Fleet News

Road test: Citroen boldly goes where Ford left off

WITH the demise of the old Ford Escort van, the French manufacturer has stepped in to offer a credible alternative with the Xsara Enterprise.

Joe Smith is a computer engineer. He is young and upwardly mobile, has a wife and no kids and lives on a trendy new estate on the edge of town. He goes to work in a suit and to all the world he is a happy and successful man. But no. Under that slick exterior, all is turmoil and angst. The problem is this...

##Xsara Enterprise--left## As his job requires a vehicle that will carry a fair bit of kit, his employer has given Joe a Ford Escort van as a company vehicle. Joe doesn't like it in the slightest – all his neighbours have Ford Mondeos and Mercedes-Benz C-classes on their drives.

But he comforts himself with the thought that at least his Escort van is based on a car. And if he parks it with its back to the garage, you could almost think it WAS a car. But wait! Joe's company vehicle is due for replacement and Ford no longer makes the Escort van. Instead, Joe is told he will now have a Ford Transit Connect, the van that replaces Escort.

'No, no and thrice no,' cries Joe. 'Escort van I can just about handle, but I am NOT going to drive around in something that looks like a scaled-down Ford Transit. I'd be drummed out of the residents' association and my neighbours would never speak to me again.'

And that – in a nutshell – is the story behind the launch of the Citroen Xsara Enterprise.

When Ford announced the demise of Escort van, the French manufacturer revealed in an amazingly short space of time the launch of this van, which it will happily sell to disgruntled fleet drivers like Joe.

You'll have to look twice at the pictures to satisfy yourself that this vehicle is indeed an LCV, for to all intents and purposes it looks just like a car. And, of course, that is exactly what Citroen – and people like Joe – want you to think.

Enterprise is very much a 'like-it-or-lump-it' kind of vehicle. It comes in one format, with a 2.0-litre common rail turbodiesel powerplant offering 90bhp and 154lb-ft of torque and has as standard ABS brakes, four airbags, remote central locking and electric windows.

List price is £10,995 ex-VAT but Citroen is offering a cashback deal until the end of June bringing the price down to £9,995 ex-VAT.

Outside

IF you want a van that looks exactly like a car and you don't want the Xsara Enterprise, you are pretty stumped for choice really, unless you go for the Land Rover Freelander or Discovery Commercial – and they aren't strictly cars. For while estate car van versions are two a penny on the Continent, they have never been offered for sale here until now.

But it's top marks to Citroen for spotting an opportunity and immediately jumping straight in with both feet. This vehicle must have had the shortest planning and development period in the history of van production.

The Xsara is one of the few cars that actually looks better as an estate than a saloon to my eye so it makes a good basis for a stylish commercial. With the rear windows blanked out with toughened Supaglass, no passer-by will guess that here lurks a van. The glass didn't have to be black to qualify as a van, Citroen points out, but it gives greater security for any cargo as thieves won't be able to look in.

The roof comes with two rails with clips for a roof rack and down below there are rubbing strips all round, a necessity if drivers are to avoid all the annoying knocks and scrapes they are bound to pick up in the course of a busy delivery schedule. Our test van came with the only paid-for option available – metallic silver paint at £235. It may sound a waste of money but I'd recommend it as the van is likely to gain more than the cost of the paint when it comes to disposal time.

In the front

While the Xsara has never exactly set the fleet sales charts alight in its lifetime, it is by no means the worst performer and sliding into the cab reveals a nice comfortable seat with good firm side supports.

Both seat and steering column are height adjustable but the intrusion of the loadbed meant the seat didn't go far enough back for my 6ft 3in frame. It's a common fault with car-derived vans but ordinary-sized drivers won't have a problem.

The dash is of a pleasingly curved nature and the heating controls are ultra simple to use. Windows and nearside mirror operate electrically but the driver's mirror has to be tweaked by hand. The radio/cassette player is surprisingly good quality for a van – most commercial vehicles only get the 'cooking' variety. Meanwhile, tapes can be held in a box between the seats and the glovebox opens to reveal two coffee cup holders. Both armrests in the door flip up to reveal storage spaces for sun glasses, peppermints et al.

In the back

WITH the seats and seatbelts (and their mountings) removed, Citroen has substituted a large metal tray complete with rubber mat in the rear, with a lip round the edge to stop cargo from falling underneath and disappearing forever.

The good thing about this vehicle is that you get two side-loading doors, unlike the old Escort van which didn't have any. However, these doors don't open very far so any large loads will have to be pushed in from the rear.

Here we find the usual estate car tailgate but as there is an awkward lip at the back, loads can't be slid in and out easily but have to be lifted over. There are six load-lashing eyes in the floor for extra security but the bulkhead between load area and front seats is only a few inches high.

Citroen may claim it is offering an alternative to the old Escort van but looking at the spec sheets, this vehicle loses out to the Ford on both load height, length and width and on load volume. Curiously, it either beats the Escort van or loses out to it on payload, depending on the model of Ford you chose.

There is also a price premium over the old Escort van, which weighed in at between £8,590 and £9,570 ex-VAT, although the Enterprise is much better specified.

On the road

ONLY one engine is available in this van – but what an engine it is. PSA's feisty 2.0-litre common rail HDi diesel unit can be found in everything from Citroen C5 to the Peugeot 607.

Pumping out 90bhp, it will propel the Enterprise from 0-60mph in 12.8 seconds and on to a top speed of 110mph. The official combined fuel economy figure is an impressive 51.4mpg.

Being a common rail unit, it fires up in the mornings without all the kerfuffle of the old diesel engines. It pulls quietly and smoothly and generally goes about its business with the minimum of fuss.

The downside is that this engine is a big lump for a lower medium sized vehicle and it makes the front end feel heavy on the corners. Things are fine as long as you don't want to perform any heroics on the bends. Also our test model had terribly grabby brakes, although with under 1,000 miles on the clock they will presumably sort themselves out given time.

Verdict

YOU'VE got to take your hat off to Citroen for spotting an opportunity and grabbing it with both hands.

No-one is pretending that the Enterprise is anything but a toe in the water exercise but I reckon it's a gamble that might just pay off.

How the rivals shape up

  • Vauxhall Astravan Astravan is Enterprise's closest rival. This van has petrol, diesel and dual-fuel versions on offer and just beats the Enterprise on load volume (1.6 cubic metres as opposed to 1.5) and payload (539–626kg as opposed to 511kg). Pricing is keen too, at between £9,515 and £12,305, although bear in mind that Citroen is renowned for its fleet discounts. Nevertheless, the Astravan shapes up well against Enterprise.

  • Fiat Punto Van Strictly speaking, the Punto van is the next size down from Enterprise, but with a list price of £7,495 (£3,500 cheaper), it must be worth a second look. It matches the Enterprise on payload but loses half a cubic metre on load volume. However, at least it is based on a car, so should have reasonably car-like ride and drive. Don't expect the high levels of specification offered by the Enterprise, though.

    Citroen Xsara Experience Fact file
    Engine GVW (kg) Payload (kg) Load vol (cu m) List price (£ ex-VAT) 0-60 (secs) Top speed (mph)
    2.0 HDi 1,740 511 1.5 10,995 12.8 110

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