Practicality on a budget has always been the key USP of Citroen’s passenger version of its Berlingo, but has it added greater appeal with the new model?
On the road
On the road
Practical rather than premium, the Citroen Berlingo and its van-derived contemporaries definitely have an important role to play in offering cost-efficient no-frills sensible motoring, with space and usefulness as their biggest strengths.
This is the third-generation Berlingo, and it comes as part of a trio of passenger people-carriers that have van siblings, alongside the Peugeot Rifter and Vauxhall Combo Life passenger cars, and the Partner and Combo van models that will follow with the Berlingo light van around the end of 2018. And most of what we say about the Berlingo, certainly in terms of engines, driving experience and practicality is also applicable to its sibling passenger models.
For the first time the Berlingo is available in two body lengths. The regular five-seat model is called M, then there’s the seven-seat XL, which offers an extra 350mm of length as well as two more seats, which are removable. The XL, which joins the range before the end of the year, also raises luggage space from an already-huge 775 litres to 1050.
Initially, Citroen is offering three diesel engines, and one petrol, although a 130hp petrol with an eight-speed auto gearbox will be added to the range in 2019. But for now, it’s just the 110hp petrol 1.2, and 1.5-litre diesels of 75, 100 and 130hp, the latter coming with either manual or automatic transmissions. The entry diesel is available in only the lower of the two trim levels.
Those trim levels are Feel and Flair, and are separated by £2250. As such, there’s a big spec difference between them, with one feeling very much like the budget alternative, and the other well-loaded with goodies for those wanting to spend the extra.
However, that’s not to say Feel is a complete bargain-basement spec, with Citroen impressively fitting its Active Safety Brake system as standard, along with lane-keep assist and speed-limit recognition. The base model also gets an eight-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, automatic headlights, air conditioning and a DAB radio.
Flair adds 16-inch alloy wheels rather than the steels of the entry car, as well as satnav, gloss black roof bars, LED daytime running lights, electric rear windows, rear parking sensors, electric parking brake and three independent fold-flat rear seats rather than a 60:40 split affair. That’s a decent haul for the £2250 increase, and makes a noticeable difference inside and out. It can also be enhanced by the £590 XTR pack on the Flair trim, which adds 17-inch alloys, gloss black mirrors, front and rear scuff plates and coloured upgrades inside and out.
Other options are well priced, with the likes of adaptive cruise control (£200), keyless entry (£250), auto high beam (£150) and front parking sensors (£200) all examples of accessible options available on the Flair trim.
The Berlingo, as is the case with its van variant, has been endowed with the latest Citroen design cues, which means slender headlights and two-tier light signature, while Citroen has also added its airbump side padding, first seen on the C4 Cactus model, with coloured surrounds to the first bump and foglight surrounds.
However, as much as the looks matter, this car is always going to be bought for head reasons rather than heart, and practicality is a real strength. Citroen claims a maximum of 28 separate interior storage spots totalling 186 litres of stowage, including what it calls the Modutop roof system – a £750 option that adds panoramic roof with floating translucent roof arch and storage areas above the passengers’ heads. That’s not cheap, but it’s a unique solution and adds practicality.
Up-front, it’s fair to say that the cabin doesn’t enjoy the highest quality of plastics, but there is a nice speckled effect to the lighter grey trim on the doors and dash that helps lift the ambience a little. It is, however, a shame that the raised storage area between the front seats is a £250 option; it would be handy to have more central storage for the driver.
Rear passengers enter via the wide and convenient sliding door opening, and have a decent amount of legroom. The seating position is rather upright, but the Berlingo’s high roof means a predictably pleasant amount of headroom.
The boot cover can be moved to two different positions to split the load height according to need, which is handy,and the boot itself is a huge space capable of taking pretty much any family-related gubbins. It’s also accessible via either the large tailgate, or the window portion that opens separately.
Possibly less important than any of that is how the Berlingo drives, but it’s a relief to know there’s nothing to complain about in that regard. It’s a relatively uninspiring experience from behind the wheel, but this was never going to be a car where the agenda included setting driver’s pulses racing.
The 100hp 1.5 diesel is fine; dropping down to the smaller one available only on the entry trim level isn’t advisable for anyone loading much lifestyle gear into the car. But it’s also a big step - £1120 – to the 130hp engine, which is a lot of money when the 100hp is perfectly adequate. The 130hp does get an extra cog for the gearbox over the five-speed in the 100hp, which will be welcomed by anyone covering significant higher-speed mileage.
All the other controls are set up in a pleasant, almost forgettable, way; the gearchange, steering weight and all-round driving experience are almost by-products of a car bought to get people and things to places. There is a bit more interior rattle than you might expect from a regular people-carrier rather than a car-derived van, and there is no escaping the high centre of gravity when cornering with gusto. But the turning circle is excellent, as is driver visibility.
However, while it’s great that Citroen had included lane-keep assist as standard, it’s then a shame both that the system is so intrusive, especially on single-carriageway roads, and that you have to hold the button down for several seconds every time you start the car if you want to switch it off.
Rival-wise, the regular smaller people-carriers such as Citroen’s own C3 Picasso or the Ford B-Max and Vauxhall Meriva have all been discontinued as the market has moved more towards SUVs. This means the Berlingo’s main competition, apart from its Peugeot and Vauxhall siblings, comes from the likes of the Fiat Doblo, Ford Tourneo Connect and VW Caddy. All of which share the light commercial vehicle roots and square utilitarian looks.
The Berlingo is at a slight disadvantage in this higher Flair specification, because its high equipment levels mean it costs more than core rivals that don’t pack in so much kit. The Citroen probably outpoints all of them for looks, thanks to its striking new front end, but it loses out for cost-per-mile despite good emissions because of that initial extra payment. There’s also the fact that it doesn’t enjoy a higher residual value, being slightly behind Ford and Vauxhall rivals.
The new Berlingo makes major progress, and is more stylish, better equipped (with well-priced optional extras) and more practical than ever. The downside is a higher purchase price that isn’t recouped in residual-value terms, but the Berlingo is very good at what it does – sensible immense practicality on a reasonable budget.
This is the third generation of Berlingo van and passenger car pairing, vehicles that are the same in all but badge as the Peugeot Partner van and Tepee passenger version, the latter having been renamed Rifter this time around.
This car also has a new sibling, making it triplets, with Vauxhall’s Combo Life completing the trio of almost identical models following the acquisition of Vauxhall and Opel by Citroen and Peugeot parent firm, Groupe PSA.
Citroen says its new model is a “smart buy for families with active lifestyles who are looking for space, practicality and simplicity of use”.
The French brand claims the Berlingo passenger car’s influence in being the benchmark car in the Leisure Activity Vehicle segment, or LAV for short, is such that these van-derived cars are known as the “Berlingo segment” in some countries.
Between the car and light commercial vehicle versions of the Berlingo, the model is Citroen’s second-biggest seller behind the C3 supermini and had a record year in 2016 despite it nearing replacement by that point.
There have been two prior generations of Berlingo, with the first running from 1996-2008 (pictured) and the second from 2008-2018.
What they said
What They Said
"With new low-emission petrol and diesel engines coupled to both M and XL five- and seven-seat variants, the new Berlingo offers vastly improved flexibility and visual appeal. It will satisfy a broader range of fleet customers’ needs."
"New technologies will help fleets to meet duty of care requirements. Items such as Lane-Departure Warning, Active Safety Brake and Driver Attention Alert are now available with new Berlingo, while a choice of trim and equipment and Citroen’s Advanced Comfort features help long-distance drivers stay fresh and focused."
Martin Gurney, director of fleet and used vehicles, Groupe PSA
Need to know
Three things we like...
The front-end styling is more characterful than before
Sliding rear doors are a massive boon in tighter spaces
The speckled plastic trim takes away some of the cabin’s cheaper feeling
...And one we don't
Phone cable hangs down from the USB socket and impedes the gear lever horribly
Undramatic but competent, the driving experience sums up the ethos of the Berlingo. The 100hp diesel does need a little workout to make progress though.
Decent fuel efficiency, given that it is a post-WLTP changes figure of 112g/km and 65.7mpg.
Everything about this car smacks of practicality, from the opening tailgate window and adjustable parcel shelf to the sliding rear doors and cabin stowage space.
Pricing is higher as a result, but the Berlingo’s Flair spec comes with kit other van-derived MPVs don’t offer. Options are well priced too.
The nose is very distinctive and a big difference, but otherwise it’s hard to hide the light van roots.
Comfort and refinement 7/10
It’s not the quietest experience – you can hear both engine and road noise, but it’s nothing dramatic. Ride comfort is good.
The plastics are all generally quite hard, but it all looks pleasant enough. Shame the raised storage area between the front seats is a £250 option; more central storage around the driver would be handy.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard - some premium brands could learn from that.
Whole life costs 7/10
Higher price and middling RVs mean the Berlingo isn’t quite the budget practical option it once was.
CCT opinion 8/10
The Berlingo is a very practical machine that maintains sector vacated by the car-like mini-MPVs that buyers have moved away from.
It does what you’d expect, and well. Sensible family choices don’t come in a more sensible package, including space, kit and efficiency. But not much raw excitement.