Automated manual transmissions place a different emphasis on the small van segment
Love it or hate it? Just how do you feel about driving in heavy city traffic every day of your working week? If your answer suggests there are plenty of things you would rather be doing than steer a van around the city, then you may well be in favour of whatever makes the driving task less onerous.
The bevy of small vans currently available on our market offers much the same when it comes to cargo volume and payload. Expect to be able to carry a weight up to 750 kg and a volume of 3.2-3.7 cubic metres in a choice of short and long bodies. The extra capacity usually results from an extension of the body behind the rear axle rather than additional length in the wheelbase.
The latest Citroen Berlingo fits the above description while offering slightly more in terms of cargo volume thanks to the option of folding forwards the front passenger seat to provide more parcels space. In the short-body version the volume options are 3.3-3.7 cubic metres, while in the long-body model this increases to 3.7-4.1 cubic metres.
The choice of short or long body in the Berlingo range is accompanied by an engine variation. Choose the short body and it’s powered by a four-cylinder petrol of 1,587 cc with Euro IV emissions rating that has a five-speed manual gearbox. Maximum power here is 80 kW at 5,000 rpm with peak torque of 147 Nm rated at 4,000 rpm.
Extend yourself out to the long-body version, some 247 mm longer rearwards from the rear axle centreline, and you move from petrol power to diesel in the form of a four-cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled, Euro IV, 1,560 cc diesel that produces 66 kW at 4,000 rpm and 215 Nm at 1,500 rpm.
Interestingly, there’s a second version of the same engine with identical power and torque outputs that has the greener attitude of Euro V. How you end up with the Euro V version depends on whether you want to change gears manually with a five-speed (Euro IV) or benefit from a six-speed automated manual (Euro V).
In our opening paragraph we posed the question of just how much you might like the experience of driving. If you don’t mind changing gears in the old fashioned way of depressing a clutch pedal and moving the gear lever around, we would expect you to go for the five-speed manual shift. If that’s not your idea of fun, you might subsequently be enticed into the six-speed automated manual (AMT).
The plus of using an AMT is a claimed improvement in fuel economy, and with the Berlingo the stated combined figure is 4.7 l/100 km. That’s impressive in its own right, but it comes with a price tag of $28,990, some $4500 above the corresponding cost of the five-speed manual, bringing along hill-start assist and ECO stop/start as part of the package.
Although you might not like shifting gears yourself, we reckon that price hike is enough to make you stay away from ticking the AMT box on the order form. If you are still not convinced, then we suggest you need to drive both alternatives, as the feel and performance of an AMT is nothing like that of a full-fluid automatic.
Gearshifts are accomplished automatically, but the engine power is cut and then reconnected in just the same way as with the driver depressing the clutch and lifting their right foot off the accelerator. The actuator shifts the gear automatically and then repeats the process of power on, power off, power on through every up-shift.
If you want to shift gears yourself you can. Steering column mounted paddles provide fingertip control of upshifts and downshifts, but you’ll need to lift off the accelerator between changes if you want the smoothest shift available. The only real difference here is that the driver doesn’t have a clutch pedal, but the work involved in finding another gear is remarkably similar.
In Delivery’s view, the gear shifting is smoother when applied manually through the paddles, and there’s no risk of an unwanted gear change half way around a corner that sees you waiting for the power to come back on. When left to its own devices, the ECM controlling the gearshift protocol opts for the most fuel-efficient option of low engine revs and promotes upshifts at an earlier stage than we see as being desirable.
Frankly, Delivery Magazine just doesn’t see the value in having an AMT in a small to medium light commercial. They work well in heavy trucks, but we find them clunky and prone to forgetting whether they are heading up or down a cog or two, usually at a semi-crucial moment, when fitted in small vehicles. It’s not just the ETG6 gearbox used in the Citroen; Delivery’s views apply equally to Volkswagens DSG transmission, showing our preference either for a gear lever or a full-fluid automatic with torque converter.
If we can look further at the Berlingo but ignore the AMT option, then purchase becomes a simple petrol-versus-diesel decision. Travel heaps of kilometres and it means going for the diesel manual with 5.7 l/100km versus the 8.2 l/100 km of the petrol manual. The 4,500 additional dollars in your bank account will provide a strong incentive to bring back the clutch pedal to your everyday life, and at $24,990 its good value. The short-body petrol is even keener in pricing at $19,990.
Now, with the engine and powertrain choice made, let’s look at the rest of the Berlingo. Independent front suspension with MacPherson struts and coil springs for the front-wheel-drive system give a well-controlled ride, helped by independent trailing arms with coil springs at the rear.
Seats are comfortable and when folded forwards the passenger seat back provides a flat work surface for a computer, plus pen storage and cup holders. There’s a glovebox in front of the driver on the dashboard for storing phones etc. out of sight from passers-by but there’s only one 12-volt power socket available for charging, meaning that a dash cam and/or Sat/Nav unit has to be wired into the electrical system if you expect to charge your phone on the move.
The driver’s seat is protected by a floor to ceiling ladder-style rack, and for those wanting to screen off the cargo area it’s possible to fit a plastic bulkhead with a clear panel that rolls down from roof brackets to tie into the load restraint hooks of the floor. Although this screen might restrict parcels being thrown forwards in the event of a frontal impact, it’s mainly there to ease the stress on the heating and ventilation system as it maintains the correct cabin temperature.
The centre console between both seats can be removed by unclipping it at the base, and there’s a dual passenger seat available as an option. Things like cruise control, power windows, rear parking sensors, a height adjustable driver’s seat with armrest and Bluetooth links with the audio system are all included. So too are twin sliding doors for the long-body version. An extra door is optional on the right-hand side in the short-body model, but standard fare on the left.
Citroen has not yet suggested that it might bring in the passenger version of the Berlingo, but it has already released options that are more car-like in nature. If you save your money by choosing to go with the standard manual gearbox you can spend it again with options such as the Visibility Pack. This pack includes rain-sensing wipers, auto illumination headlamps, a heat-reflecting windscreen, and front fog lights with a cornering function.
Customer support for the Berlingo includes 24/7 roadside assist for three-years/100,000 km with a matching warranty.
Citroen in Australia in recent years has lacked direction. But, with a restructuring of the management team and a stronger focus on product and customer support, we might well see the brand emerging once again to rival other competitors in this space, such as Peugeot, Fiat, Renault and VW. It’s certainly a capable vehicle; it just needs commitment from the manufacturer to set it on the right road.