Citroen's Nemo has proven to be one of the best selling compact vans and the latest versions aim to keep things that way. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Citroen Nemo van is small enough to make light of the city traffic but can still carry a decent amount. A highly economical diesel engine is the icing on the cake for a product that, if it fits the bill, will be plenty good enough for most operators. The option of an EGS automated gearbox, a Stop and Start system and improved equipment keeps the Nemo at the top of its game.
The idea of a small van might at first seem somewhat counterintuitive as the reason for a van's existence is to get more gear in it more of the time than a passenger vehicle. Citroen has clearly demonstrated that there's a booming market for tiny vans. It's Berlingo was its first foray into the compact sector, and that has been quickly followed by the Nemo. A reshuffle of the Citroen commercial vehicle range has made space for the Nemo rather than any ground-breaking design innovation on the manufacturer's part. The latest Citroen Berlingo compact van has grown in capacity, nuzzling-up beneath the Despatch panel van and that shift left a space below, which the Nemo neatly fills. The model's bijou dimensions means it sits in close proximity to the Berlingo First model which is actually the old Berlingo soldiering on as an uncomplicated budget option. The Nemo might have been a big seller but times change and the Nemo has had to shape up to remain competitive.
One of the advantages of a modest size and weight is that you don't need a big engine to move it. The Nemo is offered with a 1.4-litre 75bhp petrol unit, but by far the preferable option is the 1.3-litre diesel. This delivers the same 75bhp power output but masses more torque. A 660kg payload allowance will put some demand on the engine, especially when hill starting, so the 190Nm torque figure of the diesel is clearly preferable to the petrol unit's 118Nm figure. The Nemo mounts its gear lever on the dash as is the fashion these days and the snappy, short-throw action is fun to operate. Citroen now offers the option of an innovative Electronic Gearbox System - an advanced automated manual gearbox. This combines the fuel efficiency of a manual 'box with the driver benefit of a two pedal automatic. The EGS gearbox enables the driver to select automatic mode, or manual mode using the sequential shift facility of the central gear selector. Neither Nemo is earth-shatteringly quick but the chance to approach the speed limit has become a rare luxury in the areas where it's designed to work, so that shouldn't be a big concern. The Nemo has independent front suspension, while at the rear is the old commercial vehicle standard transverse beam. The set-up works well helping to give the Nemo the lively and energetic feel on the road that the latest supersized Berlingo has partially lost. The downside is that the Nemo is less comfortable a proposition on the open road, but around town its short overhangs and teeny dimensions make it highly manoeuvrable. The turning circle is super-tight at under 10 metres kerb to kerb.
Design and Build
Although styling might not seem less of a priority than sorting out the balance sheet to a business owner, good looks haven't hurt the Nemo's chances. In fact, many small urban businesses require a signwritten vehicle that projects a certain corporate image and the Nemo looks cheeky and unthreatening. The bumpers, the wheelarches and even the windscreen dome outwards and along with the wide track, this creates a squat, planted stance. The inherent chunkiness also suggests the Nemo is a tough customer and there's not much to dissuade you from that opinion on the inside. The design is simple and the materials robust but storage could be more generous. Space is adequate for driver and passenger but larger occupants might find it a little confined during a long day at the wheel. The Nemo measures just 3,860mm in length but uses its interior space to full effect in offering a 2.5 cubic metre load volume and a 610kg maximum payload. The space itself is usefully square and a ladder frame bulkhead protects the rear of the driver's seat. Choose the optional Extenso folding passenger seat and that load volume can be increased to 2.8 cubic metres with the load length increased from 1,520mm to 2.5mm; ideal for pipes, planks of wood or other long items.
Market and Model
The Citroen Nemo is offered in three trim levels. The entry-level X model features an MP3-compatible CD stereo, a trip computer, ABS brakes, a driver's airbag and pre-tensioner seatbelts. The LX adds the sliding side door on the nearside, electric front windows, remote central locking, the folding passenger seat and heated electric mirrors. Air-conditioning is an option, as are a Bluetooth hands-free kit and rear parking sensors. At the top of the Nemo range is the Enterprise model which is fitted with air conditioning, parking sensors and a dual-function Connecting Box, which includes Bluetooth and a USB socket. This equipment replaces the previous solus Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity feature on this model. The Connecting Box is also available as an option on Nemo LX vans. With the Berlingo First model still soldiering on, the bottom of Citroen's LCV line-up looks decidedly crowded. Citroen has proved itself to have a steady hand on the LCV marketing tiller, however, growing the business consistently in recent years. It would be a brave person who bets against the firm's judgement in this instance.
Practicalities and Costs
The load bay is accessed via the Nemo's asymmetrically-hinged rear doors that open to 180 degrees. The resulting aperture is respectably broad and tall with a low loading height to help when hauling heavy items inside. There's a lip between the bumper and the load floor which can make heaving cargo in slightly problematic and the sliding side doors are fairly narrow but lashing eyes and the uniform shape of the compartment count in the plus column. Given its size, the Nemo is an extremely practical proposition. The Citroen Nemo HDi LX with the EGS gearbox and standard Stop & Start system provides even better fuel economy and lower emission figures than those achieved by the Nemo HDi vans with five-speed manual transmission. CO2 emissions for the EGS model are reduced by 3.54% to just 109g/km from the manual transmission model's 113g/km. Its exceptional fuel economy figures are also even better than those of the manual transmission van with 60.1mpg Urban (+7.82%), 74.3mpg Extra Urban (unchanged) and 68.9mpg Combined (+4.64%). All of the Nemo's engines are Euro5 complaint.
In truth, the Citroen Nemo didn't need too much doing to it for it to retain its strong market position. While it didn't at first fit in with the conventional structure of the light commercial vehicle market, times have changed and demand has remained strong even in a testing financial climate. With more traffic and heavier tax burdens, the Nemo is becoming ever more relevant. The smaller end of the Citroen van range offers more choice than ever with the Nemo's presence. Its pleasantly chunky styling, nimble driving experience and surprisingly generous capacities will all help to persuade any doubters. By beefing up the equipment levels and improving efficiency with the option of a sequential manual gearbox and a Stop & Start system, Citroen has merely given the opposition even more to contend with. Underestimate the Nemo at your cost.