First Drive

Citroen Berlingo / Peugeot Partner / Vauxhall Combo

The story:
Now part of the PSA Groupe with Peugeot and Citroen, the Vauxhall Combo makes a trio of new light vans offering better quality, driving experience and clever technology.
Category:
Key rival:Ford Transit Connect
On sale:Now
Citroen Berlingo / Peugeot Partner / Vauxhall Combo
Price:From £15,630
MPG:64.2mpg
Power:130hp
Payload: 658-1050kg
Load length/height/width:2131mm/1243mm/

You wait ages for a new van and then three turn up at once. That’s precisely what happened at the end of 2018, with the new Citroen Berlingo, Peugeot Partner and Vauxhall Combo significantly refreshing the small van market.

It’s a bit of a stretch to refer to them as three different vans though, because all three were designed and developed together after PSA (Citroen and Peugeot’s parent company) took over Vauxhall/Opel. So, the Berlingo/Partner twins have become triplets.

Treating them as individuals would result in three very similar reports, so for now we’re treating them as one entity. 

INSIDE

To be honest, there are angles from which you would be hard pushed to tell which of the three vans you are standing in front of, and the rear loading bay is one of those. The practical proposition from all three is pretty much identical, bar the odd badge.Vauxhall Combo cabin 2019

All three offer the same twin asymmetric rear doors that swing open to 180 degrees, a single sliding side door on the shorter model and a set of twin sliding doors on the longer version.

The area that the three excel, though, is in their payload. Not only has it set a new high for the sector, by reaching up to 1050kg, there is a wonderful new piece of technology that means you will be able to make the most of this allowance.

An overload sensor warns you when the contents of the van reach 80% of the maximum threshold, and again when you tip over the allowance. This has two benefits – there is no excuse for driving overladen, and it also means that fleets should be able to maximise their van’s capacity, even when on site and away from a weighing facility.

Sadly it isn’t standard across the range, but it costs just £240 so could pay for itself in reduced trips and legal compliance in a very short time.

The flexible front passenger seat – called Extenso in the Berlingo, Multi-Flex in the Partner and FlexCargo in the Combo – allows you to boost the capacity that little bit. The seat can be folded up so you can slide longer items through, and a handy cover means that you can shove dirty items such as fence posts through as well.

The other part of the interior – the cabin – is where the three vans differ the most. The Citroen and Vauxhall take the more conservative approach, with switchgear that is familiar from the more budget ends of their respective passenger car ranges.

The layout is excellent from a comfort and logistics point of view – all but the most basic versions get seat height and lumbar adjustment. The high-mounted gear lever is well positioned, while the electronic parking brake of the higher
trims frees up more space, which is always welcome in a van that is looking to maximise storage.

The Peugeot is the outlandish one of the trio, in that it is the brand’s first commercial vehicle to come with the small steering wheel and an information layout that you view over it. Called the iCockpit, it has been used on plenty of the brand’s cars, and it is distinctly ergonomically better than when it first appeared, but it will still take some adapting in the more conservative van market.

ON THE ROAD

Where there is no difference between the three is on the road. For all the workmanlike exterior, underneath the three vans share a platform with a number of Peugeot and Citroen’s passenger cars.

This means that they handle and ride with a composed smoothness whether they are carrying a hefty load, a light one or even none at all. They tackle small bumps at lower speeds admirably, but are even more impressive at taking on bigger undulations at higher speeds, holding their body in check and not pitching around if you come across dips or bumps.

The visibility is decent for a van, but the optional camera system is an excellent addition. It gives you a view down the passenger side blind spot or acts as a rear-view mirror when you have no rear windows for a conventional mirror. The only issue, which is easily overcome, is that your eyes take a bit of adjusting when looking from real-life images to the screen showing the camera’s image.

The engine range is a mixture of old and new, with the same units across all three – 75hp and 100hp 1.6-litre diesels that have been carried over from the outgoing Berlingo and Partner (nothing of the old Combo remains in this van) and this new 130hp 1.5-litre unit that is the pick of the three. It is smooth and responsive and offers a hefty amount of shove for a van.

For those that plan to use their Berlingo/Combo/Partner around town, then the new seven-speed automatic gearbox is another real plus. It is another element that comes from the car side of the PSA stable and it is smooth, slick and befits a modern vehicle.

The verdict

This trio have moved the medium van sector up a step in almost every area. The biggest challenge you’ll face is choosing which one to go for.