By Andy Enright
For all the efforts of van makers to create ever-larger medium-sized LCVs, for many businesses, there's no substitute for something at the larger end of the spectrum. In which case, there's a choice of just four basic designs. Ford's Transit of course. Or the VW Crafter/Mercedes Sprinter package. Then there's the Renault Master/Vauxhall Movano collaboration. And finally, the design we look at here that, as well as Peugeot and Fiat models, has brought us this van, Citroen's Relay. Here's what to look out for when buying used.
Panel van (2.2, 3.0 diesel)
Citroen doesn't have quite as much success in this sector as it does with selling more compact vans. So when this generation Relay was first launched in 2007, considerable effort went into making sure that it could match or beat its fiercest rivals in every respect. Even features like satellite navigation were included as standard. When it was launched, the Relay was offered with a choice of four body lengths, three roof heights and a spread of 110PS, 130PS and 150PS 2.2-litre turbodiesel engines and a 3.0-litre turbodiesel with 180PS. All of these engines meet Euro 5 emissions standards and are among the cleanest in their class. By the time it was due to be updated in 2014, the Relay was still offered with 2.2 or 3.0-litre diesels, but power had actually gone down on both engine sizes in order to hit emissions targets. This clearly wasn't a sustainable way of doing business and the 2014 replacement did a better job with its upgraded 2.2-litre diesel unit.
What You Get
Pricing is much the same as you would for obvious rivals like Ford's Transit or Peugeot's Boxer but a little less than you'd be looking at for say, a Volkswagen Transporter. There's obviously a wide range of body sizes available - four lengths, three wheelbases and three roof heights, if you're counting - and these allow a range of load volumes that extend from 8 m3 up to a truly sizeable 17 m3. The Relay can manage some seriously hefty cargos as well, with gross vehicle weights extending up to 4 tonnes. This one grosses at 3 tonnes, has a 3,000mm wheelbase and could handle a gross payload of 1155kg. In addition to the various loadbay options, there are window van models (minibuses to you and I), single or double cab options and combi minibuses as well as the usual factory-built conversions that create chassis cab, crewcab, tipper, dropside and Luton derivatives. A major selling point is that all Relay models feature Trafficmaster satellite navigation as standard that not only gets you there but guides you round jams whilst it's doing it, plus there's Trackstar that will track your van if it's stolen to help recover it. All models also feature an overspeed warning to help drivers stay within the limit, plus there's an optional speed limiter that makes breaking it impossible. Automatic headlamps and wipers are standard, as are these big twin-lensed electrically operated and heated door mirrors. Other common Relay items include a multi-function trip computer, remote central locking with deadlocks that allows you to lock and unlock the cab and load area separately and activates once the vehicle is moving, a CD player with steering wheel-mounted controls, electric windows and 12v power sockets in both the cab and the load bay. More generous previous owners might well have loaded on extra cost items like a reversing camera, climate control and Bluetooth 'phone connectivity. Safetywise, you only get a driver's airbag in the basic tally, but you can specify passenger, side and curtain 'bags from the options list.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The Relay has a solid reliability record but it does have quite an insatiable appetite for the drop links that connect the anti-roll bar to the suspension wishbone. These tend to wear out after about 20,000 miles, but fortunately they're neither expensive nor particularly tricky to replace. 20,000 miles also seems to be the average life of a Relay clutch, so check for any slipping or juddering. The rear number plate light has a habit of going on the blink, so check this is working. If not, there may be an issue with the rear wiring loom and this will be a £400 fix. Central locking systems can also fail too, as can the sliding door buzzer which can buzz even when the door is firmly shut. If the engine is being started from cold, watch out for blue/black smoke from the exhaust. If the engine then idles roughly or suffers intermittent power dips, that's likely to be a faulty exhaust gas recirculation valve.
(approx based on a 2012 2.2 Relay HDi) Suspension drop links are around £15 each from a third-party motor factor. An exhaust gas recirculation valve will set you back around £350, while a faulty door buzzer will be around £200 to fix. A set of front brake discs will set you back £85. An air filter is £12 and an oil filter £14.
On the Road
Like all vans in this class, the Relay requires quite a climb up into the cab, which means that the driver has great panoramic views of the road ahead. Beneath your right foot, you've a choice of two very different common rail HDi four cylinder 16-valve diesel engines. First, there's the 2.2-litre version, usually offering a choice of either 100 or 120bhp, with enough grunt to haul a braked trailer grossing a 2000kg. If that isn't enough, there's a 3.0-litre HDi model generating a meaty 157bhp in Euro 5 guise. While the two most powerful units are mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox, the entry-level 100bhp powerplant must make do with a 5-speed transmission. That 100bhp model also does without variable assistance for the power steering to keep it light in town and heavier on the highway. Even with this feature in place, some drivers may find the helm a little light on the open road but there's certainly no issue around town where this van can make light work of tricky urban situations with a tight 10.8m turning circle between kerbs. On longer trips, you'll notice that this isn't the quietest LCV of its kind: the standard fitment of a bulkhead behind the driver's seat would help a great deal to alleviate this. Suspension is something of a Citroen speciality - and not only in its passenger cars. Here, for example, there's the option of replacing the simple single leaf spring rear suspension set-up with a double-leaf layout if you've going to be regularly carrying heavier loads - or even a pneumatic self-levelling system. Whichever you choose, the Relay handles very neatly, remaining composed in the corners and smooth on the straights. If it does get away from you, there's ABS as standard with Brake Assist to make it more effective, while ESP stability control is optional.
The Relay has done more than any Citroen van in recent times to bring commercial buyers to the fold. It's big, honest and keenly-priced. Yes, there are a few niggly faults you have to watch out for when buying used, but that's the case with most vans in this class. They lead hard lives. The Relay is at its best in more powerful 2.2-litre guise, preferably one of the later Euro-5 compliant models. It's not expensive and some will note that you get what you pay for, but if you don't want big financial exposure on your commercial vehicle, you could do a lot worse than the Relay.