Citroen’s Berlingo fronts up to the Renault Kangoo

Until Volkswagen entered its Caddy into the light commercial market the segment was pretty thin on the ground. It’s arrival created a justification for small vans that has grown annually, although, ironically, because of the exposure of VW’s acknowledged flouting of global emissions levels, it no longer at this stage can offer a diesel-engined alternative.

There have of course been earlier contenders in the small-van category, and, if you head back in time, the Daihatsu Handy with its three-cylinder engine lived up to its name pretty well. It’s failings came in the form of it being a little short on comfort, plus a little short on power.

While Daihatsu was struggling to survive in the Australian market, Suzuki was shifting up from the similarly sized Carry, which lost its bonnet and morphed into the APV. To its credit, the Suzuki APV remains in contention and manages to maintain third ranking (293 units (YTD August 2016), after Caddy as market leader (1154) and with the Renault Kangoo in second place (732). The Fiat Doblo in fifth position registered 90 sales.

In 2015, the small-van segment comprised total sales of 3899 units, and this year it’s pretty much on track to replicate the same figures with five contenders instead of six, the Peugeot Partner having been dropped by the importer.

As the winner of the small-van category of Delivery Magazines annual awards for two consecutive years, the Renault Kangoo sets a very high level for competitors.

Both the Berlingo and the Kangoo under evaluation here were the extended-body versions, powered by four-cylinder, 1.5-litre diesel engines with manual transmissions.

Citroen does offer a six-speed automated manual (AMT) in the long-body, but it’s rather horrible in its ability to shift gears. Renault is looking to introduce a twin-clutch version of an AMT in 2017, which may be equally horrible. Delivery’s view is that AMTs do not work well in light vehicles and that a full fluid automatic with a torque converter is still the best alternative, even if the vehicle manufacturers hold a different view.

There is a world of difference in power and torque outputs, with Citroen offering 66 kW at 4000 rpm and 215N m at 1500 rpm against the Renault, which stumps up with 81 kW at 4000 rpm and 240 Nm of torque rated at 1750 rpm. Increasing the difference as well, is the number of gears in the manual transmission, with Berlingo having five ratios and Renault featuring six in the ‘box.

If you have little intention in racking up extensive distances in your small van, there’s a petrol engine available in each model, but only in the short-wheelbase versions.

Both are 1.6-litre, transverse mounted, four-cylinder units driving the front wheels, with Citroen’s producing 80 kW at 5800 rpm and 147 Nm at 4000 rpm against the Renault at 79 kW at 6000 rpm and 148 Nm at 3750 rpm. For Citroen and Renault the transmission is five-speed manual, but Kangoo can also offer a four-speed automatic.

When cargo volume is under consideration, the small versions offer 3.3 cu.m versus 3.0 cu.m (Citroen vs. Renault), with the longer-bodied alternatives increasing to 3.7 cu.m and 4.0 cu.m. There is extra space to be gained by folding forward the passenger seat, but for a general comparison we are sticking to the standard usable interior measurements. In terms of cargo floor length, the short and the long of it for Citroen is 1800 and 2050 mm compared to the Renault at 1476 and 1862 mm.

While small vans do tend to look similar, when you start delving into the dimensions the differences start to show. In terms of overall length the Berlingo comes in at 4380 mm and 4638 mm, against the Kangoo at 4213 mm and 4597 mm. There are also variations in payload, with Berlingo offering 850 kg for the short body and 750 kg for the long body, and Kangoo offering 611 kg versus 831 kg.

Although the differences in terms of engine performance look quite large on paper, when driving either model the general impression is that the diesel engines are more than capable, with smooth power and torque delivery and very pleasant, easy shifting manual gearboxes. In both cases the gear lever sprouts off the centre of the dashboard and is easy to reach and positive in gear selection.

Citroen has stayed with the simple philosophy that a small load carrier is just a box on wheels, whereas Renault is also offering a rear seat in the top spec version in addition to the bare box principle.

Renault Kangoo Interior

The Kangoo Maxi Crew really is the jewel in the Renault product line-up, simply because the design is more clever than any other vehicle in this category.

Versatility from the inclusion of a split rear seat in twin and single-seat configuration is brilliant, as either or both sections of the seats fold forward into the footwell to present a totally flat floor. Access to the seats through the sliding doors on either side is also excellent, and the seats fold up or down easily and efficiently.

What this design means is that a courier can use the cargo space during the day, even able to accept a pallet in through the rear barn doors, which fold out after releasing the check straps. The distance between wheelarches is 1218 mm in the Kangoo, just beaten by the Berlingo at 1230 mm.

It has to be said that from a dimensional and styling perspective the Berlingo looks better than the Kangoo, although the Kangoo certainly feels the more sophisticated design in terms of ride comfort, interior noise levels, handling and general appeal.

What makes the difference here though is versatility, and on that basis the Kangoo Maxi Crew wins the accolades, particularly where an employee is permitted to use the vehicle for daily travel to work or at weekends. When away from work hours, the ability to flick up the second row of seats and increase its carrying ability for three more passengers is what tips the scales in its favour.

Just finally, there’s no reason to believe that light commercials are not bristling with safety features. As both these models demonstrate, expect dual airbags, ABS with emergency brake assist, electronic stability control and traction control. Bluetooth phone connectivity is standard and there are options such as integral sat/nav systems, hill start control, Apple car play, touchscreen actuation and even voice control of the various functions to keep the techno-savvy comfortable.

At the end of the day, check the spec that you want, the engine and transmission you need, the various additional options you’d like, and then go price shopping. Remember that, whichever you choose, the objective was to carry a load and benefit your business.

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