Renault and Vauxhall have launched long wheelbase versions of the Trafic and Vivaro, bringing both vans up to a load weight and volume of the smaller versions of bigger Master and Movano, while later in the year, Volkswagen is launching a jumbo version of its new T5 Transporter, thus snapping at the heels of the larger LT.
Some would argue that these moves will not increase sales for each marque but will merely spread them more evenly between models. It could even be said that fleet buyers may end up confused and opting for the wrong van.
However, there is certainly no confusion at Citroen, where the distinctions between the Dispatch light van and the smallest Relay – the SWB 1100 model on test here – are clear cut.
While the Dispatch has a load volume of four cubic metres, payload of up to 900kg and gross vehicle weight (GVW) of 2,190kg, our light Relay boasts a volume of 7.5 cubic metres, will carry 1,145kg and has a gvw of 2,900kg. There's a world of difference between the two.
The Relay comes off the same production line at Sevel, Italy, as the Fiat Ducato and Peugeot Partner. Full list price is £13,330 ex-VAT and warranty is three years/100,000 miles, but with Citroen's current cashback deal, the price drops to £11,295 and includes standard airbag and ABS brakes.
In my view, the Relay is one of the better-looking panel vans on the market today, although some would argue looks don't really count for much in the van world. There are masses of plastic at the front and rear of the van to protect it from shunts and there are rubbing strips on each side, although curiously the wheelarches remain unprotected.
A large Citroen badge on the bonnet leaves those around in no doubt as to who made it and the exhaust pipe sprouting from the side of the van gives it a rather feisty look. Entrance to the cab is via standard remote central locking and although the doors feel massive and solid, they snick shut nicely without a lot of banging.
The driver's seat is a dream, which moulds to the body and contains an adjustable lumbar bar and lefthand side arm rest. But the surprise is that the twin passenger seats are almost as good – none of your spindly old bus benches here. Both are moulded and proved comfortable to my passengers over a 100-mile trip during my test week. One neat addition is a grab handle in the centre of the roof so the middle passenger won't roll on top of the driver on fast bends.
The dashboard is a pleasant mix of style and functionality and contains lots of nooks and crannies for odds and ends and a central clipbboard that pops up to sit like a blackboard easel. The centre part of the passenger seat's backrest folds down to form a handy desk complete with document clip and coffee cup holders (see picture left).
There is both a cigar lighter and a 12-volt take-off point on the centre console so drivers can charge their phones and light a fag at the same time and both doors contain those all-important cola bottle bins.
Dual airbags cost £440 while electric windows and heated mirrors are standard. In the back, a ladder frame bulkhead comes as standard, along with a single side sliding door and rear doors which open to 180 degrees.
The side door on my test van wasn't the smoothest I've ever seen but it closed easily with no slamming. At the rear, there is a special step to help with loading and the sides are lined to waist height.
I'd recommend full ply lining as a must as it is a cheap way of improving residual value at selling time. The floor contains six load-lashing eyes.
Behind the wheel
Not so long ago, common rail diesel engines in commercial vehicles were a rarity but nowadays, they have become the norm.
The Relay range benefits from both 2.0-litre and 2.8-litre HDi engines, as found in just about all of Citroen and Peugeot's cars. Power outputs are anything from 86 to 127bhp.
Our test van, at the bottom end of the range, featured the 2.0-litre 86bhp variant, offering 142lb-ft of torque.
It may have the lowest output of any Relay engine, but it still proves a lusty performer that will pull smoothly up to motorway speeds. I didn't get the chance to test the van loaded but it never felt underpowered, even on steep inclines.
The high driving position gives a good view of the road ahead and side mirrors the size of serving plates give a grand panorama of what's behind.
Despite being labelled a heavy panel van, the SWB Relay is incredibly nimble on the bends for those who want to hustle along and the power steering allows just enough feel for the road underfoot.
Completing the pleasant driving experience, the dash-mounted gearlever has that notchy-but-nice feel that only a short-throw stick offers.
My only complaint was the booming roar from the rear end of the van, which left myself and my passengers with a headache after a long trip. It was so bad that listening to the news on Radio 4 became impossible and we ended the trip talking – or should I say shouting – among ourselves.
The noise probably isn't any worse than in other panel vans but was particularly noticeable to me as most of the vans I drive nowadays have a full bulkhead fitted. Therefore I'd recommend the addition of that option at an extra £150, unless you want to risk drivers crying off work with a migraine.
The Relay is a rock solid performer at its full list price, but Citroen's huge cashback offer makes this van impossible to ignore for any cost-conscious fleet buyer.
Model: Relay SWB 2.0 1100
Price (ex-VAT): £13,330 (£11,295 with cashback offer)
Engine size (cc): 1,997
Power (bhp): 86
Torque (lb-ft): 142
Wheelbase (mm): 2,850
Load length (mm): 2,510
Load width (mm): 1,808
Load height (mm): 1,562
Load vol (cubic metres): 7.50
Gross vehicle weight (kg): 2,900
Payload (kg): 1,145