The original 'sensible shoes' of affordable van-based MPV-style family transport, Citroen's Berlingo Multispace has had another style injection, and that can be no bad thing. Jonathan Crouch reports on the frugal BlueHDi 100 model
Ten Second Review
The Citroen Berlingo Multispace started out as a wonderfully simple and straightforward idea. Essentially, it was a small van with windows and an extra row of seats. Cheap, functional and, being a Citroen, pretty comfortable, it ticked most of the boxes that mattered for a family on a budget. With the second generation, the 'lifestyle' design evolution began, distancing the Multispace from its Berlingo commercial origins. The most recent facelift takes things a stage further and has added the option of the frugal BlueHDi 100 diesel we've been testing here.
There's a certain charm, maybe even a thrill, to owning a car finely tuned to its purpose. A car that does exactly what it says on the tin. A worldwide sales tally of 1.4 million and counting says Citroen got it right with the Berlingo Multispace. It wasn't destined to become a style icon, it didn't have space-age instruments or seats that could be turned into picnic tables or that disappeared into the floor at the touch of a button. What it did have was lots of space given its relatively modest footprint and a rugged practicality that shrugged off the everyday scuffs and spills of family life. It simply got on with it. The next Multispace, launched in 2008, got on with it too, but looked much more bespoke with significantly sleeker styling and a host of 'car-like' attributes designed to make the original concept more palatable to a wider audience that may have baulked at the idea of driving something so closely related to a van. Running with that theme, the most recent update refreshes the look inside and out while, at the same time, reducing aerodynamic drag to lower CO2 emissions. Most significant of the changes is the addition of the brand's latest 100bhp 1.6-litre BlueHDi diesel which can be mated with the company's ETG6 auto gearbox technology.
Citroen's initiative to make the Berlingo Multispace drive more like a car than a van was realised with the second generation range, essentially by pinching the running gear from the more avant garde C4 Picasso mini-MPV. It did the trick and continues the good work here. You wouldn't buy a Berlingo Multispace for its handling prowess, but the more sophisticated suspension set up means you might just find yourself enjoying the challenges of a twisty country road all the same. It feels tauter and corners flatter than the original car and combines this with a more pliant, better controlled ride that soaks up the worst Britain's more battered B-roads can throw at it with impressive calm. A high-ish seating position and deep windows make for an easy life in town and parking is a doddle. Braking is taken care of by four discs and ABS, with electronic brake force distribution (EBFD), emergency brake assist (EBA) and automatic illumination of the hazard warning lights during emergency stops. The powertrain line-up is comprehensive and includes the model we're looking at here, the BlueHDi 100 ETG6 version with Stop & Start and a six-speed automated manual gearbox. That ETG6 box requires a little bit of practice to drive smoothly, but it does return slightly better fuel consumption and emissions figures and if you're routinely driving in traffic, your left leg gets a well deserved rest. There are even paddle shifters, although I doubt you'll feel like an F1 driver at any point.
Design and Build
The transition from utilitarian boxiness to a semblance of swoopy style was accomplished with the second generation Berlingo Multispace in 2008. The most recent changes amount to a mild cosmetic overhaul intended, according to Citroen, to give the Multispace a 'stronger personality'. As before, the Berlingo Multispace can be specified with up to seven independent seats though, in basic form, you get a three-person rear bench seat which can be folded (two thirds - one third), or removed completely. The so-called Modutop option combines a glazed roof with multiple stowage compartments, a dual access boot with a rear window that can be opened from the outside for easy loading, individually controlled ventilation and additional lighting for passengers in the rear. A potential load space of 3000 litres means it could swallow four washing machines. With the rear parcel shelf in place, a total of 675 litres is available. The seven seat option is included in what Citroen calls its 'Family Pack'. Here, you get three individual, reclining, folding and removable seats in the second row. The third row seats can be folded down or removed completely when not in use.
Market and Model
You'll pay a £600 premium for order this BlueHDi 100 model over the entry-level BlueHDi 75 variant and there's another £700 to pay if you want the ETG6 auto gearbox. That means an asking price of around £16,000 for the manual model - which may be a bit of a stretch for the budget-minded families that this Citroen is primarily aimed at. This package comes reasonably equipped in the mid-range Feel guise you have to have with the BlueHDi 100 engine. The tally includes features like daytime running lights, a height-adjustable driver's seat and an overhead storage shelf all included. And you can choose to pay extra for the useful three individual rear seat arrangement - or indeed for the Family Pack that'll give you space for seven people with two extra fold-out seats in the boot. Standard inclusion of the real niceties though, is reserved for the top-of-the-line XTR spec. That means things like roof bars, air conditioning, alloy wheels and free access to the neat packs that'll give you things like the three individual rear seats, a child surveillance mirror and rear window blinds. Options include a ModuTop glass-panelled roof, the Bluetooth and USB-enabled 'Connecting Box' for the stereo system or the MyWay satellite navigation system. Twin front airbags, ESP and ABS are, as you'd expect, standard on this model, plus EBA Emergency Brake Assistance and EBD Electronic Brakeforce Distribution. Front side airbags are included on the XTR and curtain airbags are optional.
Cost of Ownership
Most of the really eco-centric features developed for this car are reserved for the 100bhp 1.6-litre BlueHDi diesel engine we've been looking at here, available to both Feel and XTR buyers. Along with regenerative braking, that helps this car achieve fuel savings of up to 10%, leading to figures of 65.7mpg on the combined cycle and 113g/km of CO2. Or 67.3mpg and 109 if you go for the ETG6 auto version. Go the auto route and the fuel savings on offer aren't enough of course to make back the £700 premium that the auto gearbox demands over a normal BlueHDi 100 manual model. But bear in mind that this extra cash does also buy you a transmission that'll make city driving that much easier. Anything else? The insurance grouping is a modest Group 10. Then there's a three year/60,000 mile warranty one year of Europe-wide roadside assistance.
The BlueHDi engine's efficiency garnishes a very practical basic family package here. The original Berlingo Multispace addressed the need for an affordable family holdall by making a deal with potential customers. It was one that involved not being put off by driving around in something that looked quite a lot like a van with windows. And surprisingly few were. When push came to shove, function trumped fashion. But while some might lament that uncompromising degree of pragmatism, there's little doubt that the Multispace has evolved into a more accomplished and (vastly) more stylish proposition that, in many ways, is snapping at the heels of compact MPVs like the Renault Scenic and Ford C-Max, not to mention Citroen's own C3 Picasso with which is shares its underpinnings. Bottom line value has always been a large part of the appeal of Citroen's most humble people carrier. It doesn't look that humble anymore, but the principle still applies.