boxer?
Prices for the Citroen e-Relay start from £51,285, including the £5,000 plug-in vehicle grant but excluding VAT. The bigger 70kWh battery version starts at £57,035 on the same basis. Prices for the Peugeot e-Boxer are largely similar.
How long do the Citroen e-Relay/Peugeot e-Boxer take to charge?
The 37kWh battery version takes around three hours to charge from a three-phase 22kW wallbox. That figure is more like nine hours for the 70kWh version. But both can be rapid charged at 50KW, allowing a 0-80% charge to complete in about an hour.
How fast do the Citroen e-Relay/Peugeot e-Boxer go?
Both models are limited to 75mph. While that might not sound like much, it's more than the Fiat e-Ducato, which can only do 62mph, and the same as the Mercedes e-Sprinter.