"Offers everything a small business user like us needs - with nothing we don't.."
It was with all this in mind that we thought long and hard before selecting the right van for the task. Given the amount of urban driving we'd need to do, we didn't want anything too large. Yet the vehicle would also have to carry enough equipment for a production team, so it would have to have a large payload. Eventually, after plenty of heated discussion, we settled on the van we've been clocking up the miles in over the last twelve months - Citroen's latest generation Dispatch. Upon delivery, opinions were divided as to whether you could call this vehicle good-looking 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. One of the reasons why we felt so comfortable in choosing the Dispatch was down to the positive experience we'd had in running this model's predecessor. The improvements over that van are instantly apparent virtually everywhere you look. This Dispatch is a much bigger vehicle and that's especially evident in the long wheelbase 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 would have been lost in translation with the move to a bigger replacement. Not so. You quickly get used to the extra bulk and it's not really that much more awkward to position than a smaller Berlingo.
All right, so 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 though, 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. The extra bulk the Dispatch gained over the model it replaced is even more 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 has been 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, Ginsters pasty in hand for the authentic van-man look. 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, our range of drivers agree that 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. Overall, as you've probably picked up if you've read this far, we've been impressed with our Dispatch. It does everything it should do to an extremely high standard, offering everything a small business user like us needs - with nothing we don't. Will we be getting another? Don't bet against it.
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