Mercedes-Benz believes the launch of its Citan into the light van sector in January 2013 will enable the brand to slug it out on an even footing with its main rivals in the European commercial vehicle market.
The Citan is the first new model Mercedes has launched into the commercial vehicle market since the Vito broke cover in 1995, and with its introduction the manufacturer claims it has become “a full-range supplier”, from “the urban delivery van to the large-capacity van”.
The manufacturer says the light van sector is the fastest- growing market area in Europe, accounting for 700,000 sales annually because of the continuing migration of populations to cities, the growth in the delivery trade with the boom in online shopping, operators downsizing due to cost and environmental concerns, and the lack of urban space for larger vehicles.
According to Bernd Stegmann, the van division’s marketing boss, the Citan is aimed primarily at craftsmen – owner/drivers and small businesses – rather than at-large delivery fleets, and he suggests most buyers will not want to customise their van but to put it straight into use.
In the UK Mercedes aims to challenge the supremacy of the Volkswagen Caddy and Vauxhall Combo, which took 13,700 and 10,700 sales respectively last year, but in
Europe as a whole the Citan will compete closely with its donor vehicle, the Renault Kangoo, which takes a 15% market share.
The German manufacturer admits that economic considerations led it to base the vehicle on the Renault Kangoo.
“It was too expensive to develop the engines from scratch,” says Stegmann. With Renault having introduced the electric Kangoo ZE, Stegmann also says that Mercedes could follow suit with an electric Citan if sufficient demand develops.
Despite the collaboration with Renault, Mercedes says it has carried out significant engineering work on the base van and insists it is worthy of wearing the three-pointed star badge.
Volker Mornhinweg, head of Mercedes vans, stresses: “Mercedes quality is not simply a marketing claim, it’s a promise to our customers we must keep with every vehicle we sell. That also applies to the Citan.”
Stegmann, too, is keen to talk up the brand kudos that Mercedes brings and draws a comparison with the world of computers to highlight the clout of the badge in a business environment, particularly in service enterprises.
“Can you do your job with a no-name laptop? Do you want to?” he asks.
“The whole thing is much more motivating if you pull out a Macbook and then discreetly observe the reactions around you.”
This is not to say that Stegmann is comparing Renault to a “no-name laptop”, as he credits Mercedes’ partner as being “the inventor of small vans” and insists “no one has been more successful in this area”.
But he adds: “When a vehicle bears the Mercedes star it has to have Mercedes quality.”
So the manufacturer subjected the Citan to a vigorous testing programme, and as a result, the vehicle’s safety equipment includes ABS, oversteer and understeer control, a traction control system, acceleration skid control and up to six airbags.
The Citan will be available in three lengths: compact (3940mm), long (4320mm) and extra long (4710mm). Three 1.5-litre turbo-diesel engines with particulate filters will be up for grabs with power outputs of 75, 90 and 110hp, and a 1.2-litre 114hp petrol engine will also be offered. Currently it is offered with up to five seats but the brand says it could become available with seven seats in future.
UK prices and configurations are yet to be finalised but we got to drive a left-hand drive, extra long, 90hp, five-speed manual Citan on the recent European launch in Copenhagen.
This van comes with a load capacity of 3.8m3 and a payload of 800kg. The load area is accessed via asymmetrical twin glazed rear doors and sliding doors on both the near and off-sides of the vehicle, which, according to a spokesman, will be standard in the UK. Our van featured a full bulkhead with a window to allow a rear view.
Commendably, adaptive ESP is standard on all Citan variants, which is not universal in the light van segment, and the manufacturer claims UK customers will also get a plastic-lined load bay floor, cruise control and daytime running lights without having to ask for them as extras.
The van we tested also included Mercedes’ Blue Efficiency package so it comes with fuel-saving features such as stop/start and low rolling- resistance tyres.
The stop/start system is one of the best we’ve tested, cutting out the engine seamlessly as soon as neutral is engaged at, for example, traffic lights, and starting up again the instant you touch the clutch to put the engine back in gear. It contributes to an impressive official consumption figure of 61.4mpg on the combined cycle.
The dashboard and instrument panel in the Citan’s cabin is uncluttered, if a trifle spartan, and the controls are clearly indicated, chunky and user-friendly. Tempmatic semi-automatic air-conditioning kept the cabin cool but a more basic manual system is also available. The cup holder in the central console, however, looked a little shallow to safely guard against spilling hot beverages. Otherwise there is a large glove compartment, a practical overhead stowage space across the width of the windscreen, and buckets in the doors for 1.5-litre water bottles.
The driver’s seat in our van was adjustable longitudinally and for height, but in some versions of the panel van height adjustment is likely to be optional. The passenger seat is only adjustable longitudinally.
The steering wheel is adjustable for rake but not reach but the steering itself is precise. The driving position is comfortable and well-supported and the gear change slick and well suited to urban journeys.
The ride quality is excellent – firm and true with no swaying and wallowing in corners, and interior noise is kept to a minimum, allowing relaxed conversation between driver and passenger.
The rear doors click into position at 90° and can then swing open to 180° to ease loading. However, there is no clip or latch to secure them in this position so there is a danger they may swing shut in windy conditions.
The load compartment in our vehicle came with full panelling but only partial panelling is likely to be standard.
The Citan is a tidy-looking light commercial with a sturdy grille, featuring three perforated fins and mounting the chrome-plated three-pointed star. Upright headlamps flank the arrow-shaped bonnet and grille. Front fog lamps and daytime running lights are integrated into the front bumper. The trapezoidal cool air intake in the front bumper echoes a styling feature found throughout the Mercedes range.
From the side the front section appears wedge-shaped with the 15-inch alloys on our van sitting flush with the outer edge of the wheel arches. At the rear the licence plate panel is fitted
to the wider left-hand door while the one-piece tail lights are arranged vertically.
The Citan is a competent, attractive urban vehicle that looks well placed to make its mark in a new segment for its manufacturer. A three-year unlimited warranty, competitive cost of ownership and the promise of 24-hour servicing will add to its appeal.
Overall the Citan presents a high quality, practical proposition well equipped to establish Mercedes in the light van sector.