9 June 2021
I touched briefly on the Berlingo’s loading bay last time out, and this led me to musing on what the optimum floor cover is for the rear of a crew van.
The mesh bulkhead and the fact that the seats fold down to form part of the floor mean that you can’t treat the Crew Van’s loading bay quite as ruthlessly as you would the equivalent panel van.
In the time the Berlingo has been with us, all manner of things have been carried on the hard-plastic flooring in the back and there has been enough friction to hold smaller, lighter items in place – bags of shopping and buggies have not slid around as you have gone around corners for example.
It’s only been with heavier things that I’ve felt minded to act to stop things flying around. The plastic flooring seems rough enough that it would potentially damage the surfaces of anything that scratched against it. As a result I’ve lashed down an office chair and placed some old bedding under a chest of drawers.
The vast majority of Crew Van customers will still put durability over anything else in the back of their Berlingo, but it did leave me wondering if there are any that might regularly carry more delicate cargo that would benefit from a softer lining than that offered on the official options list.
25 May 2021
With lockdown easing the Berlingo has been on some longer runs towards the end of its time with us with most of the miles covered on the way to the launch of a couple of new commercial vehicles. On a personal note the shorter trip to get my first Covid-19 jab felt a bigger and more encouraging sign of things getting vaguely normal.
The most notable conclusion following several hundred miles, largely on motorways, was that the Berlingo is relatively innocuous on such trips. That is to say that it simply settles down to the job of covering long distances without much fuss.
There are several crucial components that need to combine to make a long drive a comfortable one in my view. You want things to be as relaxed as possible while sitting at 70mph, which means you need the engine to not be revving too high, for it to be capable of gentle changes of pace without dropping down a gear and it needs to be quiet enough to be able to hear whatever podcast or cricket match I’m listening to without blasting it through the speakers.
Back when the Berlingo first arrived I had concerns about the fact that the Crew Van only had the five-speed manual gearbox available. Essentially, I wondered if it would rev overly high on a motorway trip. Although it didn’t quite settle down to really low revs at cruising speed, it was relaxed enough that I never found myself reaching for sixth
The upshot of this was that I did indeed manage to get through several crime podcasts without missing whodunnit. The volume did need to be cranked up, to the extent that I had to remember to turn it down again when I returned to urban driving, but it is a far cry from the booming cabins of vans past.
Finally, the crucial element to long-distance comfort is present – an arm rest. My campaign for arm rests to be a universal offering on drivers’ seats continues. It’s a shame there isn’t one either side so you have to rely on the door for your right arm, but you can’t have everything.
11th May 2021
The rear-view mirror in my Berlingo has been bothering me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why until recently.
The issue is that it has one, but it has solid rear doors, so the mirror doesn’t show you anything other than the dark depths of the loading bay. As it happens I’ve managed to turn this to my advantage as said mirror can be angled to keep an eye on the youngest members of my family when they are seated in the second row. However, I can see that this wouldn’t be something you’d need when you are transporting a team of builders or decorators. I can’t imagine I would need to check up whether Steve has managed to smear chocolate all over his face or not, and the need to pull silly faces at Dave to keep him from getting bored is not likely to be a common one.
So it’s a harmless added extra then? Well, not totally. The presence of the rear-view mirror means that muscle memory kicks in more often than not and my eyes automatically flick towards it when I’m pulling off a manoeuvre. When I can’t see anything I then head to the side mirrors. With no rear-view mirror I might go straight to the mirrors on the door. Hopefully those few saved fractions of a second will never be crucial ones and it remains just a slight irritant.
27 April 2021
I’ve been conducting a twin-test of sorts recently, having had the new Volkswagen Caddy in on loan alongside the Company Van Today Berlingo.
Granted the two weren’t direct equivalents – the Caddy was a panel van with an automatic gearbox and a petrol engine where the Berlingo is a manual, diesel and has that second row of seats – but the two vans as a whole are the closest rivals in the current climate so it was interesting to get from one into the other.
It had always been said of the previous VW Caddy that it was car-like to drive, which made it an unthreatening prospect for someone who was new to the world of commercial vehicles. However, while this was true of elements like the steering, visibility and suspension, there were many features that reminded you that you were in a van. It was noisy, the materials were hard, the dash was oddly laid out with a low-down screen and it felt and looked utilitarian inside.
When the Berlingo (and Peugeot Partner, Toyota Proace City and Vauxhall Combo Cargo sister vans) were launched there was a real sense that they had shifted the small van category on a huge step, and they genuinely moved things along as far as the overall atmosphere was concerned. They leapt ahead of their rivals in the class, too, and no other small van offered anything close.
Now, they have a genuine rival – the new Caddy is arguably even more car-like and luxurious inside, with some lovely touches in terms of material and technology. Some feel like they have gone a bit too far even. The mini touchpad to change the lights is one I am yet to get on board with, and this is before I have had to turn the foglights on while wearing gloves in winter.
What is particularly notable about the Caddy, though, is its driveability. Where the old version might have felt like driving a 15-year-old VW Polo, this one feels like you are behind the wheel of a much more modern Golf. The Berlingo etc has some genuine competition, and it should welcome it.
17 April 2020
After a few months of the Berlingo being used more for its ‘Crew’ capabilities, the time finally came for it to put in a shift as a van.
Colleague Tristan Young had the perfect opportunity, with a house clearance requiring something with plenty of carrying capacity.
Having taken the keys, he confessed that he was close to not handing them back again. Over to Tristan for more:
“Full van mode is easy to achieve; fold the rear seats and slide the bulkhead forward is all that’s needed. And operating and securing the bulkhead is intuitive thanks to the four handles being coloured yellow.
“The only downside to having
a moveable bulkhead is that the rear attachment points which intrude slightly into the load area.
“One final point I can report is that the sliding side doors hold really well in the open position if you park on a slope.”
One element both Tristan and I struggled with was sliding the front passenger seat. The driver’s side has a bar beneath the seat, but the passenger seat has a lever beside the cushion. And in our car it took a good yank to get moving.
24 March 2021
Having spent weeks praising the Berlingo’s practicality it was odd to come across something in the interior that didn’t match up to standards.
It concerns something that really isn’t a problem until it suddenly is – the cupholders. There are only two of them, they are both really small and they sit really high up in the top corner of the dashboard next to the pillar between windscreen and door. Let’s just say you’d better not be a fan of picking up Venti Lattes at the Starbucks drive through.
Sure, it might sound like a small thing in the grand scheme of things. “Just use a bottle or take a sealable flask!” I hear you cry. And, of course, you shouldn’t drink while driving. But if you get called off to a job while there is half a coffee left, where do you put it for that journey? And you need somewhere to balance the coffee while you drive out of the aforementioned drive through if nothing else.
And those who do bring their own cold bottled drinks shouldn’t look too smug either. With the cupholders positioned right up on the top of the dash they will be primed to slowly heat up in the midday sun as summer reaches its peak.
Given the premium on space in the Berlingo cabin it is hard to see exactly what the solution might be, but there are surely options available to the designers.
8 March 2021
My diet this week has mainly consisted of humble pie.
Having grumbled about the fact that the front passenger seat in the Berlingo didn’t slide forward and backwards, I sent it off to colleague Tristan who equally found that there was no obvious way to do so – certainly there is no bar underneath as there is on the driver’s seat. “Fair enough, it must be fixed in place – who needs to move the passenger seat much in a van anyway,” thought I.
Then up popped a reader in my mentions on Twitter, asking if I had managed to sort the issue. It turns out that he had just taken delivery of his own Crew Van and had encountered the same problem.
He then went on to say: “If you lift the handle on the side of the passenger seat which normally raises and lowers the seat this lets you slide backwards and forwards.”
On trying it, it turned out that the handle on our Berlingo was very stiff. This lead Tristan and I to both conclude that it did nothing and was only on there as it was cheaper in production to leave a handle that did nothing in place than it was to take it off. Once given a good yank the seat started sliding.
Humble pie duly eaten, cap duly doffed to Graham Smyth (@gtsmyth23).
22 February 2021
The CVT Berlingo has, like many fleet vehicles, not covered as many miles so far in 2021 as would normally be expected. Rather than embarking on plenty of professional journeys, it has been pressed into service as family transport on the few occasions that such things have been allowed. As a result I have had an insight into how a windowless crew van might work as weekend transport.
I had real concerns that my three-year-old daughter might be a vocal and resistant critic of the Berlingo due to the lack of visibility in the back, but so far things are going OK. Because all three of the rear seats have Isofix we have been able to position her in the middle, which means she has a fantastic view out of the side. We then tell her that the lack of windows mean she is hiding from all the other cars and she is on a secret mission. So far this has worked, but cracks started to emerge when we had to move her to the seat behind the front passenger recently.
Because you can’t slide it forward or backwards, as I mentioned last time out, she is a little restricted on the legroom front. This, and the big headrest blocking her view, meant that she asked to go in a “car with windows” this last week.
We had little choice, though, as the middle seat was taken up by daughter two, who arrived less than two weeks ago and has claimed that spot so mum can sit next to her. Given she has slept through every journey she’s been on in her short life so far, the dark and cosy atmosphere seems to be to her favour at least.
8 February 2021
Having talked about all the flexibility of the Berlingo’s seats last time out, particularly the ability to fold down row two relatively easily, I noticed a slight oddity with the front passenger seat.
While you can fold it forward to accommodate longer poles and the like, you can’t do something that front seats conventionally do. For some odd reason you can’t slide the seat forwards and backwards.
It shouldn’t be an issue for the front passenger – there is enough legroom up front for even really tall passengers, but it does make things a little less flexible in the second row. While there is a decent amount of leg space back there, too, it does mean that things like big child seats are better off behind the driver (assuming the driver isn’t really long legged). There is also the middle seat, which is an option thanks to there being Isofix in all three rear seats.
25 January 2021
After a month on the driveway (with slightly more time spent looking at it sitting on the driveway than actually driving it) the Citroen Berlingo is starting to settle into family life.
I’ve also already had reason to curse my preconceptions about it. With previous crew vans I’ve lived with in the past there has been the option to turn them from predominantly people-carrying machines into full-capacity vans. However, to do so you had to employ patience and brute strength to remove the seats and then had to deal with the issue of storing them.
Before the Berlingo arrived I’d blithely assumed that the system would be similar, and my garage would be pressed into service if I needed to take the seats out at any point. Fairly rapidly, though, I was delighted to discover a much cleverer system. Instead of having to take the seats out, you can fold them down using a simple lever, exactly as you would in a car. They go almost totally flat, and then you have the choice of either sliding the bulkhead forward or opening a little gate in it to slot longer items through.
This simple system seems set to make the Citroen a much more flexible vehicle in its time with us.
11 January 2021
2020 was a funny old year, with lots of uncertainty and still no real clarity as we headed into 2021. Although this sweeping statement is true of both Brexit and Covid-19 to some extent, it also applies to the status of Crew Vans in the eyes of HMRC for tax purposes.
Actually, that is said as much in hope than expectation, as the situation should have been clarified by the latest ruling in a landmark case that has seen HMRC and Coca Cola debating whether Kombi vans are really vans or cars for tax purposes. The latest appeal went in HMRC’s favour and vans that can carry five people and look like very big estate cars are in fact cars after all, meaning they don’t qualify for the much-lower van BIK rates, among other things.
Which brings me to the latest Company Van Today long-term test van – the Citroen Berlingo Crew Van. In the past, such a vehicle would have looked largely similar to the Berlingo Multispace MPV, but with a few tougher materials and a more basic kit list. But this version is notable for one major element – the lack of rear windows.
One major part of the Coca Cola case centred around whether a vehicle was primarily designed to carry goods or people, and it is harder to argue that a vehicle with no windows for the second row is designed as a people carrier.
This raises plenty of questions, which we are hoping to answer over the coming months. Does the addition of three seats in the second row make this more or less practical? Does the lack of windows rule it out as a weekend vehicle that can be used as family transport? Is the tax saving worth putting up with a lack of visibility? Will that saving cover the cleaning bill when the younger members of my family get wildly carsick when sitting in the back?
It’s too soon to know the answers to those latter questions, but I am sure you will hear the reaction if I get to test that last one in detail. Apologies in advance, Citroen.
The good news is that all three seats across the back come with Isofix, so Citroen clearly hasn’t gone for the cheapest possible seats and pretended that you can only shove your junior colleagues in the second row.
The Crew Van only comes in Enterprise trim, and we’ve kept things simple by only adding the one option – the Deep Blue metallic paint. Thankfully the standard kit list brings things like cruise control, air conditioning, rear parking sensors, Bluetooth and an eight-inch colour touchscreen.
When it was first announced the Berlingo was going to come with a selection of engines and gearboxes, including the eight-speed automatic. Instead you get this 102hp 1.5-litre diesel engine and the five-speed manual gearbox. Longer motorway trips will reveal if this proves relaxing, or whether I’ll be pining for a sixth gear.