Citroen has long had a reputation for producing quirky vehicles that are an acquired taste and – Saxo and Xsara aside – the current model line-up has its fair share of weirdness.
This is not to belittle the Citroen brand in any way because I have long been an admirer of its products and it is sometimes refreshing to have a mainstream car that has the appeal of something more unconventional.
There is the cartoon-like C3, the blimp-like Xsara Picasso, the wedgy C5 and the mad-but-practical Berlingo Multispace. Next year we will see the bonkers C3 Pluriel – is it a hatchback? Is it a convertible? Is it a pickup truck? Who knows?
The Berlingo Multispace was responsible for starting a trend in the UK. Although our European counterparts had been driving cars based on vans for years, the Berlingo Multispace was the first such vehicle to start a new trend in this country. And as the Picasso is outselling the Vauxhall Zafira and Renault Scenic, the Berlingo is dominating its niche.
When the car was introduced Citroen expected to be able to sell about 1,000 units a year, but has sold nearly 7,000 so far this year out of a market segment of 15,000 vehicles from January to October.
Competition comes from Renault with the Kangoo, Peugeot with the Partner Combi and Fiat with the Doblò, but with a share of about 47%, Citroen would seem to have a firm hold on the market. Ford is also hoping to get a slice of the action with the new Tourneo Connect.
This van-derived car class gives people access to a budget-priced MPV. There is more luggage space than a Scenic or a Picasso, more headroom and plenty of space for passengers.
The rear doors slide open to help prevent those embarrassing supermarket car park dents and most of the creature comforts you find in normal cars are available either as standard or on the options list.
Multiplex wiring (where new technology has allowed wires to carry increased capacity with reduced volume and weight) has allowed the inclusion of items such as an automatic rear window wiper, speed-sensitive stereo volume, automatic activation of hazard warning lights in an emergency stop, automatic door and tailgate locking.
Research by Citroen has shown that Berlingo Multispace owners chose to include equipment packs, so standard features now include remote central locking, electric front windows, heated door mirrors and an electric passenger door mirror.
The extraordinary height of the Berlingo allows the Modutop (carried over from the previous model) to be fitted (a useful £450 option) with aircraft-style overhead storage compartments, and the comfort pack (£60) adds front armrests, aircraft style tables in the rear and a Modubox folding trolley in the boot.
The Modutop provides an extra 100 litres of storage space and includes air vents above the rear seats, extra lighting and overhead cassette or CD holder and a 12-volt socket as well as the extra compartments.
Drivers without the need for the extra overhead storage and with a penchant for fresh air can instead specify the full-length electric sunroof (£450).
Citroen has reworked the front end to improve safety, although engines are carried over from the existing range with the 1.4 petrol the entry model in the range, with a £300 premium for the 1.9 D, offering similar power and torque outputs to the 1.4. The 1.6 16-valve is £500 more than the entry car and offers lower emissions and better fuel economy, while the 2.0 HDi offers 50mpg and emits carbon dioxide at 152g/km for £10,595 on-the- road.
Behind the wheel
RESTYLING the Berlingo has broadened its appeal, making the front-end less van like and more like a sport utility vehicle.
The large plastic bumpers and squared headlamps are reminiscent of a Land Rover Freelander, although it is familiar territory from the A-pillar back. It has been given a more rugged look with wider wings and the interior has also been made to look more user-friendly.
There is new two-tone upholstery and a redesigned dashboard with air vents taken from the C3, colour-coded instruments and a central digital display.
Its high driving position might not be enough to persuade people to ditch their compact SUVs, but it certainly endows the driver with a 'king-of-the-road' feeling. The restyled dashboard is pleasant enough and the plastics are robust without feeling too cheap. The rear seats fold forward to extend the load space rather than remove completely like 'proper' MPVs, but with the van-like proportions of the rear, luggage space and versatility is never lacking.
I took to the road in the two diesel versions. The 2.0 HDi feels sprightly and with 151lb-ft of torque from 1,900rpm it never feels lacking in performance. Despite diesel technology advancing all the time, and more manufacturers introducing second generation diesel technology, this unit is still hard to beat in its class for refinement and fuel consumption.
It cannot be exploited to the full in a car as tall as this, with a certain degree of circumspection needed in twistier roads. If you have decided to choose the Modutop, items stored overhead will only exacerbate the Berlingo's body roll at speed. However, it seems to ride comfortably, with pleasant steering offering positive feedback. The brakes are also reassuring with excellent stopping power. The only other gripe about the driving experience is the long-throw gearchange that seemed more like rowing with an oar than changing gear.
The 1.9D genuinely surprised me with its refinement and apart from the slower 0-62mph time, there would be little to choose in performance between the budget diesel and the entry-level petrol model. People have to decide whether the better fuel consumption merits the £300 premium over the 1.4-litre.
THE Berlingo is an appealing package as a low-priced and versatile load carrier, which offers a generous dash of Gallic charm into the bargain. All of the engines available promise low running costs, and the fresher styling and increased equipment levels should see it remain the market leader.
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||74/5,500||109/5,800||70/4,600||89/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||89/3,400||108/4,000||92/2,500||151/1,900|
|Max speed (mph):||94||107||88||99|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||37.7||38.2||40.9||49.6|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||176||175||181||152|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||55/12.1 (diesel 60/13)|
|Boot capacity (litres):||624/2,800|
|Service intervals (miles):||12,500 (1.9D 10,000)|
|Prices:||£9,295 - £10,595|