The Berlingo is worth a look if you're in the market for a cheap, efficient and compact van.
The Citroen Berlingo is one of just a handful of compact vans available in Australia.
The Berlingo officially belongs to the sub-2.5-tonne van segment, which is dominated by the Volkswagen Caddy (55.3 per cent market share) and is also home to the Suzuki APV, Holden Combo, Renault Kangoo and the Berlingo’s mechanical twin from parent company PSA, the Peugeot Partner.
The Berlingo is a relatively modest player in the segment. The majority of vans sold in Australia belong to the larger 2.5-3.5-tonne class, where vehicles like the popular Hyundai iLoad and Toyota HiAce offer added space and versatility. In Europe it is also available as an MPV with rear seats, although the C4 Picasso fills that role for Citroen in Australia.
The Citroen Berlingo is available in two distinct specifications in Australia: the short-body petrol-powered ‘L1’ and the long-body ‘L2’ diesel. Priced at $19,990 and $22,990 respectively, the Berlingo is among the cheapest small vans on the market, comparing closely with the APV ($18,990), and undercutting the Combo ($21,280), Caddy ($21,990 to $36,490), Partner ($22,390 to $25,890) and Kangoo ($24,490).
Both L1 and L2 Berlingo variants share the same 2728mm wheelbase, although the L2 is 248mm longer than the L1 (4628mm versus 4380mm). The extra length, which is all added to the rear overhang, expands the L2’s internal load length from 1800mm to 2050mm (3010mm to 3250mm with the left-side passenger seat folded forwards) and sees load volume increase from 3.3m3 to 3.7m3. The L1 has a higher payload, however, rated at 850kg compared with the L2’s 750kg capacity.
Both Berlingo variants share a width between the wheel arches of 1229mm and a maximum cargo area width of 1620mm. The 60:40-split twin barn doors open out to 177 degrees, allowing the Berlingo to be reversed right up to a loading bay. The L1 comes standard with a passenger-side sliding door and the option of a second one of the driver’s side ($1000), while the L2 comes standard with sliding doors on both sides.
Compared with the segment-leading Caddy, the L1 has a marginally longer and more accommodating cargo area with a greater payload, although the L2 trails the long-body (and long-wheelbase) Caddy Maxi by 200mm in length, 0.5m3 in total volume and up to 100kg in payload. Both Citroen variants are wider inside than their Volkswagen counterparts.
The Berlingo also has a larger load volume than the Combo (2.39m3) and Kangoo (3.0m3), essentially identical dimensions to the Partner, and just trails the APV (3.4m3) in the comparative L1 spec.
The short-body Citroen Berlingo L1 is powered by a 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 66kW of power (at 5800rpm) and 132Nm of torque (at 2500rpm). Teamed exclusively with a five-speed manual transmission, the L1 accelerates from 0-100km/h in a rather tardy 17.5 seconds and uses 8.2 litres of fuel per 100km on the combined cycle.
The diesel engine in the long-body Berlingo L2 matches the petrol for power and displacement (66kW at 4000rpm, turbocharged 1.6-litre), but trumps it for pulling power with an additional 83Nm of torque (215Nm in total, delivered from 1750rpm). Also paired with a five-speed manual, the extra grunt helps shave 1.2 seconds off the L2’s sprint time, while fuel consumption is also 30 per cent sharper in the diesel variant at 5.8L/100km – a figure we came close to by averaging 6.1L/100km in a week of predominantly short, suburban trips in our L2 test car.
The diesel engine shudders at start-up and when turned off, and is typically clattery under acceleration. There’s enough torque to make it feel capable around town with a light load in the back, and it does its best work between 1750 and 4000rpm – any lower and it labours; any higher and it’s just making noise.
The steering has a sloppy feel, courtesy of a disconcerting degree of play in the wheel at dead centre. There’s next to no feedback from the road, and a heaviness at lower speeds near the lock positions. Fortunately, there’s a reassuring steadiness to the wheel through corners that somewhat redeems the handling.
The ride also lacks complete sophistication, banging hard over surface joins and potholes and bouncing over undulations and bumps. It’s decidedly more composed on good roads, however, where it sits flat, rides quietly and is largely comfortable to be inside.
The view from the high driver’s seat is commanding, with good forward visibility and great big wing mirrors to help you keep track of the action behind and either side. Reversing the Berlingo is actually easier than you may imagine, with corners and wheels that are surprisingly easy to judge. Given its fully enclosed cargo section, vision when reversing out of driveways is predictably limited, making the $500 rear parking sensor option a worthy investment.
The seats offer adequate comfort, although for some the seat bases will lack depth, leaving your knees and thighs short on support.
The gear lever is positioned a long way to the left, however, and even those who sit close to the (reach- and rake-adjustable) wheel will have to stretch to reach first. There’s a decent feel to the shifter although some vagueness that makes it a little difficult to pick gears initially. The clutch pedal is light and springy but has an obvious grab point that makes it easy to feel your way around.
The cabin layout simple and effective. Audio and cruise control stalks are positioned out of sight behind the steering wheel. There’s plenty of information packed into the centre display screen, although navigating some of the functions – in typical French style – is a little unintuitive.
The interior plastics feel hardwearing and sturdy, and the build quality and fit and finish is impressive – probably better than you might expect. The glovebox is small and rather poorly designed, although there are myriad other stowage spaces, including door bins, cup holders, a dashboard hatch behind the instrument cluster, and a generous overhead storage shelf that is perfect for street directories, folders and other knick knacks.
In two-seat configuration the Berlingo comes with a locker between the seats, while in three-seat form the middle backrest folds forward to present a flat plastic surface that is perfect for leaning on to write.
Standard features include 15-inch steel wheels, tinted windows, manual air conditioning, CD player, trip computer, driver’s seat armrest, load compartment tie-down points and cargo area illumination.
Along with the differences already mentioned above, the L2 adds a rear cargo matt, AUX/USB inputs and Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming. Adding AUX/USB and Bluetooth to the L1 adds $700 to the price.
The standard safety package includes a single driver’s airbag, anti-lock brakes (ABS), full-size spare wheel and cruise control with speed limiter. The Berlingo officially earned a four-star ANCAP safety rating in 2011, although the vehicle tested was a European model fitted with a passenger airbag, electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) and brake assist.
Australian customers can option in electronic stability control for $500 and a passenger airbag for another $500, although the latter is only available if you don’t tick the $500 option to include the third seat in the middle.
The Citroen Berlingo is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty, which matches its competitors for duration but trails the likes of Volkswagen and Renault for distance.
While the ride and handling lack overall refinement and some of the interior ergonomics leave a bit to be desired, the Citroen Berlingo is competitively priced, accommodating on the inside and easy to drive, and worthy of consideration if you need a cheap, efficient, compact van.