Citroën Relay 30 2.2HDi (100) SWB - Tested February 2007

Date: Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Last year was a bumper one for new van releases, with Citroën's redesigned Relay among the most important. Key changes include new engines plus a restyled interior and exterior, and the French manufacturer has adopted the, rather clever, ploy of supplying every Relay complete with a TrafficMaster Smartnav satellite navigation system.

 

The package includes Trackstar. It allows your pride and joy to be tracked by satellite and hopefully recovered if it's stolen.

While you have to scratch your head and wonder just how important sat nav is likely to be to a plumber or builder who rarely ventures more than a few miles from home base, Trackstar is an undoubted benefit. Vans still get pinched, alas, and anything that helps the owner get his transport back receives our vote.

Including sat nav in the price also helps Citroën distinguish Relay from Peugeot's Boxer and Fiat's Ducato. All three share the same basic design and are assembled in the same factory in Italy.

Technical

Now grossing at up to 4.0 tonne, and still marketed as a chassis cab as well as in van guise, Relay is on offer with four different lengths, three wheelbases and three roof heights.

Two different common rail HDi four-cylinder 16-valve diesel engines are on offer — a 2.2-litre producing either 100 bhp or 120 bhp and a 3.0-litre generating a meaty 157 bhp. The environmentally aware may care to note that both engines will run on fuel containing up to 30 per cent biodiesel without needing modification.

While the two most powerful versions are married to a six-speed manual gearbox, the 100 bhp offering comes with a five-speeder. That's the one we elected to sample, in a short-wheelbase standard roof van.

Maximum power kicks in at 2,900rpm, with peak torque of 184 lb/ft biting across a 1,500rpm-to-2,800rpm plateau.

Relay employs independent suspension at the front with MacPherson-type struts while longitudinal leaf springs with inclined telescopic dampers help support the rear of the vehicle. Rear air suspension is on offer as an extra-cost option and allows the back of the van to be lowered.

Our demonstrator's 15ins steel wheels were shod with Michelin Agilis 81 215/70 R15C tyres.

Power steering comes as standard offering a 10.8m turning circle between kerbs and disc brakes are fitted all round along with ABS and Emergency Braking Assistance. Electronic Stability Programme is not a standard feature, alas, although it is on offer as an option.

Grossing at 3.0 tonne, and with a 3,000mm wheelbase, our test van could handle a gross payload of 1,155kg and haul a braked trailer grossing at 2,000kg.

Load Area   

Access to the van's 8.0m3 cargo bay is by means of a sliding nearside door plus twin side-hinged doors.

The latter were unglazed in our case — you can specify windows if you prefer — and could be swung through 90°, or through 180° if we released the stays. All we needed to do was press a button; so no risk of any nasty finger-trapping incidents. All the doors are fitted with big, user-friendly handles.

Few operators will complain about a lack of cargo tie-down points. You'll find eight on the floor plus two above each of the wheel boxes at about waist height. Items can also be secured to the load restraint frame behind the driver's seat.

Our test van's sides and doors were clad with protective panels to about half their height, but the wheel boxes were left vulnerable to minor dents and scrapes.

Maximum load length is 2,670mm while maximum height is 1,662mm. Maximum width is 1,870mm, narrowing to 1,422mm between the wheel boxes — both generous measurements that allow an 8 x 4 sheet to be loaded flat on the floor. Rear loading height is a low 530mm.

The rear door is 1,520mm high and 1,562mm wide. Dimensions for the side door are 1,485mm and 1,075mm respectively.

Cab Comfort

When it comes to in-cab storage space Relay has got pretty much all of the competition beaten.

For your money you get a glovebox, a capacious, lidded and lockable bin in the middle of the facia — it will swallow a laptop — and two big shelves on the passenger side of the dashboard, one above the other. They're complemented by a shelf beneath the steering wheel and a small one to the right of the wheel.

Each door gets a two-tier bin with a moulding to hold a flask or a bottle of water, and there's a shelf above the windscreen running the full width of the three-man cab. There's a storage tray under the passenger seat too.


Pull the centre section of the middle seat forwards and it turns into a desk complete with a pair of cup holders and a clip to hold paperwork in place.

Talking about paperwork, a pop-up holder on top of the facia is the ideal place to put delivery times and instructions. Remember, however, that it's vulnerable to being broken by the ham-fisted.

Good to see that the gearstick is actually mounted on the dashboard rather than on a projecting moulding. That makes it easy for the driver to slide across and emerge safely on the cab side.

Not everybody at What Van? was happy with the driving position, but the writer had no complaints. The steering wheel adjusts for rake, the seat is height-adjustable — it's got lumbar adjustment too plus an armrest — and the occupant enjoys a good field of vision ahead and to either side. Nor is there any lack of head or shoulder room.

Standard features include a driver's airbag, electrically operated and heated exterior mirrors — they're big, they've got twin lenses, they incorporate the indicator repeaters and they give good vision rearwards — and electric windows. In addition you get a multi-function trip computer, a 12v power socket — there's one in the load bay as well — and an RDS stereo radio/CD player with remote steering wheel-mounted controls.

Our test van was fitted with air conditioning for an extra £700 plus VAT.

On the Road

Even the least powerful of the Relays doesn't lack performance. With plenty of torque on tap in just the right places it accelerates strongly through the gears and a more-than-acceptable gearchange means the driver can exploit the engine's potential to the full.

While it's not easy to design a suspension system that works as well when the vehicle is laden as it does when it is empty, Citroën seems to have done so. The ride strikes just the right compromise and coped well with some of Lincolnshire's dodgier road surfaces.

On the downside Relay is far too noisy. The racket generated by the engine is accompanied by excessive wind noise and road roar, so much so that our driving experience became uncomfortable at times even at fairly modest speeds.

The row was accompanied by a worrying amount of creaking and rattling from the bodywork along with a certain amount of flexing from the bodyshell. None of this should be present in a brand-new vehicle.

Memo to Citroën; fit a bulkhead as standard. It should make the cab a lot quieter and will make the cargo area more secure. It may even help make the body's structure a bit more rigid.

While the 120 bhp and 160 bhp Relays come with variable power steering, their 100 bhp stablemate is equipped with a fixed system. As a consequence it fails to tighten up sufficiently at speed, doing the handling no favours at all. It might make sense to equip all Relays with variable power assistance.

The test vehicle was put through its paces unladen and averaged 34mpg.

While we're not all that keen on Relay's on-the-road behaviour, we like its looks. With a prominent three-piece front bumper that incorporates a couple of steps so the driver can climb up and clean the windscreen, and boomerang-shaped headlamps with electric washers, the softer face it presents to the world is an antidote to the aggressive styling sported by Volkswagen's Crafter. Three-piece bumpers are cheaper to repair than their single-piece counterparts incidentally because if you bash one section, you don't have to change the lot.

A three-piece bumper is fitted at the back too and includes a slip-resistant step to make climbing in and out of the load area less tricky. Deep rubbing strips — a welcome sight — protect the sides and rear doors from minor damage.

All the doors are fitted with deadlocks and the doors lock automatically once the vehicle is in motion. Remote central locking is standard and allows you to lock and unlock the cab and the load area separately. The doors can be locked from inside the cab too.

Given that Citroën has rightly made security such a high priority, it's a shame that the screen for the sat nav system sits on top of the facia. It's an open invitation for some yob to smash a window and try to rip it off.

Relay service intervals are set at up to 25,000 miles which should help keep running costs down. It's protected by a three-year/100,000 mile mechanical warranty with no mileage limit in the first two years and a six-year anti-perforation corrosion warranty.

The paintwork warranty, however, only lasts for a year and that's unacceptable. OK, Citroën isn't the only manufacturer to offer a meagre paintwork guarantee, but that's no excuse.

VERDICT

The smallest and least-powerful version of Citroën's new Relay van offers more performance than you might expect. It comes with a user-friendly gearchange, a comfortable ride, a sensibly designed and roomy load area, and a huge amount of oddment storage space in a well-equipped cab.

We like its styling too, and the standard sat nav package will undoubtedly appeal to quite a few buyers (although others might ask for it to be deleted in exchange for a discount). On the downside our van was noisy — try fitting a bulkhead as standard, Citroën — and the over-assisted power steering did the handling no favours. Sort out those two glitches and tighten up on the build quality and an adequate package could rapidly turn into a great one.

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