Production of the new model is already in full swing in Spain and Portugal for first deliveries in August or September. A few days ago, hacks were allowed a first drive in left-handed versions of the car predicted to be the UK’s best seller: the five-seater Berlingo Flair, powered by a 109bhp version of PSA Group’s already-ubiquitous Puretech 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine, with a six-speed manual gearbox.
Also offered in the UK will be several versions of PSA’s new and efficient 1.5-litre four-pot diesel, the most enticing of which, the 128bhp option, we were also allowed briefly to drive, equipped with an eight-speed Aisin automatic 'box.
Equipment is impressively dense in any new UK Berlingo — even the Feel model that opens the UK range, starting at around £19,000 for the lowest-spec 75bhp diesel and reaching £25,000 for the best-equipped diesel auto. (The French, who buy poverty models more readily than we do, can get a stripped-out entry-level model called Touch).
The top-end Flair we drove — with options — had equipment almost worthy of a luxury saloon; an 8.0in central screen, dual-zone climate control, a head-up instrument display, a 360deg manoeuvring camera, top-spec interactive navigation, sophisticated connectivity on four different levels and a so-called Modutop system consisting of panoramic glass roof panels plus all manner of shelves, gadget compartments and a kind of light show above occupants’ heads.
Buyers are also offered an XTR styling pack on top of Flair spec, complete with bigger wheels, skid-plates, roof rails and some orange design touches on its frontal details.
The standard Berlingo interior has no fewer than 28 gadget compartments totalling 186 litres of storage. The boot swallows a mighty 775 litres of 'stuff' — 100 litres more than last time.
On the roof are rails reminiscent of the C4 Cactus that can carry all manner of holiday loads and there’s a vast, square-backed tailgate (which opens to reveal the usual ultra-low Berlingo loading lip) made just for bike racks.
Better still, the Berlingo has a huge people-carrying interior that is much bigger than its new, rather neat exterior seems to promise. With the front seats set for your tall and overfed humble servant, there is space — including vast head room — for another the same size behind. The boot behind that could swallow an armchair. The three rear seats can fold individually and the front passenger seat also jack-knifes forward on itself, allowing an owner to carry timber beams around three metres long.
The seven-seater has five decently spacious seats behind the front pair, yet still with enough room (but less than in the five-door) for a decent collection of bags.
On the road, the Berlingo impresses instantly by being quite different from the average saloon and all the better for it. It rides quietly and softly, assuming a 'strolling' motion reminiscent of the original model but far better controlled by its compliant dampers. It smooths ripples and copes brilliantly with high-frequency bumps.
The steering is accurate and the car is easy to manoeuvre, but there’s a mild feeling of 'stiction' around the straight ahead that it could do without. There’s a special, lighter parking setting for the steering at low speed that we could have done without. When driven briskly, the car understeers mildly but corners with surprisingly little roll given its tall body and soft suspension, and grips well, too.
The Puretech engine is brilliant; smooth even when pulling below 2000rpm in higher gears and surprisingly strong in the 3000-4000rpm range, although outright performance is nothing special and there’s little point in revving the meaty little turbo engine beyond 5500rpm. The diesel with the eight-speed auto seemed strong and smooth, but decent impressions will have to await a longer drive.