“The bloody thing doesn’t have Bluetooth.” Fellow tester Daniel had asked for a lift into the CBD and, after me waxing lyrical about the suppleness of the unladen ride and handling, that rant was the first thing he heard from me about the 2015 Citroen Berlingo L2 Long Body ETG. Yes, the model name is utterly ridiculous. I wonder if it sounds better if you say it out loud with a French accent?
What you need to know is that on test here we have the long wheelbase (LWB) model of the popular French van. Citroen has been manufacturing vans for a very long time and as a general rule, the company knows what it’s doing in this sector. The Berlingo itself has been around since 1996.
Anyway, back to my connectivity gripe. Two minutes later, Dan had located the Bluetooth menu in the otherwise archaic audio system, I’d connected my phone and it was working perfectly – audio streaming too. Dan 1 - Trent 0. He’s a self-confessed French car nut so that might explain his ability to find the Bluetooth so easily. Added to that, I’m the idiot who hadn’t yet read the owner’s manual.
Bluetooth aside, there’s a lot to like on paper about the Citroen Berlingo. The big news for 2015 is the addition of ESC as standard – only ABS was standard previously – and the availability of an automatic gearbox as we reported back in December. I enjoyed the manual last year during my week behind the wheel, but for the professional driver logging bulk kilometres, it’s hard to argue with the practicality of an auto.
I reviewed the previous Citroen Berlingo not that long ago and came away impressed by its all-round abilities and daily-driver functionality. The same goes for some Berlingo owners I spoke to at the time. They loved their older models but were impressed by the evolution of the new model. This 2015 version (thanks to the auto largely) shapes up then as being at least as good if not even better than the model it replaces.
You can hop into a Berlingo automatic from $28,990 before the array of on-road costs, and with an auto now in the range, delivery drivers and tradespeople wanting to walk away from a manual transmission can now seriously consider the Berlingo.
Along with ABS and ESC, the LWB auto model also comes standard with traction control and hill start assist, important safety features that bolster the van’s reputation.
Our test model has no reverse sensors or camera, but Citroen reports that sensors are available for a cost of $500. I’d definitely be optioning them when making my purchase, especially given the amount of times delivery drivers are likely to be moving into and out of parking spaces.
Lift the Berlingo’s stubby bonnet and you’ll find a venerable 1.6-litre turbocharged diesel engine, backed by the aforementioned six-speed ETG automated transmission. The engine produces the same 66kW and 215Nm as the version backed by the manual gearbox.
The Euro 5 e-HDi oiler is efficient too with an ADR claim of 4.7L/100km. Citroen states that the auto is a full 1.0L/100km more efficient than the similarly specified manual, making it an appealing option if you cover a lot of kilometres each year.
During our test, the Berlingo returned an indicated average of 7.4L/100km, which in a real world sense is impressive. Especially given there was only a short highway section in the test run and the average speed over the duration was a slovenly 28km/h.
Diesel engines remain the best choice for working vehicles racking up plenty of kilometres and in regard to the smaller capacity brigade, the Citroen’s compact diesel is one of the better examples we’ve tested.
I tried the paddle shifters – standard with the auto transmission – for a short city run and they work smoothly enough. I doubt they are any faster than letting the Berlingo shift gears itself, and I don’t think I’d use them often if I owned one, but they are there for drivers who do want to use them. All you need to do is rotate the shift dial on the dash from ‘auto’ round to ‘manual’ and use the paddles behind the steering wheel.
The Berlingo’s cabin is both a comfortable worker’s office and a user-friendly space as well. The audio system is a little old-school in appearance, but it works well and the Bluetooth (once Dan found it) is crisp and connects faultlessly each time you start the Berlingo. Storage abounds, as you’d expect. Deep door pockets combine with cup holders, bottle holders, a large centre console bin and appreciable overhead storage as well as the conventional glove box.
There’s also a few smaller storage pockets around the dash area for coins and mobile phone chargers and an under seat drawer as well. There’s a pocket atop the dash on the driver’s side too. It’s handy in theory, but I’m not sure what you’d want to leave in there all day to be baked in the sun.
Entry and egress is – as reported with the previous model – almost perfect. Stepping into and out of the Berlingo is a breeze and the idea of having to do it 100 times each day isn’t headache (or backache more importantly) inducing.
I could get far enough away from the steering wheel that I didn’t feel like I was sitting on top of it. The steering wheel is height and reach adjustable, which obviously helps here too.
The dash-mounted dial for the automatic gearbox is clever in a design sense, but a little difficult to get the hang of. I did get better at it the more time I spent behind the wheel, but it was never intuitive. Quick, three-point turns take a little longer than they otherwise might, but the shift between reverse and drive (auto or manual) is smooth. I did find myself forgetting to switch it into neutral a lot when I was parking the Berlingo, another symptom of the fact that you have to go looking for the dial.
Forward visibility especially is excellent thanks partly to the tall seating position. The windscreen pillars never seem to get in the way of where you need to look. As you’d expect with a blank-sided van, rearward quarter visibility is compromised, which is why I’d option the parking sensors. It’s a factor when you’re reversing and parking and while it’s never unsafe, you can easily understand why you see plenty of delivery vans with windows fitted down the passenger side.
Rearward visibility through the barn doors is excellent. I never had any issues maneuvering backward into parking spaces thanks to the expansive windows that are both wide and long.
The passenger seat flips down flat to offer up two cupholders and a flat workspace for your notepad, tablet or laptop. It’s a feature you might not use often, but when you do need it, you’ll be thankful it’s there.
Perhaps the most impressive feather in the cabin’s cap is how quiet it is. Our Berlingo had the load curtain fitted, which must make some difference to the noise insulation of the cabin, but at any speed, over any road surface, we were impressed by just how quiet the cabin is. The curtain isn’t an airtight fit either, so for the Berlingo to be so devoid of drumminess or vibration (especially with no load in the back) is a real point of note.
Accepting up to 750kg in the load area, the Berlingo is definitely ready to go to work. I loaded around 300kg worth of tools and gardening gear into the tray over my weekend with it and barely noticed it was there. The short body manual model can carry 850kg, but both long body variants carry 750kg.
Loading a few heavier boxes in for our photo shoot, we appreciated the height of the Berlingo’s load area too. It’s long and wide, but repeated loading and unloading is made easier if the height of the load space is right – and the Berlingo’s is ideal.
While the Berlingo will carry two Euro sized pallets, it will only swallow one Aussie pallet. That’s 1165mm square and is more than enough for what the average Berlingo will need to lug around. Flip the passenger seat flat as I mentioned earlier and you can carry objects up to 3.25 metres long.
Four sturdy tie downs ensure you can keep items where you want them and the luggage curtain can be relocated further into the load area too. Being able to split the load area in two will be handy for some buyers.
The diesel cranks into life quickly and quietly and there’s very little in the way of intrusive engine noise at idle. Work up to speed and there’s no loss of composure in the cabin. The diesel is flexible at any speed and does its job without fuss.
Running around town, I’m constantly reminded of the flexibility of the engine. Pick up just off idle is rapid enough to get moving and up to speed quickly and the engine never feels breathless as you approach redline either. There’s nothing about the way the turbo diesel performs that would tire you out after a long spell behind the wheel. I commented on the old model that the turning circle isn't great and its no better now, although it's tight enough to be handy around town.
I can’t quite say the same thing about the automatic gearbox. True to gearboxes of this type, it’s a little tardy to shift up through the ratios regardless of the road speed. It’s never jerky or uncomfortable and the longer you spend behind the wheel, the more you work out how to manage the throttle to best achieve a smooth shift.
The question of whether you’d accept the slightly lazy shift over a manual-equipped van is an interesting one. The Berlingo’s automatic isn’t annoying by any means – I’m nitpicking here a little – so I still think that buyers who cover a lot of distance might be happier to cop the shift issues and opt for the auto. There’s nothing wrong with the Berlingo’s manual though, if you prefer shifting gears yourself.
The Berlingo’s unladen ride is – like the sense of calm in the cabin – worthy of mention. It’s supple enough to soak up sharp speed humps and potholed roads, but stiff enough to ensure the Berlingo is never flopping all over the road either. If you only carry light loads around most of the time, you’ll be genuinely impressed by the quality and comfort of the ride.
The new Citroen Berlingo is a subtle generational change to what was an already impressive work van. The automatic isn’t markedly better than the manual, but it’s no worse either, so we’ve scored the new version the same 8 overall as the previous model.
What the automatic does do is offer buyers the option. If you have an aversion to manual shifting, there is now a Berlingo to suit your needs. I liked the Berlingo when I tested it last year, and I’m a fan of the new 2015 model having spent some time behind the wheel.
There’s never been a better time in this segment for the professional driver. There really is something for everyone, and the Berlingo is one of the best options out there.
Click the photos tab for more images by Christian Barbeitos