Citroen Berlingo long-term review
Returning MPV trendsetter has six months to prove van-style people carriers still have a place on our roads alongside SUVs
*Why we’re running it: *To see if the funky van-based MPV can recapture the simplicity, practicality and flexibility of the original
-Month 4 - Month 3 - Month 2 - Month 1 - Specs-
-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.
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*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.
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-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.
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*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.
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-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 4x4 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.
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*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.
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-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.
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*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.
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-Citroen Berlingo M Flair BlueHDI 130 specification-
*Specs: Price New* £24,950 *Price as tested* £26,545 *Options *Metallic paint £545, Drive assist pack £200, Modutop roof £750, Smartphone charging plate £100
*Test Data: Engine* 4-cyls, 1499cc, turbocharged diesel *Power* 129bhp at 3750rpm *Torque* 221lb ft at 1750rpm *Kerb weight* 1430kg *Top speed* 114mph *0-62mph* 11.0sec *Fuel economy* 65.7mpg *CO2* 114g/km *Faults* None *Expenses* None
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