Economies of scale rule in the light commercial sector, and joint ventures are the key to success. Best known is the SEVEL partnership of Citroen, Peugeot and Fiat, but even Renault, Europe's repeated market leader in light commercials, re-badges product for Nissan and has collaborated with Vauxhall on medium and large vans over several model generations.
While German giant Mercedes-Benz teamed up with countryman Volkswagen for the Sprinter/Crafter (nee VW LT) large van project, it went its own way (many would say lost its way) with the Vaneo little brother. The replacement for that small van, the Citan, looks much more the part, but that’s mainly due to the fact that most of its parts come from Renault – other than the hallowed three-pointed star on the grille, what we have here is, in reality, a second-generation Kangoo. If you are going to go Dutch on a new small van, then going French seems the popular option.
Available in three overall lengths, the 3.94m Compact, the 4.32m Long and the 4.71m Extra Long versions would seem to cover all eventualities if you pick a Citan. Translating to load lengths of 1.3m, 1.7m and 2.1m in round figures, they offer 2.4m3, 3.1m3 and 3.8m3 of load volume, pipping the Peugeot Bipper and surpassing the Citroen Nemo. The Citan also tops it all off with payloads up to 795kg.
Although there is a 114hp 1.2-litre petrol engine, most of them utilise Renault's proven 1.5-litre four-cylinder common-rail turbodiesel. It’s Euro6-compliant from the later 2015 models, with two power outputs driving the front wheels – another big change for the smaller Mercedes van, although many commentators would cite the original Vito's dogged adhesion to rear-wheel drive as merely outmoded anyhow. Dynamically, the Citan is streets ahead with typically French ride compliance too, which feels especially well-dampened in the longer-wheelbase versions.
Mercedes-Benz prides itself on quality, of course, but a joint effort will always be a compromise, and here the combined result tends toward a French feel. However, the Renault Kangoo interior was always sound and the second generation has striven to be more car-like. And it has to be said that the less-Germanic feel is welcome, while as the small van is invariably driven by the same person day in, day out, the more personal touch is a contrast to the slightly clinical-feeling Sprinter cab.
There are few points to watch for. Seatbelt faults required a recall, and the 1.5 diesel has a fuel pipe failure to blot its copybook too. Along with brake system faults and window-airbag concerns, it’s not all plain sailing, and alongside the car-like feel to the cab, some of the switchgear is less than squaddie-proof.
The Mercedes-Benz Citan is not a particularly common sight on the used forecourt, but there are enough about to make shopping around a good option. Want a bargain? What about a 108 model from 2013 on a 63-plate with just over 100,000 miles on it for £4988 plus VAT. Find a few quid more and a similar vintage 108 with less than 75,000 miles under its wheels comes in at £5988 plus VAT, with seven-grand finding a 109 Long version with 16,000 miles under its 64-plate belt. The same model and size with 15,000 miles since early 2015 hits the significant £10k mark on a 15-plate, while stepping up to £16,000 plus VAT gets you a 65-plate, 12,000-mile Extra Long crew van.