Traffic congestion is one of the many curses of 21st century Britain. A simple motorway trip from A to B can turn into a waking nightmare as you inch along in an interminable queue and the wasted minutes turn into wasted hours. Try to drive into the centre of one of our big cities and you'll spend more time stationary than in motion.
Even when you reach your destination, the nightmare isn't over. Odds are that there won't be enough room for you to park — and if you're slightly over a double yellow line, odds are too that you'll get a ticket. In those circumstances what you really need is a van that will squeeze into virtually any gap, is nippy and fuel-frugal, but can shift a decent-sized load too. Enter Citroën's new, and rather strangely named, Nemo.
The product of a joint venture between PSA Peugeot Citroën, Fiat and Turkish manufacturer Tofas, the newcomer is built in Turkey. It's little more than 3,800mm long. Peugeot's version is known as the Bipper — we're not joking, honestly — while Fiat's is called the Fiorino. They're all pretty much identical apart from their badges, although Fiorino uses a 75hp 1.3-litre diesel, also employed by Vauxhall, rather than the 1.4-litre HDi diesel found in the other two.
We opted to try out a diesel Citroën Nemo in LX trim. Power comes courtesy of a four-cylinder common rail engine pumping out 70hp at 4,000rpm. Peak torque of 160Nm kicks in at 1,750rpm and the engine is married to a five-speed manual gearbox. As far as CO2 emissions are concerned, we're talking 119g/km.
A semi-automatic 'box marketed under the SensoDrive banner can be specified for a by-no-means-outrageous £400 extra, but not with the 75hp 1.4-litre petrol lump that is also available.
The front suspension employs MacPherson struts while an independent trailing arm set-up helps support the rear. You'll find anti-roll bars front and back and our demonstrator's 14in steel wheels were fitted with 175/70 R14 tyres.
Power-assisted steering is provided with 2.8 turns lock-to-lock and offering a sub-10m kerb-to-kerb turning circle. Ventilated disc brakes are fitted at the front, drums provide the braking effort at the back and ABS comes as standard.
Gross weight is 1,700kg, which means Nemo is subject to car speed limits instead of the higher ones imposed on commercial vehicles. Gross payload capacity is 610kg — be careful you don't overload it — and our demonstrator could haul a braked trailer grossing at 600kg.
Rear entry to Nemo's cargo bay is by means of asymmetric twin doors with the narrower of the two on the offside. They swing open through 90°, and through 170° if you release the easy-to-unlatch door stays. The doors conceal a compact yet practical 2.5m3 load box. Six load tie-down rings are provided — a lot for a van of this size — as is a sliding nearside door if you opt for LX trim.
Maximum load bay length is 1,523mm. Maximum width is 1,473mm, narrowing to 1,046mm between the wheel boxes, while maximum height is 1,205mm. Rear loading height is 533mm. The usefully-square rear door aperture is 1,067mm high and 1,140 mm wide while the dimensions for the side door aperture are 1,041mm and 644mm respectively.
One of the big surprises when you hop into Nemo's cab is how roomy it is given the vehicle's compact dimensions. Admittedly What Van? is populated by dwarves along with the odd hobbit, but even sensibly sized people should have few problems with head, leg, and shoulder room.
Both the comfortable driver's seat and the steering wheel are height-adjustable — the seat's got lumbar adjustment too — and the driver is protected by an airbag. A deep windscreen plus deep, power-operated, door windows aid vision ahead and to either side while heated and electrically adjustable exterior rear view mirrors make it easy for the driver to see down each side of the vehicle.
Storage space includes a spacious, lidded but not lockable glovebox plus bins in each of the doors with a moulding that will clasp a soft drink can or a small bottle of water. You'll find trays for your small change in each door, another change tray to the right of the steering column and a tray for your pens directly in front of the gearstick. There are a couple of cup-holders between the seats plus a 12v power point.
The prominent hazard warning lights button on the facia is a welcome touch. Good to see a pop-up map/directions-to-destination holder mounted on top of the dashboard, but you'll partly obscure the windscreen if you use it.
Our Nemo was equipped with a £70 — all prices quoted here exclude VAT — Extenso passenger seat that folds into the floor. It extends the length of the cargo area to a handy 2,491mm.
An RDS radio/MP3-compatible CD player comes as standard as do a multi-function trip computer and remote central locking with deadlocks. You can lock the load bay separately and all the doors lock automatically anyway once the van is in motion.
We sampled Nemo with a 200kg test load in the back and it proved an eager performer. A slick gearchange and a nice chunky gearstick enabled us to get the best out of a willing engine which, to our surprise, seemed as at home on the motorway as it is around town.
With plenty of feedback from the responsive steering, the handling proved to be better than we expected it to be. Noise levels seemed well controlled for such a small vehicle, but the little Citroën's ultra-short wheelbase contributed to a lively ride. Even with a bit of weight in the back it at times proved just that bit too bouncy for us.
Fuel consumption averaged out at a creditable 55mpg during its time in our hands.
Side rubbing strips helped protect Nemo's £250 metallic paint finish. Pop open the self-supporting bonnet and you'll gain easy access to the screenwash reservoir, the dipstick and the oil top-up point.
Service intervals are set at a generous 20,000 miles and Nemo is protected by a three-year/100,000-mile warranty, with no mileage limit in the first two years.
Compact and frugal, Citroën's new diesel Nemo is ideal for urban delivery work, but won't disappoint you if you have to tackle the odd motorway run. It offers plenty of performance for its size, you can get the best out of the engine thanks to a slick gearbox and the newcomer handles well with plenty of feedback from the steering. The cab is surprisingly roomy while the load area, though not huge, is sensibly designed. The bouncy ride is the only drawback and we're still not sure about the name. These reservations aside, Citroën's latest offering is without doubt a winner.