".a likable van that does things that bit differently from the majority of its rivals"
Credit where credit's due, the Dispatch makes a valiant attempt at looking interesting with its massive headlights and chunky bumper design. Whether you could call the vehicle good-looking is a different matter but it's definitely got character. Those expensive-looking headlights are positioned high up on the steeply raked nose so they're well back from the bumper and protected from parking knocks. Thick rubbing strips do a similar job for the vehicle's flanks and the rear is also well protected by a sturdy-looking bumper that's wide enough to serve as a handy step for access to the rear. The Dispatch is built with a view to keeping the looks that it has intact. We had extensive experience of this model's predecessor and the improvements over that van are instantly apparent virtually everywhere you look. This Dispatch is a much bigger vehicle, however, and that's especially evident in the long wheelbase, high roof bodystyle that our test vehicle came in. The biggest strength of the old Dispatch was its manoeuvrability so surely, we thought, that must be one area where something has been lost in translation. In low speed turning and parking situations, the large front overhang of the Dispatch can be a hindrance. It's hard to judge exactly where the front of the van is when you're cosying up to an obstacle. Happily, the tendency is to underestimate the amount of room you've got left so our bumper remains blemish free at the time of writing. The mirrors are wide enough to give the driver a good appreciation of what's behind him but the full height unglazed bulkhead in our Dispatch means the optional rear parking sensors are a must.
This Dispatch is trickier to manoeuvre than the vehicle that went before it but that's to be expected when you're gaining all that extra capacity. It's also a little less malleable at low speeds than some rival products that employ a higher driving position with a better view out but there are definite advantages to the set up that Citroen chose. Out on the open road, these become clear. The extra bulk the Dispatch gained over the model it replaced is quickly forgotten when you take to the highways and byways. The driving position is much more MPV than panel van in that you sit lower, in a more laid-back position with your legs stretched out further in front of you more. It's still more upright than a conventional passenger car but on longer journeys, the comfort factor will be a welcome boost. It's easy to prop an elbow on the well-positioned arm rest and spend a couple of hours eating-up some miles. The seating position in the Dispatch is also perfect for drivers on multi-drop rounds or continually hopping about town. Entries and exits are easier than in both a car-derived van, where you need to hoist yourself out, and a panel van where it's a case of clambering down and up again when it's time to get back in. This might seem a small consideration but the strain it takes off your back over the course of a year's work could be worth a couple of shots off the golf handicap. On the whole, the Dispatch is one of the better drivers' vans out there. The steering is a little on the light side for high speed travel but well-weighted for urban driving. The firm suspension tackles corners adeptly and even with the high-roof bodystyle we tested, body-roll is well controlled. The gear change would be sharper in an ideal world but in general the Dispatch serves up a polished experience to whoever's behind the wheel aided by a driver's seat with height, reach, rake and lumbar adjustments. The full-height metal bulkhead shows the Dispatch in a better light as it eliminates much of the road and engine noise that echoes around the loadbay in models without one fitted. In general, the 120bhp 2.0-litre HDi engine is smooth once it gets into its stride and delivers a strong hit of performance. There is some lag if you get caught in the wrong gear, leaving the van floundering for a second or so while the revs build but once the torque starts to kick in, there's acceleration on tap. The official combined fuel consumption for our Dispatch is 39.2mpg and we've been getting mighty close to that. The test vehicle we've been out and about in came with a healthy quota of optional extras but they don't gloss over the basic quality of the Dispatch cabin. High standards of fit and finish are now being set in the small panel van segment but the Citroen can hold its own. The seating is supportive while the dash is neatly laid out and constructed from decent quality plastics. The huge dash-top area created by the sharply-angled windscreen is an inviting place to leave pens and paperwork but it'll soon slide off when you get moving. Instead, use the handy pot carved into the fascia above the glovebox or the wide door pockets. Small cubby holes also abound to swallow-up those little odds and ends. So, our first impressions of the Citroen Dispatch. It's essentially, a likable van that does things that bit differently from the majority of its rivals. Good to drive and comfortable over long journeys, it comes well-equipped and with a level of build quality that stands comparison with the German alternatives. Possible downsides could be those distinctive looks, the loose gearchange and the forward visibility for parking but there's nothing that's going to prevent the majority of van drivers from forming a fruitful working relationship with this model. Citroen's generous warranty and free SmartNav satellite navigation system should also help make it a big hit with the people who hold the purse strings at businesses up and down the country.
Facts at a Glance
Facts At A Glance VAN: Citroen Dispatch L2H2 120 ENGINES: 2.0HDi 120bhp DIMENSIONS: length/width/height 5135/2194/2276mm LOAD VOLUME: 7m3 GROSS VEHICLE WEIGHT: 2,963kg