The Citroën Berlingo is the best of its breed: useful, well priced and not half bad to drive

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The original Citroen Berlingo was a bit of a pioneer — at least in the UK. Although van-based MPVs have been popular with Continental families on a budget for decades, the original Berlingo was a bit of a surprise hit for Citroën when it brought the genre to the UK back in 1998.

MPVs based on commercial vehicles do not hold the highest of ranks in the pantheon of people carriers, though. They must provide simple, rugged and practical family transport, but their no-frills nature means that anything more than a token nod to luxury or refinement is unnecessary, if not undesirable.

The utilitarian family holdall is now likeable and sophisticated

This Citroën Berlingo Multispace is still based on a light commercial vehicle – the Citroën Berlingo/Peugeot Partner van – but that car uses the same basic platform architecture and drivetrains as the Citroën C4 and Peugeot 308 hatchbacks. This should mean higher levels of comfort, refinement and dynamic than we’ve seen before in a van-based people carrier.

The question is, does this bigger, more sophisticated Berlingo Multispace live up to the promise of greater comfort, refinement and dynamic ability that its more sophisticated engineering background suggests? And can it still fulfil its core role as a good-value, practical, utilitarian family holdall, especially in a ever-growing segment, with the Ford Tourneo Connect and Volkswagen Caddy Life both making headway.

Entry-level Berlingo Multispaces come with a 93bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine or the perky 108bhp turbocharged 1.2-litre PureTech unit, although most buyers will rightly plump for a diesel. There’s a choice of two diesels, all 1.6-litre in capacity, but with outputs of 99 and 118bhp. Trim levels are limited to just Feel and Flair.

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Citroën badge
The Berlingo wears the Citroën double chevron badge proudly

With the original Citroen Berlingo, the engineering philosophy was very much one of turning an existing commercial vehicle into family transport. But since well over 50 percent of the worldwide sales of the original Berlingo were of the MPV version, the design and engineering process has been much more even-handed the second time around.

Instead of creating a passenger vehicle from a van, the new Berlingo has been designed as both a van and MPV from the outset. As a result, there is a general air of sophistication, particularly in terms of refinement and the quality of materials used in the cabin.

A parking sensor that actually lets you get close to objects before flatlining is really refreshing; it inspires confidence

The Berlingo has stepped up half a class in size terms - it is both longer and wider than ever before. This will be keenly felt in tight car parks and narrow roads; the Berlingo measures just 10mm narrower than a Peugeot 308.

It still looks very much like a Berlingo, however. There’s a longer, sleeker snout, complete with Citroën’s latest corporate face. There are also pronounced wheel arches which help to disguise the slabby flanks. But the Citroen Berlingo Multispace is still, at its heart, a boxy van with windows and rear seats, just like its sibling the Peugeot Partner Tepee.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s an honesty and simplicity to the Berlingo; it doesn’t try to hide what it is.


Citroën Berlingo interior
The cylindrical cubbyholes are surprisingly capacious and clingy

The flexibility and practicality of its interior should be an MPV’s star turn, and the Citroen Berlingo Mutispace – mostly – delivers. The boxy proportions bring plenty of luggage space without compromising room for passengers, while if you choose to specify the removable seats the Berlingo will swallow more or less anything.

The high roofline also means there’s space for all sorts of clever storage solutions. One option available is interior roof bars. Alternatively, the Modutop option brings overhead air vents and shelves, a 50-litre locker hanging above the boot and glass panels that run the length of the roof.

The rising front window line means leaning your elbow on the window sill, van man style, is uncomfortable

The problem is that although the boxy shape offers plenty of space, the basic Berlingo offers nothing like the versatility of conventional MPVs. You need to specify the Modutop system and the removable rear seats to achieve anything like the flexibility of more conventional MPVs. Otherwise you just get a 60/40 split/fold rear bench, although thanks to the high roofline there’s still plenty of space for bulky loads.

But conventional MPVs tend to do most things better. Step up half a class and you’ll find the Vauxhall Zafira Tourer, whose seats fold flat into the floor. By comparison, the heavy, fiddly rear seats in the Berlingo can be awkward. At least the seats themselves – both front and rear – are well padded and supportive. While Ford and Volkswagen both offer elongated versions of their commercial-vehicle-cum-MPV in the shape of the Ford Grand Tourneo Connect and Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life, both offering a conventional seven seater set-up and removeable seating.

So the Berlingo is always spacious and comfortable, but to get the best from it you need to be prepared to take a long, hard look at the options list, which leads nicely onto the standard equipment you get with the Berlingo Multispace. The entry-level Feel model comes with 15in steel wheels, lots of body colour moulded body parts and split tailgate as standard, while inside gains air conditioning, cruise control and, Bluetooth and USB connectivity.

Upgrading to the range-topping Flair trim gains you a few more luxuries, namely, a 7.0in touchscreeen infotainment system with DAB radio, parking sensors, heated and folding wing mirrors, rear picnic tables and 16in alloy wheels.

And although this latest Berlingo is a big step on from the previous model, interior quality is still some way off the likes of a conventional MPV and its nearest rivals from Ford and Volkswagen; it’s clearly been designed with White Van Man in mind rather than school run mum or dad.


Citroën Berlingo front quarter
For a car that puts out just 89bhp and tips Mira’s scales at 1580kg, the 1.6HDi Berlingo actually acquits itself reasonably well

For a car that puts out just 99bhp and tips Mira’s scales at 1580kg, the Citroen Berlingo Multispace 1.6 HDI actually acquits itself reasonably well. It hits 60mph from rest in 14.7sec and takes 16.7sec to accelerate from 30 to 70mph through the gears.

That sounds pretty slow, but compare it to a Citroen C4 Picasso 1.6 HDi, which performs the same tests in 13.4sec and 13.7sec respectively, and it isn’t so bad. It even compares reasonably with superminis; we figured a petrol-powered 1.4-litre Vauxhall Corsa at 12.0sec and 12.2sec over the same increments. So it's not quick, but it will at least keep up with the flow of traffic, and the healthy 159lb ft of torque means it can do so without feeling too strained.

The 1.6 HDi 110 is as economical than the 90bhp model

The more powerful 118bhp diesel motor is undoubtedly the better choice of powerplant, however, feeling marginally more relaxed and refined on the road. It actually posts slightly better claimed fuel consumption figures, too. So it’s a shame it’s only available in the top-of-the-range (and expensive) Flair trim level.

Unless you’re really motoring on a strict budget, the entry-level petrol and diesels are best avoided; they feel weak and lack the refinement of the more powerful diesels, reminding you a little too much of the commercial vehicle that lies within.

The gearchange is probably the drivetrain’s weakest link. The action is positive, but the long throw and widely spaced gates mean hurried gearchanges are not a particularly enjoyable experience – although this won’t be a problem for most owners.


Citroën Berlingo cornering
Body roll inevitably builds up the harder you push, but it deals with rapid changes of direction with little drama

This is where the new Citroën Berlingo Multispace’s family hatchback roots should really pay off. And in many respects they do. The Berlingo certainly rides with a smoothness and maturity down a bumpy road. Long undulations are smothered with controlled damping and there’s very little float or heave over crests and dips.

The ride is pretty quiet too, at least on motorways, where the only notable disturbance comes from the wind noise around the wing mirrors and A-pillars. The Berlingo’s refinement is particularly impressive considering the boxy interior is such a potentially echoing acoustic space.

Long undulations are smothered with controlled damping

Where the ride disappoints slightly, however, is over short-frequency ripples and ridges. There’s none of the loping, air-light gait that characterises hydropneumatically sprung Citroën models. Instead, while the ride is generally well controlled, it occasionally thuds and crashes over potholes or motorway expansion joints.

The news is similarly mixed when it comes to the twisty bits. You wouldn’t expect such a tall vehicle with such a utilitarian remit to actively be fun on a winding road, and so it proves. But the Berlingo is more competent here than you’d expect.

Oddly enough, however, the main reason the Berlingo is not a car to enjoy down a country road has nothing to do with the inevitable limitations of its naturally slightly unwieldy shape. Instead, the thing that lets the Berlingo down here is carried over from its hatchback cousins: the steering.

As well as the slightly odd angle at which it sits (which, despite both reach and rake adjustment, is hard to eliminate), the electrically assisted steering is too eager to self-centre, with the result that corners, particularly around town, are taken in a series of chunks rather than in one fluid movement. On the test track this wasn’t particularly evident, but in everyday urban driving conditions it was an occasional source of irritation.


Citroën Berlingo
The van-based MPV gets an injection of sophistication

The Citroën Berlingo Multispace’s headline sticker price is tempting and seems competitive for those who need the Berlingo’s space and flexibility but have only a supermini budget.

The trouble is, it’s priced like a van: it comes with a basic specification onto which you pay to add luxuries. That also applies if you want to make the best of the clever storage; you need to raid the options list. First you’ll want the Senerity pack (standard on the Flair model). That bags you the folding and heated mirrors and rear parking sensors, but chokingly its an additional £210 to include the front sensors too. And if you want to trick out your range-topping Flair Berlingo then there is the option to endow it with sat nav, a reversing camera and active emergency city braking safety system - altogether setting you back an additional £1000.

The Berlingo's price can creep up quickly once a few options are specified

In fact, spec up a 1.6 HDi 90 Flair to the level of our test car and that bargain MPV suddenly makes some proper MPVs seem cheap. A basic diesel-engined, seven-seat Vauxhall Zafira Tourer Energy costing only a couple of hundred pounds more.

On the other hand, there’s no denying the Berlingo’s low running costs. It’s cheap to insure, fairly easy on tax, and even though we managed only 38.1mpg over the course of our measured run in the 1.6 HDi, that includes all our performance testing. In reality, the Berlingo should deliver 40mpg plus in everyday driving, even if the official claimed figure is 53.3mpg for all three diesel versions. The official average for the petrol is a shade under 40mpg.

Small MPVs never hold onto their value brilliantly, but the Citroën fares no worse than its Peugeot sibling.


3.5 star Citroën Berlingo
The utilitarian family holdall is now likeable and sophisticated

Look at the Citroen Berlingo Multispace as a van with windows and rear seats and it will surpass all reasonable expectations; it is refined, economical and decent to drive. Even if you measure it against conventional passenger cars and small MPVs, the Citroen acquits itself well enough, even though ordinary MPVs do still have the edge dynamically.

Those sliding side doors are a boon when loading kids in tight parking spaces, but the huge rear door could catch you out if there’s not much space at the back; it swings out wide and high, and you need a fair bit of height and strength to pull it shut. It may be an attempt to move the Berlingo away from its van roots, but van-like twin boot doors would be far more practical.

The practical Berlingo can even serve up a slice of driver involvement

The Berlingo’s van roots are a little too obvious inside, too. The cabin is smart and airy, but the quality is more workaday than luxurious (although the wipe-clean approach might appeal to some).

The biggest problem with the Berlingo, though, is that it is highly sensitive to specification. Leave it too bare and although the price is low, you lose some of that all-important MPV flexibility. Go too mad with the options and you end up pushing the price perilously close to much more sophisticated seven-seat MPVs. With the discounts available on the likes of Vauxhall Zafira Tourers and even the Citroen C4 Picasso, it’s worth thinking hard before speccing up a Berlingo.

But with the right options the Berlingo remains the good-value holdall it always was, only now with a new-found measure of refinement and quality. The van-cum-MPV has grown up. However, for our money it is less beguiling than the better driving Ford Tourneo Connect and the Volkswagen Caddy Life.


Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

Citroen Berlingo Multispace 2008-2018 First drives