I well remember the day when we clapped eyes on the first pictures of the new Citroën Berlingo and Peugeot Partner back in 1996. How we laughed!
What a curious shaped vehicle, we thought – it looks like Postman Pat’s little red van.
The bosses bore our chortling stoically and in the fullness of time, of course, us journalists all ended up looking pretty stupid.
The Berlingo and Partner, a joint venture from the PSA stable, has proved to be a massive success worldwide and no fewer than 3,200,000 have been sold.
The van truly broke the mould in the old car-derived sector – the first to be built as a van from the nuts and bolts upwards rather than being a car made into a commercial vehicle – and as such it won the coveted Fleet News small van of the year award no fewer than five times on the trot.
No other vehicle has won so many plaudits from Fleet News.
The curious thing about this van – for indeed it is one van with two badges – is that the older it gets, the more it sells.
You can hardly drive down any street in the country without seeing one.
Even 12 years after its launch, sales figures are still climbing.
So when the new Berlingo and Partner are launched in the UK this month, this van will once again break the mould – the old version will still be on sale alongside this new bigger one.
And far from sales of the old model quickly tailing off, Peugeot CV brand manager April Harris predicts that sales will actually rise again this year.
The fact of the matter is that the new Berlingo/Partner is in no way, shape or form an update of the old one – it’s a completely different vehicle, on a different platform and offering larger load volumes and payloads.
So PSA sees a continuing market for both vehicles.
And with the smaller Citroën Nemo and Peugeot Bipper already on the market, buyers will be faced with a bewildering choice of small vans.
We had already been invited to Vigo in Spain to see the new vans coming off the production line – and were pretty impressed with what we saw.
But we had our first chance to get behind the wheel of the fresh model (albeit in left-hand drive format) at an international launch in Chantilly.
But before we get down to driving impressions, let’s look at what UK fleets will be offered.
The new Berlingo/Partner is based on the C4 Picasso/308 chassis and therefore is much bigger all round than the old model.
For the first time in a ‘small’ van, three seats will be offered in the front and there will be two load lengths on one wheelbase, meaning that load volumes increase from 3.0 cubic metres in the old model to 3.3 cubic metres in the smallest new model.
With the longer load length and a clever fold-down passenger seat specified, load volume increases to 4.2 cubic metres.
Bearing in mind that the old Citroën Dispatch/Peugeot Expert had a load volume of just 4.0 cubic metres, that’s an impressive figure.
Payloads go from 625kg to 850kg.
The load area is wide enough to contain a standard Europallet while six load-lashing eyes will help keep cargo in place – and there will be a sliding side door as standard.
Outside, the van looks very much of the PSA family, while under the skin, safety performance has been enhanced by reworking the whole structure, especially round the impact absorption areas.
ABS brakes with emergency braking system will be standard on all models while ESP traction control, tyre pressure sensors and cruise control will be options.
Unique to the sector will be a fleet management service in which the van can be equipped with a built-in telematics device the size of a matchbox which fits in under the dashboard.
It connects wirelessly to the vehicle’s multiplexed network and transmits to a server mileage, inspection dates, average fuel consumption and other useful data.
Meanwhile warnings about engine temperature, oil levels, brakepad wear and other critical functions are reported to the fleet manager in real-time.
One way in which the two contenders differ is that Citroën will be offering a Trafficmaster sat-nav unit free – an offer which already exists on the bigger Dispatch and Relay.
The unit also acts as a stolen vehicle tracker.
Under the bonnet there will be a choice of petrol and diesel engines.
The 1.6HDi diesel offers 75bhp or 90bhp, while returning 48.7mpg on the combined cycle and emitting 153g/km of CO2.
The 1.6-litre petrol offers 90bhp, 34.4mpg and 195g/km of CO2.
Prices for the Berlingo range from £10,399 to £12,035 ex-VAT while the Partner will cost from £10,395 to £12,395.
Behind the wheel
Attending a ‘static launch’ as a journalist can be a pretty frustrating experience.
Imagine the scene – here is a new van and we can all climb in it and poke around but we can’t actually drive it.
That – of course – is what we all want to do so we can tell you, the van buying public, how good (or bad) a vehicle it is.