The new Citroen Berlingo M Feel 1.5 BlueHDi 100 reviewed
26 October 2018
Cargo and combat trousers, rucksacks, compartmentalised lunchboxes and the like may lack relative style but are often held in high regard by their users, seemingly superfluous pockets within pockets or other features coming into their own at times. Similarly, Citroën’s Berlingo, which has now achieved iconic status, could never be described as trendy and desirous to the eyes, but has melted the hearts of hordes of families and holidaymakers since it was introduced as a ‘van with extra seats and windows’ twenty-two years ago.
Having been given a family face closely resembling the stylish C3 Aircross, new C4 Cactus and SpaceTourer, the third generation Citroën Berlingo now looks truly stylish from the front three-quarters for the first time in its existence, with an air of classiness about it that easily eclipses a rival like the FIAT Doblo. Along the side and at the rear, though, Citroën’s ‘leisure activity vehicle’ proudly and admittedly divisively retains its boxy van image that stays largely unchanged with the usual sliding doors, but the brand’s Airbump panels have now been added, which do visually elevate it. Tinted windows enhance the Berlingo’s otherwise basic styling but weren’t fitted to the Feel guise test mule, which also came with 16″ steel wheels with ‘Twirl’ trims and looked smart in Soft Sand Metallic.
After climbing aboard this airy, spacious and ridiculously practical car, Berlingo virgins will immediately be struck with the feeling of being sat inside a lofty bungalow on wheels. Would-be SUV drivers’ interest may be piqued by the car’s ride height feeling similar to that of a common or garden faux-by-four like the Hyundai Tucson or Renault Kadjar, making the infinitely more spacious and practical Berlingo a worthy contender if ground clearance and off-road ability aren’t actually called for.
The materials used throughout the expansive cabin certainly aren’t plush, with plenty of hard plastics to be found, but echoing the Berlingo’s ethos, they will undoubtedly prove sturdy and stand up to years of enthusiastic use from children and others.
Ergonomics are strong, with all primary and even many secondary controls within intuitive and comfortable reach, from the air con’ settings to the stylish-looking 8-inch infotainment touchscreen. It has a likeable interface for controlling multimedia systems like Bluetooth and audio, along with sat nav courtesy of Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink mirroring, which will at least ensure that maps will remain current.
In 5-seater ‘M’ guise as tested, as opposed to XL models that come with 7 seats, the sliding doors provide abundantly wide and convenient access to the back seats and the boot alike, which is just as well because the tall and hence long tailgate feels unwieldy and simply can’t itself be opened unless there’s a couple of paces of space left behind the vehicle. Fortunately, Citroen has enabled the back window to be hinged open separately, improving matters. All-round space in the front is excellent, while rear passengers will find legroom more than adequate and headroom particularly palatial, complemented by a great view out through the boxy windows.
Boot space has actually grown by 100 litres compared to the previous Berlingo, with 775 litres to the window line/parcel shelf now provided, and there’s no awkward lip to navigate, making loading all manner of items into the appealingly boxy boot a doddle. An incredible 4,000 litres of luggage space is opened up by lowering the back seats, and it has a maximum laden weight of 2,060kg. It’s a slight shame that the Berlingo’s boot doesn’t come with hooks, nets and other storage solutions of SKODA’s Simply Clever ilk either as standard or as options, but the Berlingo’s cabin as a whole offers a bewildering array of stowage features totalling 186 litres, from storage under the seats and behind the steering wheel and an air conditioned secondary glovebox, to overhead shelves and abundant oddment cubbies, giving this practical Gallic gem somewhat of an aeroplane vibe. You do get four fixing rings and a 12V socket in the boot, plus a reassuring steel spare wheel instead of a spray can of gunk.
Turn the key rather than press a button and the 100bhp 1.5-litre HDi diesel engine fires into life with a reassuring thrum, which is manifest somewhat charmingly through the first three of the five-speed ‘box’s gears and under firm acceleration at higher speeds. Driving purists will be pleased at the fitment of a traditional handbrake, while mounting the gearstick on the dashboard is a commendable move. It’s not the slickest transmission in a physical sense but the ratios are well-judged and the rapport it has with the engine is very pleasant indeed.
Driver engagement and rapid pace can never be expected from the Berlingo experience, but combined with a well-natured clutch, typically French suspension tuned for comfort that does a very respectable job at dealing with lumps and bumps, plus light if admittedly slightly lifeless steering, it’s far from miserable and even serves up occasional flashes of enjoyment. Part of this is owing to the elevated seating position and excellent all-round visibility courtesy of abundant windows and atlas-sized wing mirrors, the chunky B-pillar just restricting junction views at times. The turning circle is impressive and the brakes are just right, neither overly sharp nor squidgy, but due to its height the Berlingo does roll in corners, a feeling that is amplified by the slight lack of seat bolstering.
At motorway speeds, the non-stop-start 1.5-litre diesel BlueHDi 100 engine isn’t the quietest on the planet as you’d expect from a vehicle that doesn’t hide its van roots despite having become somewhat more car-like in this latest generation, and overtaking plus uphill driving require a fair few gear changes, but the standard audio system sounds surprisingly impressive, so long family journeys to Cornwall or Scotland should prove perfectly pleasant. After around 300 miles of very mixed driving, the trip computer showed an average of 57.6mpg, which is pretty good considering the engine had covered fewer than 2,000 miles, achieving closer to its 65.7mpg cited average not feeling an impossible task with more prodigious gear-changes and lighter throttle use. What’s more, the fuel gauge still showed half a tank remaining, translating to a remarkable range of around 650 miles if mainly driven with two people on board and no millstones or flat-pack wardrobe kits in transit.
The new Berlingo people-carrier is a safe family vehicle, too, with features like the Lane Departure Warning system that alerts the driver and then corrects the steering, auto activation of the hazard warning lights, speed limit recognition and three isofix child seat anchorages as standard. Safety upgrades from a reversing camera with top rear vision, trailer stability control and flankguard, to a cornering light function and blind spot monitoring are also available.
Company car fleet managers along with small business owners and personal contract hire customers leasing a Berlingo on a budget will be particularly interested in this £19,600 variant’s 112g/km CO2 emissions and 27% BIK tax, and in knowing that the 1.5 100 HDi unit is Euro 6.2 compliant. With PCH prices kicking off at around £200/month with 9 months up-front and averaging around the £250 mark with 3 months’ initial rental, the latest version of France’s stalwart is generally a more affordable prospect than a comparable FIAT Doblo, which has similar boot space, and indeed the less spacious Vauxhall Combo Life, before even considering pricier but car-based alternatives like the Ford S-Max.
While few car leasing customers will dribble into their pillows dreaming of life at the helm of the new Berlingo, which remains very much a van with comfy passenger features added, it’s an uncannily practical and helplessly likeable MPV that trounces many ‘rivals’ for sheer space for five people (in this case) and stacks of luggage. Despite today’s widespread sentiments, diesel is definitely recommended to prevent the fellow from running out of puff when half or fully laden, and while the ultimate Berlingo is the more powerful 130PS unit with an 8-speed ‘automatic’ gearbox, the HDi 100 5-speed copes in most situations.
Just like convertible cargo trousers, the Berlingo may lack the glamour of skinny jeans but leaves other vehicles caught short in terms of real-world usability, and its honest approach is to be admired.