"This is a very likeable - and very usable - compact van that, well isn't that compact. ."
That would be a problem of course if the refinements necessary for passenger motoring limited the Berlingo van's versatility for day-to-day business transport. Fortunately, that's not the case, or at least, so Citroen say. We decided to put one on our long term test fleet to find out. If you're at all familiar with this vehicle, the first thing to point out with this second generation version is that it's been shunted up-market in terms of size and sophistication. That was necessary not only to keep pace with competitors as tough as Renault's Kangoo but also to distance the Berlingo from its smaller yet surprisingly spacious Nemo stablemate. Our test vehicle has the 1.6-litre 90bhp HDi diesel engine that the majority of Berlingo van buyers will probably specify. It also has an impressively high specification for a van, with features like air conditioning and ESP stability control reminding us just how far vans have come on in recent years. Tight pricing and Citroen retailers' legendary willingness to 'to a deal' means that you're probably more likely to end up with extra features like this than you would do in a comparable rival. Citroen sees it as part of the process of looking its most important end-user - the driver. It's a commitment that has been rewarded by businesses across Europe where one in seven Citroen products sold is a commercial vehicle.
We're familiar with Citroen's 1.6-litre HDi diesel, thanks to a current long term spell with a C4 Picasso which has a 110bhp version of that engine. To be honest, the 90bhp incarnation in our Berlingo van doesn't feel much slower, delivering 215Nm of pulling power so that you don't have to row it along with the gearlever in urban use. That's important because the Berlingo now tips the scales at gross vehicle weights between 1,960kg and 2,130kg, depending on your choice of bodystyle, which is around 200kg more than the original. Despite this decent level of grunt, fuel economy has been impressive: we've been recording just under 50mpg in our time with the vehicle. As we've already suggested, the latest Berlingo is a much more sophisticated product than of old. It uses independent front suspension and a transverse beam with angled shock absorbers at the rear with anti-roll bars featuring at both ends. On the road, this larger Berlingo feels less agile and immediate in its responses than the original but most operators will accept a slight loss there, and in terms of cornering body control, because the van's ride comfort and refinement are both very impressive. Road and engine noise are well contained making sure that big distances fly by and the steering is light, combining with the tight 11m turning circle to aid manoeuvring. Our only gripe is that the five-speed manual gearbox is something of a let down with its sloppy long throw action. There are two Berlingo bodystyles to consider and both are on the large side of what we expect from a compact van. Both versions share a 2,728mm wheelbase but the longer L2 model has 248mm extra tagged on behind. We've got the smaller L1 but even that is 4,380mm in length - 243mm longer than the original Berlingo with 350mm extra in the wheelbase department. Payloads range from 625kg to 850kg, a sizable carrying capacity that edges awfully close to that of some small panel vans at its top end. The space in the rear is accessed through side hinged rear doors which open to nearly 180 degrees and reveal a compartment that's 1,800mm long in our L1 version and never less than 1,229mm wide. Sliding side doors are available as options as is a hinged roof flap through which long items can be poked. The loading lip at the rear is nice and low and the load bay gets excellent protection from its contents courtesy of panelling that extends halfway up the sides of the vehicle. The standard bulkhead is a ladder frame behind the driver's seat only and an unusual touch is the load compartment light that can be detached and used as a torch. Citroen offers the Berlingo in two trim levels, X and LX. Standard equipment includes ABS brakes, a trip computer, a CD stereo, central locking, electric front windows and internally adjustable door mirrors. The LX adds remote central locking, heated electric wing mirrors and an external temperature sensor. There's also the considerable pulling power of a standard Trafficmaster Smartnav satellite navigation and vehicle tracking system. Internally, the Citroen Berlingo is an impressive piece of work with good quality materials and neat design. The storage space is abundant and clever solutions abound ready to swallow up all the paraphernalia of your working day. Buyers can choose between two front seats or a three-seater bench fitted to our test car. True, the middle seat legroom is severely impeded by the dash-mounted gearstick but it is useful to have if you've an extra child with you. Frequently, I've wanted to thank Citroen for fitting it when circumstances have required me to pick my older two kids up from school on the way home from work. They seem to think that Berlingo motoring is huge fun and, in somewhat tempered fashion, I'm inclined to agree that this is a very likeable - and very usable - compact van that, well isn't that compact. We're looking forward to stretching its capabilities a little more in the months ahead.
Facts at a Glance
Facts At A Glance MANUFACTURER: Citroen MODEL: Berlingo BHP: 75bhp - 90bhp PAYLOAD CAPACITY: 625kg - 850kg LOAD VOLUME: 3.3m3 - 3.7m3 GROSS VEHICLE WEIGHT: 1,960kg - 2,185kg LENGTH: 4,380mm - 4,628mm WIDTH: 1,810mm HEIGHT: 1,812mm-1,840mm