Nine-seater large MPVs were essentially mini-buses until cars like Citroen's Dispatch Combi came along. Having tried this huge People Carrier, Jonathan Crouch thinks a growing family could very happily live with it.
Ten Second Review
If you're going to get a large MPV, then there's a great argument for doing the job properly and getting one with van-like dimensions. Better still perhaps, getting one originally developed as a van, providing it's acceptably car-like to drive. Something, indeed, like Citroen's Dispatch Combi. It shares its design with Fiat's Scudo Panorama and Peugeot's Expert Tepee but is slightly more affordably priced, with room for up to nine people and their luggage. Try getting all that in a conventional large MPV.
What's refreshing about Citroen's marketing for the Dispatch Combi is that it doesn't pretend the vehicle to be anything other than a Dispatch van with seats and windows fitted. This Dispatch, like its predecessor and its bigger brother the Relay, is a product of Peugeot Citroen's alliance with Fiat and features a steeply raked windscreen, a huge front bumper and dramatically elongated headlamps. The styling themes are definitely more Peugeot than Citroen with the large front overhang and the bonnet that rises at the edges before easing up into the A-pillars. Half close your eyes, stand on your head and on a foggy morning, you could almost mistake it for a 407. The Dispatch Combi model is offered in either of two loadlengths (L1 and L2) with either six or nine seats.
Alright, so the Dispatch Combi isn't going top be the first port of call for those MPV buyers looking for a sparkling driving experience. Unless your work vehicle is a London bus, the Dispatch Combi isn't going to feel especially lively, especially if you opt for the 1.6 HDi 90 entry-level version. Load it to the gunwales with passengers and related gubbins and you'll probably want the more powerful of the two 2.0-litre HDi diesel engines if you're to make anything other than stately progress. On the open road, the Dispatch Combi is very pleasant to drive, with the suspension taking care of the bumps admirably and the electrically assisted steering being light and accurate. This vehicle corners with good body control for such a high-sided vehicle and the braking is assured with ABS and EBD as standard. The 2.0-litre engines both feature second generation HDi diesel technology and that means torque of 300Nm or 320Nm for the 120 and 136bhp models respectively, all generated at a lowly 2,000rpm. Refinement is acceptable although there is inevitably quite a degree of wind noise and you'll notice crosswinds when motorway cruising. The suspension setup is a fairly rudimentary arrangement of struts up front and a torsion beam at the back and there is some bump and thump overt city potholes as a result.
Design and Build
The Dispatch Combi is all about space and a lot of it. The eternal problem with MPV-style vehicles is that once you've loaded them with all the family, there's nowhere to put the luggage. I drove one such vehicle recently where when it was configured in seven seat mode there was not even enough space behind the rearmost seats to carry a modestly sized briefcase. Inexcusable, really. That's certainly not the case with the Dispatch Combi. Specify it in entry-level 6-seat guise and even the regular wheelbase model has enough space back there for enterprising estate agents to slap a For Rent sign on it. Inside, the light grey plastics aren't of the soft-touch variety but they do seem tough and the layout of the controls is largely conventional with all the important stuff sited on the steering column itself. For storage there are narrow door pockets, a large pot in front of the passenger and a small glovebox but you might need that third front seat to sit larger items on. The overhead shelf increases the oddment space available but you have to reach up and feel about blindly for anything you've put in there, so leave that box of roofing tacks in the glovebox.
Market and Model
The basic question you'll need to answer before buying a Dispatch Combi is why you should do so rather than going for an apparently almost identical Fiat Scudo Panorama or Peugeot Expert Tepee. It's a rather complicated question to answer as trims vary between the three. Realistically, most buyers are going to want the nine-seater longer bodied version with one of the 2.0-litre HDi diesel engines. With Citroen, you're not getting bad value for money considering that the cheapest Chrysler Grand Voyager - the closest 'purpose built' MPV to the Dispatch Combi's monster luggage capacity - will run you well over that price. At the end of the day, it comes down to the deal on the table rather than list prices when it comes to choosing between the various brands.
Cost of Ownership
There will always be buyers who need a vehicle capable of hauling a big family and all their paraphernalia but the fact remains that these customers are often among the most cash strapped and have other diversions for their cash. Other than a questionable depreciation performance, the Dispatch Combi turns in some decent results. All three engines are respectably economical and the combination of long-legged six-speed gearboxes and huge 80-litre fuel tanks gives the Dispatch Combi some real reach when it comes to distance between top ups. Emissions are amazingly good too, the 120bhp version emitting 194g/km of carbon dioxide and the 136bhp engine only slightly worse at 196g/km.
Practicalities and Costs
Citroen seems to have addressed all the main areas of cost that operators may be worried about. The diesel engines on offer are frugal and the specification is comprehensive, leaving no need for the expensive forays into the options list that some rivals demand.
A few years ago, we could never have recommended that any parent consider a van with windows. However, as light commercial vehicles have become progressively more car-like, that has all changed. I used this car to transport a family of five, plus three large bikes (all contained inside the car), something I could never have done in any conventional large MPV. For that kind of versatility, I'm prepared to put up with some driveability compromises, though interestingly, there aren't too many - as long as you opt for the 2.0-litre HDi engine in one of its forms. Who cares if it doesn't look particularly sassy or that it won't corner like a BMW? That's not what you buy a vehicle of this kind for. Being sensible has a lot to be said for it.