The French have a knack for making charming cars. Even in this age of homogeneity and relative blandness, the French are able to carve out characterful little machines that may not be fast or particularly nimble, but are cute and whimsical: the Citroen C4 Cactus; the Renault Twizy; the Citroen E-Mehari. Yet this has held true for most of history. There was the 2CV. The Twingo. And, from late ‘90s PSA, the Berlingo-Partner pair.
A duet of passenger-car based work vans as fun and whimsical? From the outset they may seem pretty staid and uninspiring, but there’s more to them than their image suggests.
First off, just look at them—the long, duck faced hood followed by an abruptly sloping windscreen to accommodate a massive rump—it may not be a classically beautiful shape, but it’s a unique one, especially when they were first released in 1996.
Though they are clearly unpretentious and pragmatic haulers, it has been noted, by the (in)famous Jeremy Clarkson no less, that they handle quite more than adequately under most circumstances and do indeed offer the best of both the van as well as the car world.
The cars featured here represent the post-facelift models of the first generation car which Clarkson liked so much and which premiered the innovative car-van. Sure, de-windowed hatches have always and will always exist for small delivery purposes (not to mention cars with huge rear cargo boxes), but the Berlingo-Partner represented the first time that a dedicated cargo hauler had been married to the ordinary automobile from its inception.
Just as in real life, this pair is almost identical, and Norev did their part in adequately differentiating them with proper badging and a distinctive nose-job on each, even in rather small three-inch scale.
This kind of close rebadging within a single company (namely, PSA) has always confused me as I can’t imagine there’s much of a market for one vs the other outside of purchase price and it kind of confounds the market position of each brand with respect to hierarchy.
With that said, I’m glad these two exist because they make a picture-perfect pair of just another instance of the French injecting fun, style, and charm into every niche that they manage to create. Thanks for looking, and Vive la Berlingo!