Gauloises, Gitanes and Cognac

Citroën’s Berlingo is delightfully French

The French started making Gauloises cigarettes back in 1910, and for over a century these smelly sticks of tobacco, together with the beret and the baguette, symbolised all that was typically Gallic.

Disregarding why anyone would actually want to smoke anyway, most of the things that come out of France have a certain element of unique style or downright quirkiness. The French have a way of adding small designer accessories that transform something mundane into something very chic, and their cars very often have the same trait.

Citroën is one such maker, and, although it continues to live to a certain extent off its ancestry of being the first carmaker to popularise self-levelling hydraulic suspension, it can still pull something unique out of the box for road use.CitroenBerlingo_2_H1_HDi_Engine_001

Our case study this week for Francophiles is the Citroën Berlingo. This compact and practical delivery van is short on length, big on space, very easy on access and both nippy and versatile around the city. We are not sure quite why they called the van after a city that is now the capital of Germany, but then many French decisions are not easily understood by other nationalities.

This year sees some revisions and upgrades to the Berlingo range that include more equipment and sharper pricing added to the choice of two engines, one petrol, and one diesel, and two body options, one standard length and one slightly longer.

Citroën itself will proudly explain that it invented the box van when it created the TUB, and the car-derived van when it launched the Citroën 2CV van. This might be considered to be drawing rather a long bow, but there’s no doubt that it’s been a successful decision for this traditional carmaker to become involved in light commercials.

The Citroën Berlingo certainly looks as though it is car-derived, with a bonnet and a conventional driving position. That’s actually not the case, as its design is unique, but the original version was built on the platform of one of the most successful rally cars of all time, the Citroën Xsara Coupe.

Three million Berlingos later, and the latest generation again shares a passenger vehicle platform, that of the Citroen C4 Picasso platform, which is derived from the underpinnings of the World Rally Championship dominating Citroën C4 WRC car.

By moving to the bigger platform from the C4 Picasso, the new Berlingo offers significantly more space, up from 3.0 to 3.3 cubic metres. With some clever interior design that involves fiddling with the seat, it’s possible to extend the interior load volume out to 3.7 cubic metres. That’s all available in the standard body. However, for those who want added volume, there’s a longer body version available that knocks out the cargo volume, after some more seat fiddling, to a total of 4.1 cubic metres.CitroenBerlingo_2_H1_HDi_041

Note here we are calling it a longer body and not a longer wheelbase. The wheelbase on both body options remains the same, dimensionally. While the wheelbase remains identical between the two versions, at 2,728 mm, the body length alters from 4,380 mm out to 4,628 mm. All other dimensions, such as width and height, both at 1,834 mm, and track, remain identical – the variance being in the body rear overhang, which increases from 727,mm out to 975,mm.

As you increase your overhang, though, you decrease your payload. In this example, the standard body offers a payload of 850 kg, while the extended body drops this back to 750 kg.

The standard body Berlingo is powered by the 1.6-litre 66 kW petrol engine, and the long body version moves into diesel territory with the 1.6-litre 66 kW turbo diesel engine. Power outputs are 66 kW at 5,800 rpm and 66 kW at 4,000 rpm, with torque ratings of 132 Nm at 2,500 or 215 Nm at 1,750 rpm for the petrol versus the diesel, respectively. Both engines are matched to a five-speed manual gearbox.

As far as suspension design goes, both vans have independent MacPherson struts on the front and independent trailing arms at the rear, coil springs all round, with hydraulic dampers and anti-roll bar at each end.

There’s really not much difference in acceleration between the petrol and the diesel, with the petrol version reaching 100 km/h after 17.5 seconds, 1.2 seconds ahead of the diesel. Fuel economy, though, is a little different, with the combined figures for the petrol coming in at 8.2 l/100 km against the more frugal diesel at 5.8 l/100 km. Emissions levels are 195 g/km for the petrol and 153 g/km for the diesel.

As we see the use of bio-fuels increasing, it’s interesting to note the Berlingo is already approved for a 30 percent bio-fuel mix with full warranty protection.

The spec level is on the high side for the Berlingo, with the standard inclusions offering cruise control and an upper speed limiter, ABS brakes, driver airbag, heated rear window with wash/wipe, powered door windows and mirrors, and central locking with a remote that can select between the driver’s door and the cargo doors.

We liked the idea of adding a ladder frame design of cargo barrier behind the driver, plus we liked the bench seat across the front that can enable two passengers at a squeeze. It’s possible to fold down the centre seat back onto the seat squab, and we would expect this to contain pen and cup holders, but it doesn’t. The seat back is flat and can be used as a table, but that’s it. If you want two more cup holders, they can be found in the seat back of the single passenger-seat version.

CitroenBerlingo_2_H1_HDi_045We mentioned how some French designs might be a little quirky, and here’s one example.

If you buy the longer-bodied Berlingo, you get a rear cargo mat and the convenience of Bluetooth hands-free mobile phone operation. It’s not part of the package for the standard body, proving that size does matter when it comes to communication.

In completing our evaluation, we spent time loading and unloading through the side and rear doors, and found the Berlingo really easy to work with. The right-hand sliding door is optional on the standard body, but standard on the long-body version. Having the option of loading from either side makes this versatile van even more practical. The rear sill height is 584 mm on the standard van, and 612 mm on the long-body version. A quick word here about the door slide quality – it’s very light and easy to operate, and far better than some of the competition, especially Volkswagen with the Caddy.

Two ISO pallets can be carried in either version of the Berlingo van, thanks to a load compartment length of 1800 mm for the standard or 2050 mm for the longer body. Width between wheel arches is 1229 mm with the maximum width of the load compartment being 1620 mm.

The cabin is perhaps slightly on the small side, but feels more cosy than cramped, and, with all the storage spaces, there should be somewhere for everything a courier would carry.

There’s also a range of optional extras including passenger, side and lateral airbags, tyre pressure sensors, an Electronic Stability Progamme (ESP) and traction control (ASR), rear parking sensors, automatic rain sensitive wipers, and automatic actuation of headlights.

Some of these options will not appeal to buyers of light commercials, but in our view, the ESP and traction control should become standard items, along with telephone Bluetooth connectivity for the standard-body van buyer.

The latest pricing sees the petrol-powered, standard-body Berlingo priced at $19,990, and the long-body turbo diesel pitched at $22,990, with both prices excluding statutory charges, delivery and dealer costs.

It’s good value, easy to drive, has good visibility all round thanks to large windows, and the performance is well up to expectations.

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