The What Van? Road Test: Citroen Berlingo
Monday, February 25, 2013
Late last year saw Citroen’s front-wheel drive Berlingo undergo a modest makeover including a restyled nose that incorporated a wider grille plus new headlights and indicators.
What really matters to Britain’s cash-conscious van operators, however, are the various technological tweaks that have helped drive down the Berlingo’s fuel consumption and CO2. They appear to be ongoing, with the latest round of modifications resulting in the Airdream e-HDi micro-hybrid returning a highly creditable 62.8mpg on the combined cycle. Emissions are down to 118g/km depending on the version selected.
Today’s van is radically different to the classic Berlingo first launched in the mid-1990s, and offers customers a lot more choice. Buyers can pick from two different load lengths (L1 and L2), payload capacities that range from 625-850kg, three trim levels (X, LX and Enterprise), three diesel engines (HDi 75, HDi 90 and e-HDi 90) and a new and more powerful 95hp 1.6i petrol engine that can be converted to run on LPG. They also get to choose either a five-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed EGS6 automated manual, while the range includes a five-seater crew van, the XTR+ van, which comes with enhanced traction, and a platform cab.
We test drove the Airdream micro-hybrid e-HDi 90 L1 625 LX. It comes with stop/start technology that kills the engine if the driver allows it to idle in a traffic jam or while waiting at the lights. Dip the clutch and the engine will re-start immediately courtesy of a micro-hybrid starter/generator.
A regenerative braking system is fitted, too, that recovers and stores energy that would otherwise be lost when slowing down or braking.
The Berlingo Airdream comes with a roomy and easily accessible cab with plenty of storage space. The facilities include bins in both doors, each with a moulding that will hold a bottle, a lidded but not lockable glovebox, and a full-width shelf above the windscreen.
Look at the floor and you will spy a couple of drinks holders, while on top of the dashboard there’s a shallow lidded tray above the instrument panel. A drawer sits underneath the driver’s seat.
While the gear lever is sensibly positioned from the driver’s viewpoint, it sprouts from a moulding that bulges out of
the front of the dashboard and impedes cross-cab movement.
The moulding also means that
the hapless centre passenger – unusually for its size, this van
can seat three-abreast – has virtually no legroom. As a consequence the centre seat is virtually useless – why on earth try to create a three-seater out of a vehicle that is realistically only a two-seater? – although it does harbour a couple of valuable features: fold the back down and it turns into a handy desk with a strap to keep documents in place, plus the seat conceals a 7.6-litre compartment where you can stow items. The aforementioned bulge features a pocket plus a tray for small change, and a hook from which you can hang your Friday night bag of containers full of curry and rice.
A deep windscreen aids forward vision, and the height-adjustable driver’s seat and height/reach- adjustable steering wheel should help most occupants achieve a comfortable driving position.
Access to the 3.3m3 cargo area is by means of a sliding nearside door plus dual asymmetric rear doors. They can be swung through 90º – and through almost 180º if you release the easy-to-undo stays – with the narrower of the two on the offside. All three doors are opaque.
Six load tie-down points are provided, a 12V power point is a handy feature and it is good to see such slim wheel boxes, but while the sides and the doors receive at least some protection from minor scratches and scrapes for up to half their height from the anti-drumming panels that are fitted, the wheel boxes have to take their chances. The load bed is, though, protected by a tailored cover.
For an additional £90 (all prices quoted here exclude VAT) our demonstrator came with a half-height bulkhead topped off by a mesh grille. A section of the bulkhead, that’s directly behind the passenger, folds backwards into the load area. Make use of that facility, then fold the cab’s outboard passenger seat forwards, and you can carry extra-long items. That may be preferable to carrying them on a roof rack and will certainly be better from a security viewpoint, although the Airdream is, in fact, equipped with integral roof rack mounting points. Additionally, it’s possible to fold the outer seat’s cushion upwards against its seat back so tall items can be transported on the floor next to the driver.
If you would rather have a solid, full-height bulkhead but do not wish to use a roof rack then the Berlingo can be ordered with an extra-cost rear roof flap through which items can be poked.
Maximum load area width is 1620mm narrowing to 1229mm between the wheel boxes. Maximum height is 1250mm while maximum length is 1800mm, extendible to 3000mm if you fold down the passenger seat. That boosts the amount of cargo space by 0.4m3, says Citroen. Rear loading height is 609mm while the rear door is 1148mm high and 1250mm wide. Dimensions for the side door aperture are 1192mm and 737mm respectively.
The Airdream grosses at 1990kg with a payload capacity of 670kg. It can tow a braked trailer grossing at 1160kg.
Power comes courtesy of a 1.6-litre four-cylinder transversely mounted high-pressure common-rail direct- injection Euro5 diesel pumping out 89hp at 4000rpm. Max torque of 215Nm bites at 1500rpm. A particulate trap is fitted and the engine is married to a five-speed gearbox that relies on a single dry-plate clutch.
Chassis and steering
Complete with decorative plastic trims, our test van’s 15-inch steel wheels were shod with Michelin Energy Saver 195/65 R15 tyres. Turning to the suspension system, MacPherson struts are fitted at the front while trailing arms are installed at the back. Anti-roll bars are to be found front and rear. Power-assisted steering provides an 11.0m kerb-to-kerb turning circle with 2.89 turns lock-to-lock.
The Airdream nips along nicely down rural roads and through city centres, and is no slouch when it comes to dual carriageway and motorway work, although long high-speed runs reveal the manual box’s key shortcoming: it lacks a sixth gear and desperately needs one. Time and again we absent-mindedly tried changing up from fifth, only to end up being involved in a fruitless search for an extra cog. At least the gear change is crisp, although the clutch pedal was too heavy and inflexible for our taste – it was either in or out, with no gradations in between.
The van handles well, with lots of meaty feedback through the steering. Feeling taut and stable on the road, it rides well too, but suffers from too much wind and road noise, especially from the rear. But that’s the penalty you can sometimes pay for failing to specify a solid, full-height bulkhead.
We had no complaints about the number and variety of features. The presence of an extra-cost Enterprise Pack for £600 meant it boasted aircon, Bluetooth compatibility with a USB socket, and reversing sensors that not only bleep but also tells you just how close you are to an object through a little screen that appears on the dashboard where the clock and radio display are housed.
Standard kit includes electric windows and electrically adjustable and heated exterior mirrors – the latter would benefit from a separate wide-angle section – and an RDS radio /MP3-compatible CD player with remote controls on the steering column. Unusually, the Airdream comes with a Trafficmaster Smartnav navigation system as standard too. Complete with Trackstar stolen vehicle tracking, a praiseworthy feature, it has a screen that sits on the dashboard and can easily be removed for security purposes.
Buying and running
The van is well put-together, with no rattles, squeaks or groans and a decent standard of finish. Deep side rubbing strips help protect the bodywork – finished in metallic paint in our case for an additional £320 – from minor damage while protection strips help defend the rear doors.
Stop/start plus energy- saving features – including door mirrors that are more aerodynamic than those fitted previously – meant that we averaged an impressive 55mpg.
Although it was the most recent model in all other respects, our Airdream was built before the
very latest technical tweaks. As a consequence, CO2 output
is 129g/km rather than the 125g/km now generated by this particular model.
Service intervals are set at 12 months/12,500 miles and there’s a three-year/100,000-mile warranty with no mileage limit in the first two years and emergency roadside assistance for the first year. There is also a five-year anti-perforation corrosion warranty and a two-year paint warranty.
Ventilated discs with a diameter of 283mm are fitted at the front while 268mm-diameter discs are installed at the back. ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution are standard features but you will pay extra for Electronic Stability Programme (ESP).
Hit a button on the dashboard and you instantly lock or unlock all the doors. Hit another button and the load area doors can be locked and unlocked: they all lock automatically anyway when the van is in motion. All those features are additionally available on the remote central locking key fob and deadlocks are fitted. A driver’s airbag is included in the price but you have to pay extra for passenger airbags.
A well thought-out package well worth considering.
Roots that stretch back to the mid-1980s
So far as the UK is concerned Berlingo can trace its roots all the way back to the mid-1980s and the advent of the C15. Promoted with an eye-catching ad campaign and on offer in both petrol and diesel guise, it was perhaps best remembered for its side-hinged rear door that behaved rather like a sail if you tried to open or close it in a strong wind.
The first Berlingo appeared in 1995 and was additionally marketed by sister company Peugeot as the Partner, but it is interesting to note that it took a long time for the C15 to die. It and the Berlingo were for sometime marketed side by side, with C15 as a budget entry-level model.
Like the C15, the 1990s Berlingo was sold in one length and with one height. With a 2.7m3 cargo area it had a sturdy, dependable look about it.
The latest Berlingo broke cover in 2008, but again the old model was sold alongside it for two or three years afterwards under the Berlingo First banner.