It was the scene in Vigo but we were finally let loose in the new Berlingo and Partner on the roads around Chantilly.
At the static launch we were all impressed with the looks and practicality of the new van.
On our first drive our initial impressions were confirmed – it’s a quantum leap forward over the old model and one which is set to become as much a legend as its predecessor.
Outside, the van looks much more stylish and a whole lot bigger than the old one, with a ‘face’ that is very much of the PSA family.
There is lots of plastic padding at the front and rear and big side rubbing strips, although no protection round the wheelarches.
Climbing aboard reveals just how different this van is over the old model.
There is the option of three seats in place of the old two and a dash-mounted gearstick in place of the old floor-mounted one.
It’s worth spending a little time talking seats as there is a lot to explain here.
Firstly the middle seat is VERY cramped.
It would be almost impossible for a burly workman to sit in it and even small people would soon feel uncomfortable.
We questioned a Citroën spokesman about this and he had to agree but added: “Well, at least this vehicle HAS three seats, which is more than can be said for any of the opposition.” Fair point.
The good thing about the middle seat is that it folds down to reveal a handy desk, with a clip at the side and a coffee cup holder too.
Meanwhile, the outer passenger seat is a gem which will either fold right down level with the load floor so that long loads can be carried, or the squab folds upwards so that taller loads, like delicate plants for example, can be transported without damage.
We managed to test van derivatives with both three seats and two and on the double-seaters there was a large container between the two which we thought was a more practical option.
The seats themselves are superb.
This was an area where we have always felt the old Berlingo and Partner suffered – the seats in these models are pretty soft and squishy with no lumbar support.
In the new vans, they are just the opposite – hard and with plenty of padding in the squab and round the edges, together with lots of support in the lower back area.
There’s certainly no shortage of cubby holes either.
Two holes in the dash under the air vents hold drink cans while there are sizeable cola bins in each door and even a chunky overhead shelf.
In the back
Only short models were available on our test drive as the longer ones won’t be around for a few months, but pretty competent performers they looked, with side sliding doors and asymmetric rear ones, which means that the smaller door can be left open for longer loads to be carried, although in the UK such practices are frowned upon.
Our test models had wipe clean floors, a half-height bulkhead with a mesh grille behind the driver and half-height side protectors – a must if you want to keep than van in any sort of saleable condition at the end of its life.
Six countersunk load lashing eyes help to keep loads in place.
On the road
For fleet purposes we can almost ignore petrol models, so my co-driver and I headed for the diesel versions – 75bhp and 90bhp – both of which were available for testing.
The HDi units are already well-known to us, being used in all sorts of Citroën and Peugeot vans and cars.
They run sweetly, offer superb fuel economy figures and as far as we know will go on for a good many miles with no problems.
First up was the 90bhp version, which had a half-load on board to iron out any skittishness that might ensue on the open road.
The gearchange proved slick and sure and the general road manners were excellent.
I found the power steering a tad on the light side for my liking, although my co-driver didn’t complain.
The big surprise was that when we exchanged this van for a 75bhp, we didn’t notice a whole lot of difference.
True our test route didn’t take in any mountains, but for everyday fleet purposes we’d pick this versions over its more powerful brother.
We were always great admirers of the old Berlingo and Partner – and we just love this one.
Later in the year we’ll be taking a Partner on to our long term test fleet and we are looking forward tremendously to reporting on its day-to-day performance in greater depth.