When Citroen launched the Berlingo van in 1999, cheap-and-cheerful pricing was enough to ensure sales.
However, the small van market is a far different creature today as the French company unveils the next generation of its popular carrier.
VW changed the small van landscape when it launched the Caddy in 2005. Based on the Golf, the Caddy drove like a car, was comfortable to ride in, had a diesel engine option and, later, also had the option of an automated gearbox.
It was the only van in the class with a diesel and auto transmission and shook its market to the core. In no time at all it raced from zero to be market leader, despite a premium price which experts had predicted would hinder sales.
The experts badly misread the market because the Caddy proved small van buyers were prepared to pay for options such as the more expensive diesel engine, which now accounts for about 90 per cent of all its sales.
Facing the possibility of annihilation in the segment, Citroen has hit back with a new Berlingo that attacks the Caddy head on.
Citroen has based the new vehicle on the impressive C4 Picasso people-mover platform, which should ensure it comes with a passenger car level of handling and ride comfort.
In the process the Berlingo's load volume climbs from three cubic metres to 3.3 — marginally more than the Caddy's once class-leading 3.2 cubic metres — while payload capacity jumps from 800kg to 850kg, well above the VW's 750kg.
With the optional Extenso cabin, the Berlingo becomes the first in the class to offer seating for three in the front, while being able to increase load volume to 3.7 cubic metres with a maximum load length of three metres.
The suspension and driveline also come from the C4 Picasso and for the first time Citroen's small van will have a diesel engine.
Details of the engine, and the availability of an auto transmission option, haven't been released.
The C4 Picasso sold here at present boasts a 2.0-litre diesel that puts out 100kW but there's also a less powerful version available in Europe. Either one would be very competitive with the Caddy's 77kW 1.9-litre diesel engine.
The C4 Picasso also offers a six-speed auto transmission, which would match the Caddy's popular DSG six-speed automated manual 'box.
With its load capacity, optional extra seating, a diesel engine and an automatic transmission, the new Berlingo ticks all of the boxes necessary for success in the small van market this year.
Citroen plans to release it in Australia in the third quarter. Pricing details will be issued at the time of its release.