Returning MPV trendsetter had six months to prove van-style people carriers still have a place on our roads alongside SUVs
Why we ran it: To see if the funky van-based MPV can recapture the simplicity, practicality and flexibility of the original
Life with a Citroen Berlingo: Month 6
Was this MPV as easy to live with as its ability to rack up miles would suggest? – 26 February 2020
There was never going to be a good time to hand back the keys to our Berlingo, was there? This humble MPV or, as Citroën likes to call it, leisure activity vehicle has slotted into my life more smoothly than any other long-term test car I can remember. And not just because of how easily it swallows the numerous flight cases and camera bags that I need to lug up and down the country for my job.
Over the course of almost 18,000 miles, it has shattered my preconceptions of van-based people carriers and proved just how car-like the driving experience can be when you aren’t making use of its cavernous rear stowage. Perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that it shares a platform with the Vauxhall Grandland X, Peugeot 5008 and DS 7 Crossback, but take one look at those boxy dimensions and it’s all too easy to jump to conclusions.
That’s certainly what my friends did when I bundled them into the back for a camping trip to Scotland. Claims it was nothing more than “a van with windows” that had “a whiff of Motability about it” were quickly silenced once it became clear that no-one was going to have to last 500 miles with a rucksack on his or her lap. The Modutop roof-mounted internal stowage isn’t perfect, with its translucent plastic looking a bit messy once you’ve loaded it with various bits and bobs, but it’s a genuinely clever storage option that puts most of your kit within quick reach. Plus, it creates an aircraft cabin vibe, which I really like. With the economical 1.5-litre diesel engine nudging 50mpg on a cruise, the trip was fairly light on my wallet as well.
From that point, it was regularly called into action for weekends away doing the kinds of ‘lifestyle activity’ that you see in all the brochures. The splashes of orange trim added by the XTR customisation pack certainly helped what could otherwise be considered a fairly innocuous car to stand out. Less picturesque were the trips that ended up as washouts, but I did at least discover that the tailgate doubles as a very effective umbrella.
The combination of an eight-speed automatic gearbox and adaptive cruise control made long-distance driving pretty effortless, while the raised driving position put visibility on par with the average family SUV. The Berlingo is about as big as one of those but even easier to place in car parks, thanks to its short overhangs, so for daily duties there was little to complain about. And despite appearances, I managed to find some fun on more challenging roads, too. I enjoyed the drama of pulling sports car-style paddle shifters, even if the humble 1.5-litre diesel engine doesn’t really reward you for doing so.
It was that kind of spirited driving that caused Berlingo’s only real fault: I managed to shake loose one of the headlights while chasing a Bowler Bulldog as part of our Britain’s Best Driver’s Car feature. While it proved a useful tracking car, thanks to its sliding side doors, the Citroën’s suspension was no match for the Bowler’s Bilstein shocks. It was a quick fix, though, that my local Citroën dealer did for free.
Any other downsides to report? Perhaps Citroën could do more to disguise the interior, forcing you to pay extra for a raised centre console if you aren’t a fan of the van-like open cockpit. And maybe some privacy glass would have disguised the bag that I forgot was tucked under the rear bench just a few weeks before the car was due to be returned, which led to a smashed window and a stolen wallet. But let’s be honest, I’m going to have to take the blame for that one.
Ultimately, it was never going to take driving the equivalent of two thirds around the world to work out that van dimensions, a huge rear door and a folding bench would make this car good for carrying things. But had you told me last year that I’d enjoy so many of those miles behind the wheel, I doubt I’d have believed you.
Labelling the MPV a dying breed is easy when the buying public have decided they prefer SUVs. But spend some time with one and it’s clear the Berlingo has the edge in practical terms, with modern styling going a long way to countering the stigma many still associate with these cars. You also get a lot for your money, with equally equipped, similar-size SUVs costing thousands more. According to our sister title What Car?, dealer discounts approaching £4000 off the list price of a Berlingo aren’t out of the question, either.
Tempted? I was. I don’t think I’ve ever come closer to phoning the press office and making an offer to buy a car rather than return it. Which, in the end, is as glowing a recommendation as I can give.
Citroën has done a great job of balancing the Berlingo’s practical nature with styling that doesn’t scream ‘van’. It’s modern, easy enough on the eye and better accepted as a daily driver than its Vauxhall Combo Life platform-mate, which looks better suited to a Royal Mail delivery depot than family life
Never-ending space It can carry five plus their luggage and still have room for everything a snapper could ever want for a shoot.
Easy cruiser Automatic gearbox and adaptive cruise control take away much of the stress of long motorway drives.
Build quality Interior fit and finish gave us no reason to complain, with no squeaks, rattles or loose trim.
Driver aids Easily tricked by old road markings and can be a bit too eager to wrestle you back into the centre of a lane
Towering tailgate It makes loading easy, but the huge rear door can mean restricted access depending on how you park.
Final mileage: 17,984
Life with a Citroen Berlingo: Month 5
A targeted attack – 29th January 2020
Being a photographer, I’m normally pretty security-conscious. But while emptying the Berlingo of my gear after a recent shoot, I didn’t notice a backpack that had fallen into a rear footwell. By the time I returned in the morning, someone had smashed a side window and made off with it, leaving a million bits of glass strewn inside. It’s now being repaired.
Citroën chose the options on our car but its keeper would make a few changes – 8th January 2020
The Berlingo’s odometer has flown up faster than any other long-term test car I’ve driven in recent memory, and not just because I’ve had a packed work diary.
I genuinely enjoy driving it and it’s ideal for my particular kind of long weekends – ones that typically involve a tent, some mountain bikes or a set of hiking backpacks. It’s no off-roader and our car doesn’t even have the optional Grip Control electronic traction system for trickier terrain, but it rides muddy tracks brilliantly. The Ferrari 488 I followed through some of the Peak District’s rougher roads didn’t look like it was having nearly as much fun.
Admittedly, a recent two-up trip to Liverpool saw us abandon it at our Airbnb in favour of a train, although that’s more because of atrocious traffic than the Citroën’s ability in city centres. Physically, it’s no larger than a typical family SUV and just as easy to position on the road.
It has also been rather kind to my wallet, indicating 45mpg on a cruise and needing only one 10-litre bottle of AdBlue (although I’m almost certainly due another very soon). There is an Eco mode but I rarely use it because the engine isn’t that strong when fully loaded and I wouldn’t want to artificially throttle it further.
There has been one trip to a Citroën dealer so far, to remedy a headlight that had somehow ended up pointing at the floor. It might have had something to do with the rather vigorous dips and bumps experienced on Wales’s more rural roads as part of our Britain’s Best Driver’s Car feature (lesson learned: a Berlingo can’t really keep up with a Bowler Bulldog) but the fix was done quickly and for free. That aside, there haven’t really been any faults at all.
Being told the date I would have to hand back the keys to Citroën was a real downer but it has got me thinking seriously about buying one myself when the time comes. While my mid-spec Flair largely hits the mark, there are a few things I’d change. The main one is the optional Modutop central overhead storage.
I love the head-height storage it creates when you open the tailgate but it does eat into the maximum available space, which could be a problem if you want a Berlingo for its load-lugging abilities. And although all your passengers can get to it easily enough, the clear plastic means you can see everything you put in it, so it’s hardly a way to de-clutter the cabin. What’s more, it blocks the view through the sunroof.
I’d also ignore the wireless smartphone charging option. It’s very slow on the phones that various passengers have tried it with and their phones got alarmingly hot in the process. You have to plug in to USB to use Android Auto or Apple CarPlay anyway and there’s a second USB port in the glovebox if your passenger needs to top up at the same time. Extra USBs in the rear or the boot would have been nice, but at least the 12V port lets you add a third-party adaptor to keep your gadgets juiced when pulling on your wellingtons or changing into a wetsuit. Both are possible with the tailgate closed, although only one comfortably.
The one thing I’d add? The raised centre console, which adds storage between the driver and passenger seats. There’s nothing but dead space without it and it makes the Berlingo feel more like a van than a car to drive. I was surprised it’s an optional extra but I understand why: it leaves leg room for the van version to fit three front seats. Considering Citroën is keen to pitch it as an SUV alternative, though, maybe this should come as standard and help disguise the Berlingo’s van-based roots just a little better.
Build quality More than 15,000 miles down and not a single rattle or piece of squeaky trim to report. What was that about French quality control?
Cabin dead space The floating centre console leaves a void between the driver and the passenger that Citroën expects you to pay to fill with a storage bin.
A bump where you wouldn’t expect – 24th December 2019
It’s hardly the season for windowdown driving, and however much being at the wheel of a van-based MPV might make you want to work on that trucker’s tan, I’ve resisted the urge to lean my arm out. In fact, the Berlingo discourages such behaviour, with a swooping design. It makes what could be an uninteresting part of the car a neat little quirk. L
Life with a Citroen Berlingo: Month 4
Safe stowage – 13th November 2019
Stowing a ladder can be precarious, in case it creeps into the cockpit and threatens to decapitate you at the hint of a left turn. No worries in the Berlingo, which can swallow one safely and securely. It meant I could take one eye off the rear-view mirror and get better acquainted with Apple CarPlay – a major step up over Citroën’s basic infotainment.
Long-term load-lugger was an unexpected handling-day star – 6th November 2019
When the road test desk settled on Anglesey Circuit for our upcoming Britain’s Best Driver’s Car 2019 track testing, it was with the assurance that it was chosen for the picturesque scenery and high-speed layout – definitely not for the five-and-a-half-hour drive it would take to get there. Fair enough if you’ve got the keys to one of the McLarens, Porsches or Lamborghinis that would be taking to the circuit, but an altogether less exciting prospect when your key fob carries a Citroën logo.
Admittedly, where a 911 might struggle to fit a fifth of the gear I’d need for a week shooting in Wales’ notoriously changeable weather, the Berlingo had room to spare. It’s also no stranger to the UK motorway network, having quickly clocked up the miles as my primary transport to various events and photoshoot locations up and down the country.
It’s these kinds of journey that have highlighted just how insistent the driver assistance systems can be, to almost distracting levels. Take lane keep assist: it’s not so much about lane positioning, which is largely on point, but more that it is easily fooled by painted-over road markings, or even ruts and grooves in the Tarmac. You can be perfectly placed in the centre of your lane, only to have it warn you of a non-existent line.
I understand the need for systems like this, but false positives and regular interruptions when they aren’t needed are enough to make you want to turn them all off, which kind of defeats the point.
Other parts of Citroën’s safety pack are more consistently useful, like the blindspot monitors that make up for less than perfect rear visibility when you’re riding five-up. This is also the box you need to tick at the dealership to add adaptive cruise control, in my opinion an essential addition if you do as many motorway miles as I do. It’s not overly sensitive to traffic joining your lane, and is easy enough to toggle on and off once you learn the control layout. The system gets a separate stalk beneath the indicator that can feel a little confusing at first if you’re used to steering wheel-mounted buttons.
I’d be lying if I said there was a queue to have a turn when I rolled up at Anglesey, but the Berlingo’s relaxed suspension meant it was a far better tracking car than any of the models there.
It truly proved its worth at the close of play, swallowing the entire crew for a post-event trip to the curry house. Drivers who had spent the day cocooned inside restrictive bucket seats loved the space in the back, where the presence of any kind of rear seat at all was something of a novelty, and the sedate ride was a world away from track-focused springs of the test cars.
Even with its orange trim panels, the Berlingo is never going to turn heads like a bright-green McLaren – but it does have a certain kind of charm. However out of place it might have seemed next to the hot metal (and carbonfibre) we’d gathered for the handling day, I was glad to have its unassuming looks and comfortable ride for the 300 miles home to London.
Eats motorway miles Largely comfy ride, auto ’box and adaptive cruise take out a lot of stress from long-distance driving.
Over-eager assistance When it works, driver assists are great, but it doesn’t take a lot to trick the system into unwanted action.
Life with a Citroen Berlingo: Month 3
The best kind of back end – 23rd October 2019
It might make rear access a bit tricky in a supermarket car park, but the Berlingo’s massive tailgate does give you somewhere to shelter during a torrential rain storm. With nowhere for water to pool before you tug it open, there’s no danger of your gear being soaked like there can be with a hatchback and the flip-up parcel shelf leaves space to sit and change your shoes once the downpour ends.
Passenger benefits from physical controls – 2nd October 2019
I’ve discovered another benefit to the Berlingo’s physical climate controls. Not only are they easier to find by touch than a touchscreen when you’re concentrating on the road ahead, but fussy passengers can change the temperature without also obscuring your navigation directions. In the C3 Aircross I drove last year, you had to leave the sat-nav just to add a few degrees.
Life with a Citroen Berlingo: Month 2
Which car to take on a Scottish camping trip? No need to Mull it over – 11th September 2019
Essentials for a camping trip to the Inner Hebrides at the height of summer? At least two gallons of midge repellent, on top of the three tents and bags of outdoorsy gear needed to keep four adults protected from the elements.
Usually packing the car for a week-long road trip like this can be a bit of a nightmare, as your Tetris skills are put to the test. And even then, your passengers often have to share their leg room with carrier bags packed with vegan sausage rolls or flasks filled with kombucha tea – or at least they do on my trips.
The Berlingo posed no such problems, thanks to a huge rear tailgate and more handy compartments dotted around the cabin than we had camping kit to put in them. I’d thought the handy lower slot for the removable parcel shelf to sit would be perfect for avoiding items at the bottom of the boot being buried under a pile of Gore-Tex, but the shelf didn’t enjoy the weight of our load – it’s better served hiding whatever you have stashed underneath it than as an extra place to stuff things.
I’ve done plenty of long-haul trips like this in ‘normal’ cars. If you’re sat in the back of one of those and taller than six foot, you’ll know how incredibly uncomfortable it can be – your knees end up raised closer to your ears than your feet, so all your weight sits on your pelvis instead of being distributed to your thighs. While you can’t adjust the Berlingo’s rear bench for leg room, there’s no real need to – there’s ample space back there for three sets of adult-sized heads and legs, without any complaining after 500 miles from London to Scotland.
The only issue we encountered was shutting those rear doors once you’re buckled up. While they’re incredibly practical for loading, they are quite hefty, and rather stiff to close while sat inside. It can be a bit of a stretch for smaller arms to reach the handle, too.
The real hero was the Modutop optional overhead storage bin, which is perfect for storing the essentials within easy reach while freeing up space in the cabin. On our long run up north it meant not having to pull over to rescue lunch from the boot, saving precious time when we had a ferry to catch.
Once we’d made it off the mainland, Citroën’s built-in navigation stopped getting around the Hebrides from becoming a chore. It lets you toggle certain points of interest – say camping grounds, tourist attractions, fuel stations and, usefully, ferry terminals. Being able to spot an opportunity to fill up wasn’t to be sniffed at, either, given how few and far between petrol stations were.
The Berlingo isn’t the most serene of motorway cruisers, with an upright front end and huge, van-style mirrors that don’t exactly carve the air smoothly. But while wind noise is unavoidable, it’s not like you have to crank the stereo to drown it out, or raise your voice just to have a conversation. It rides impressively well over bumps and broken Tarmac, too, given its sheer size and weight.
I’d worried an endurance drive like this would put me off long-distance journeys, but it’s done the opposite. Even after more than 1000 miles travelled and showers limited to any waterfalls we could find, everyone felt reasonably fresh by the end of the week.
Believe every TV ad you see and you’d think a 4×4 is the best way to fulfil any kind of outdoor pursuit. For me, the Berlingo feels like a more practical option. I rarely need to drive off road – the car just needs to get you to the National Trust car park and then the adventure starts on foot. Until the weather turns and proves otherwise, I’ll happily take the Citroën’s extra cabin space over an extra diff or higher ground clearance.
Unending storage The hardest part isn’t finding a space to store your bits – it’s remembering which of the copious oddment bins you put them in.
Towering tailgate You need to leave a huge amount of room at the rear when parking to have any hope of being able to open the rear hatch.
One feature shared with a supercar – 4th September 2019
The McLaren staff were amused it had them, but the Berlingo’s paddle shifters work pretty well on country roads. They’re better than leaving it in auto, which can be a little jerky when trying to second guess how much acceleration you’re after. Useful when there isn’t very much to begin with: you’d need five Berlingos to match one McLaren F1 for horsepower.
Life with a Citroen Berlingo: Month 1
Colour pack makes a real impact – 7th August 2019
The orange splashes around the front foglights and on the Airbump side panels are part of the XTR customisation pack and help to make the Berlingo more millennial-friendly than a van-based MPV might be. Even parked next to the new Toyota Supra, it’s rather easy on the eyes – and a lot more exciting than the Vauxhall Combo Life with which it shares a platform.
Our new arrival is big on space, and bigger still on oddball charm – 24th July 2019
Remember when SUVs weren’t the go-to choice for family transport? I do. England fans were wiping away tears after a heartbreaking Euro ’96 exit (on penalties, naturally), Dolly the Sheep proved cloning wasn’t just the domain of Jurassic Park and Citroën had just unleashed the original Berlingo on an unsuspecting public.
The genesis of the van-based MPV kicked off something of a revolution, and pretty soon every manufacturer had one of its own. It’s only recently, with the surging demand for SUVs, that they have fallen out of favour – but there’s no denying they remain one of the most practical types of car on our roads. And looking at the numbers, losing a few style points hasn’t been enough to put off customers.
Before this current-generation model arrived late last year, the Berlingo Multispace was Citroën’s second-best-seller worldwide behind the C3, and was the brand’s most popular model in 27 countries. If anything, the style-focused overhaul could broaden its appeal even further. Stick some surfboards on the roof rails and you might even call it fun – or at least that’s what the smiling models in Citroën’s brochure seem to be suggesting.
The next six months should give us time to find out if it is just as charming to drive as it is to look at – and whether it’s more than simply a van with windows.
I’m hoping the fact it shares its EMP2 platform not only with the Peugeot Rifter and Vauxhall Combo Life but also a selection of PSA SUVs including the Vauxhall Grandland X, Peugeot 5008 and DS 7 Crossback means it will stay closer to car-like sensibilities and less like a panel van with extra seats.
It’s for that reason we opted for the most potent diesel powertrain, a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder with 129bhp, and eight-speed automatic gearbox when speccing our Berlingo. It will be no stranger to regular long-distance driving, the extra grunt should make sure it has the torque to cope with heavy loads and the slushbox should take some of the strain out of my commute – even with the leisurely 11 seconds it takes to reach 62mph.
The all-new third-generation car can be had in extended-wheelbase XL form for the first time, but we’ve gone for the standard M model. It has five seats to the XL’s seven, and is 35cm shorter – but seeing as we’ll rarely need to park an extra two bums in the back, the M’s boot space should prove ample. It had better be, seeing as this Berlingo will be earning its keep transporting me between photography jobs.
So far, the sliding rear doors have proven infallible for loading my gear in crowded car parks – but then they had to be, seeing how the massive tailgate needs such a large amount of space to open. I’m already regretting not taking the option of an independently opening rear windscreen, even if it would have meant fielding constant requests from the video team to use it as a camera car.
But as much as it will be used for lugging equipment around to various shoots, this won’t be a series of reports detailing just how much room for flight cases there is in the rear. So let’s get that out of the way early, shall we?
To call the Berlingo spacious inside would be doing it a disservice – this is a cavernous car before you even get to the boot or think about laying the second-row seats down, with no fewer than 28 different storage bins and cubbies to stuff various bits and pieces throughout the cabin. Citroën says that equals 186 litres but, as you can never have enough places to put things, we’ve also optioned the Modutop roof-mounted storage box that can be accessed from the boot or back seats. At £750, it’s the most luxurious extra fitted to our test car, with the added benefit of ambient lighting giving the whole roof an ‘aircraft cabin’ kind of vibe.
Other luxuries include a wireless charging plate for my smartphone, the driver assist pack, which adds adaptive cruise control, and fetching Soft Sand metallic paint, bringing the total cost of our car to £26,545.
For your money, you get an interior that’s more inviting and comfort-minded than other van-style MPVs, and while it does without the extra seat padding found in Citroën’s more premium models, I’ve so far found the upright driving position comfortable enough. I’m a fan of the colourful upholstery, too – the mix of orange, grey and green is a lot more fun than the basic black trim normally found in cars like this.
The 8.0in infotainment system has so far proven quite comprehensive, if not the fastest to respond to pokes and prods, but it does at least play nicely with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Physical air conditioning controls get a thumbs up from me, too. Having to tap through the menus to change the temperature in the C3 Aircross we ran last year quickly got old.
First impressions are that the Berlingo will be perfectly suitable as a daily driver, even for those journeys when you really don’t need all the extra space it provides. As for the ones that do? I have plenty planned over the summer, to see if it really is the ‘leisure activity vehicle’ Citroën claims it to be.
I imagine that, dimensions aside, the Berlingo will quickly feel a lot more car-like than its PSA stable-mates. Having driven a lesser-equipped and much more utilitarian Vauxhall Combo Life recently, the Citroën has a far more relaxed and airy interior, thanks to a more jaunty dashboard layout and that giant sunroof letting light stream into the cabin. There’s a lot to be said for injecting a bit of personality into a category that’s mainly focused on practicality.
Citroen Berlingo M Flair BlueHDI 130 specification
Prices: List price new £24,950 List price now £25,010 Price as tested £26,545 Dealer value now £18,700 Private value now £17,400 Trade value now £15,450 (part exchange)
Options:Metallic paint £545, Drive Assist Pack £200, Modutop £750, Smartphone charging plate £100
Fuel consumption and range: Claimed economy 50.3mpg Fuel tank 50 litres Test average 44.6mpg Test best 48.3mpg Test worst 38.7mpg Real-world range 491 miles
Tech highlights: 0-62mph 11.0sec Top speed 114mph Engine 1499cc, four-cyls, turbocharged diesel Max power 129bhp at 3750rpm Max torque 221lb ft at 1750rpm Transmission 8-spd automatic Boot capacity 775/1414 litres litres Wheels 16in, alloy Tyres 205/60 16H Kerb weight 1430kg
Service and running costs: Contract hire rate £270.13 CO2 146g/km Service costs none Other costs none Fuel costs £2104 Running costs inc fuel £2104 Cost per mile 11 pence Depreciation £9560 Cost per mile inc dep’n 63 pence Faults Drooping headlight