The WhatVan? Road Test: Mercedes-Benz Citan
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Mercedes-Benz pitches itself at the premium end of the van market. Renault does not. So it was something of a surprise when the former selected the latter's Kangoo as a platform for its first foray into the light van sector with the new Citan, though it is part of a wider partnership between the two brands.
Admittedly it is a lot more than a re-badging exercise. Mercedes has completely re-styled the front of the vehicle, altered the dashboard, fitted its own seats
and made detailed changes to the steering and suspension. For example, the diameter of the suspension's torsion bars has been increased and the spring rating altered with an eye to delivering a firmer ride and minimising body roll.
Aside from these changes, the Citan uses the same engines and gearboxes as the Kangoo as well as the same floorpan and body structure.
Three different load cubes are available – 2.4m3, 3.1m3 or 3.8m3 depending on whether you opt for the Compact, the Long or the Extra Long – while gross payload capacities go up to 810kg depending on the model you select. And the newcomer is not just a van: it
is also being produced in passenger-carrying Dualiner and Traveliner guise.
Build tolerances appear to be a lot tighter than those encountered on the Kangoo whichever model you pick. Given that both models come down the same French production line one cannot help but wonder what is preventing the Citan and Kangoo from being constructed to the same standard.
We decided to test drive a Citan 109CDI Long model to see how different it is from the more familiar Kangoo.
One way in which the two models are exactly the same is in the design of the handbrake. Possibly for cost reasons Mercedes has retained Kangoo's peculiar L-shaped parking brake lever, which makes both the 12V power point that is provided and the cup holder that is positioned at the bottom of the dashboard awkward to use when it is released. It represents design for the sake of it and should be scrapped for something more conventional.
That moan aside, the Citan's surprisingly roomy cab offers a pleasant, if not exactly exciting, high-quality working environment. Storage facilities include a deep glove box and bins in each of the doors, not to mention a full-width shelf above the windscreen.
As well as the aforementioned cup-holder there is another one directly behind the handbrake lever, which in our test vehicle was occupied by a removable ashtray. This light commercial also featured a deep lidded bin between the front seats, which forms part of a Driver’s package that costs an extra £1222 (all prices quoted here exclude VAT). The package also includes heated electric exterior mirrors that can fold away electrically, air-conditioning and Parktronic reversing sensors.
We like the ventilation system's chunky, easy to use switchgear, while both the driver's seat and the steering column are height-adjustable.
Access to the 3.1m3 cargo area is by means of a sliding door on each side of the body and through twin, asymmetric back doors. The narrower of the two is on the offside as is invariably the case with right-hand drive models, but easy-to-release stays mean that both can be swung through 180º.
A full-height solid-steel bulkhead prevents unsecured cargo from shooting forwards under heavy braking and ending up in the cab but bulges into the load area, stealing space. It also slightly obstructs both the side door apertures.
Half-a-dozen load lashing points are fitted as is a tailored mat that protects the cargo bed. The sides are panelled to half their height, excluding the wheel boxes, as are the doors.
Maximum load height is 1258mm while maximum length is 1753mm. Maximum width is 1460mm narrowing to 1219mm between the wheel boxes while rear loading height is 575mm.
The side door apertures are 1128mm high and 638mm wide. Dimensions for the rear door aperture are 1119mm and 1219mm respectively.
Our Citan grossed at 1950kg, could handle a 560kg gross payload – on the low side, but models with higher payload capacities are available as indicated earlier – and could tow a braked trailer grossing at 1050kg.
Our test van was powered by the 90hp Euro5 version of Renault's 1.5-litre dCi four-cylinder in-line diesel engine complete with a particulate filter. Top power bites at 4000rpm, top torque of 200Nm kicks in across a 1750rpm- 3000rpm plateau, and in our case the turbocharged common-rail engine was married to a five-speed manual gearbox. Six-speed boxes are also available and the 1.5-litre can alternatively be specified at 75hp and 110hp. A 1.2-litre turbo petrol engine is also available, though not scheduled to come to the UK.
Chassis and steering
The vehicle’s front suspension employs MacPherson struts with lower rectangular wishbones and stabilisers while the rear suspension makes use of a compound link set-up with trailing arms, coil springs and an internal stabiliser. Our demonstrator’s alloy wheels
came with low-profile 205/55 R16 Michelin Energy Saver tyres. The alloys form part of an Appearance package that will set you back an additional £686, and also includes body- coloured bumpers, mirror casings and exterior trim. There is also an additional charge of £294 if you fancy the special 16-inch 12-spoke alloys that our vehicle came equipped with. However, power-assisted steering does, of course, come as standard on the Mercedes.
The Citan is a revelation out on the highway. Its on-the-road behaviour is so different from the Kangoo's that it is hard to believe that the two models are in any way related. Mercedes-Benz's suspension modifications work, and work well. The Citan corners precisely, with no wallowing or wobbling, and the steering has a reassuringly meaty feel to it, offering ample feedback. The ride is firm, but not unpleasantly so, and the crisp gear change is a pleasure to get to grips with. In-cab noise levels are well- controlled too, and the driver's seat proved to be comfortable and supportive when it was tested with a 400-mile-plus round-trip from Ross-on-Wye to Harrogate and back.
There are some criticisms, though. For example, we’d have expected a bit more poke from a 90hp engine given the van’s modest size. Acceleration from
rest was on the sluggish side although matters improved as we pushed through the gears. It could be that this mediocre performance was due to the van's low mileage. Hopefully matters would improve once the engine loosened up a bit.
In-cab equipment is adequate enough with a standard package that includes electric windows, a trip computer and an MP3- compatible radio/CD player with Bluetooth connectivity. Delve beneath the metal, however, and you will find plenty of safety devices, but more on those later.
Buying and running
The Citan is protected by a three-year/unlimited-mileage warranty while service intervals are set at 25,000 miles/two years. Daily engine checks
should be easy enough to carry out thanks to Mercedes-Benz's sensible decision to fit a bonnet that is supported by gas-filled struts when open.
We averaged 49mpg thanks in part to the presence of fuel-saving ECO Start/Stop technology.
Disc brakes are fitted front and rear along with a whole pack of safety devices provided as standard including adaptive ESP (Electronic Stability Programme) as well as ABS, Acceleration Skid Control and Brake Assist. Start-off Assist is part of the deal too, which makes it easier for the driver to move away on a hill without rolling backwards. There is also cruise control and a speed limiter, and a driver's airbag.
Remote central locking is standard, plus you can immediately lock all the doors by hitting a button on the dashboard. Rubbing strips help protect the sides from minor damage, and are particularly useful given that our vehicle was finished in metallic paint for an additional £390.
Daytime running lights are fitted, so are front fog lights, while the headlights dip automatically when required to do so.
While the Citan's safety standards look impressive on paper it should be noted that a passenger-carrying version of the van only scored three out of a possible five stars in a crash test recently carried by Euro NCAP.
Far better than we expected, but convincing people to switch from rivals may be a challenge in what remains a price-competitive sector.