The commercial vehicle marketing machines at Citroen and Peugeot have gone into hyper-drive this month. The PSA Group, to which both manufacturers belong, has been undisputed leader in the light van market for the past six years with the Berlingo and its twin, the Partner, a van which has won the Fleet News Award for best commercial vehicle under 1.8 tonnes for a record six years running.
But with the Ford Transit Connect coming online in November – the twins are facing their biggest threat so far.
Citroen and Peugeot are fighting back bravely with a new look model. PSA saw two areas where its model was dragging its heels behind Transit Connect – looks and ride and handling. Both issues have been addressed.
On the outside, the Berlingo/Partner has been given a feisty looking new front end which endows the van with a chunkier, more solid look. The new bonnet is more horizontal and has been raised by 40mm. Headlamps are bigger and now have clear polycarbonate lenses, with beams and indicators in one cluster. The front bumper has also been raised.
On ride and handling, the new model has different damper control settings and revised front suspension spring and front and rear anti-roll bar rates. The result, says PSA, is 'greater roll stiffness without compromising the van's excellent ride characteristics'.
Things have changed inside too. The Berlingo/Partner has a chunky new dashboard with clearer instrumentation and new switchgear layout. There are now steering column-mounted radio/cassette controls. Extra cubby holes have been added together with a central console with 12-volt power take-off, coffee cup holders and a movable ashtray with lid, which can be slotted in any one of the cup holes. The steering wheel has also been redesigned.
Three engines are available – 1.4-litre petrol offering 75bhp and 90lb-ft of torque, 1.9-litre naturally-aspirated diesel with 71bhp and 94lb-ft of torque and 2.0-litre HDi common rail diesel with 90bhp and 154lb-fit of torque. Two payloads are on offer – 600kg and 800kg – and there are two trim levels, plus a host of optional extras.
Industry pundits were widely expecting Ford to price its new Transit Connect at a considerable premium over Berlingo and Partner – after all, in short wheelbase format it boasts a higher payload (625kg and 825kg), a bigger gross vehicle weight and looks far more of a heavyweight contender than the French offering. But surprisingly, Ford pitched its new model at a just a few hundred pounds more.
Citroen has already responded by extending its £1,000 cashback offer to the new model, bringing prices down to between £8,044 and £9,644 and Peugeot is offering 24 months 0% finance, subject to 50% deposit + VAT or 36 months 2.9% finance (flat rate) subject to 10% deposit + VAT. It also points out that fleet prices are open to negotiation.
This means the top of the range Berlingo now has a price of £9,644 whereas the top spec SWB Transit Connect is listed at £10,750.
Behind the wheel
Nowadays, we are quite used to the quirky shape and as Renault followed with copycat Kangoo and Vauxhall with new Combo, we realised that one day, all light vans would look like this. Or would they?
Enter Ford with the new Transit Connect. This is a musclebound performer which Ford believes will redefine the sector in terms of solidity, ride and handling. You can imagine the reaction behind the scenes at PSA – the threat from Ford was big and convincing, so something had to be done PDQ.
The general consensus among LCV hacks with whom I have spoken is that new Berlingo/Partner is every bit up to meeting Ford's challenge – and with pricing such as that offered by Citroen, who can fail to be impressed?
Outwardly, PSA might have just re-nosed this van but it looks a whole different kettle of fish. That massive chunky front bumper works a treat and with rubbing strips all round, the van should stay clear of those annoying scratches and scrapes that do so much to ruin residual values at selling time.
Climbing aboard, the dash echos the extra chunkiness and I'm sure 'van man' will appreciate all those extra cubbyholes and cup holders.
The top of the central console features a digital screen which displays the time and date, radio and cassette controls and will flash up a sign if, say, you haven't shut one of the doors properly.
My first test drive was in the 2.0HDi LX model. This common rail turbo powerplant is a real honey and can be found in virtually all Citroen and Peugeot's car ranges.
It fires up with no coughing and spluttering and there is none of the old diesel death rattle. But it is out on the road that you begin to realise that what PSA calls 'a few tweaks with the suspension set-up' has worked wonders. If Transit Connect was ahead in ride and handling, it certainly is no more. Berlingo/Partner is right up there with the best and despite my test drive being in foul weather, the vans never put a foot wrong.
Immediately after, I climbed aboard the smaller 1.9-litre naturally-aspirated model and was expecting to be left underwhelmed with its comparatively lacklustre performance. But there again I was wrong.
It might lack the sheer guts and pizzazz of its big brother but it is no mean performer. With 71bhp on tap, it could be argued that this is a more sensible choice for fleets, which might not want drivers buzzing about in turbocharged vehicles that will top 100 mph, especially if their company logos are emblazoned on the side. You have to remember too that there is a £750 price premium for the turbo model.
Citroen and Peugeot have recognised the seriousness of the challenge they face from Ford and have risen to the occasion magnificently. All three vans – Berlingo, Partner and Transit Connect – have a massive list of plus points but at the end of the day many fleets will still buy purely on price. Next year looks like shaping up for a very interesting battle indeed.
|Berlingo/Partner fact file|
|Engine (litres)||Power (bhp)||GVW (kg)||Payload (kg)||Vol (cu m)||Price (£)|
|600TD HDi LX:||2.0||90||1,790||600||3.0||9,334|
|800TD HDi LX:||2.0||90||1,995||800||3.0||9,644|