Small vans are a bigger deal in the narrow streets of European cities than they are in Australia, but compact deliverers like the Citroen Berlingo nonetheless have an important role to play in the local logistics industry.
Citroen isn’t alone with its compact Berlingo, exploiting the niche for light-duty vans in Australia alongside the Renault Kangoo and Volkswagen Caddy. Although, to the end of April 2018, the Berlingo has only shifted 44 units versus 235 for the Kangoo and 609 for the Caddy.
That’s a reasonable reflection of the French brand’s fortunes overall in the Aussie market, where despite decent product, high pricing and a small dealer network count against Citroen as a volume player.
Price shouldn’t count against the Berlingo, though. From $22,990 plus on-road costs for the short-bodied variant, the little van plays a fair game alongside the Kangoo at $23,990 and Caddy at $24,990, although the Fiat Doblo from $22,000 snips it ever so slightly, special offers and hard-crunched deals notwithstanding.
For that you’ll get a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated petrol producing 72kW at 6000rpm and 152Nm of torque at a lowish (for a non-turbo engine) 3500rpm. Drive is channelled via a five-speed manual to the front wheels, with no automatic option available for the petrol engine.
Externally, the Berlingo shorty (Citroen officially calls the SWB model an L1 as the wheelbase between L1 and L2 versions is the same, but the body itself is longer) features rear barn doors and dual side sliding doors allowing all-access loading, with 180-degree opening doors at the rear to facilitate forklift loading.
In the cargo bay, the Berlingo can even fit a single Australian pallet or two Euro pallets, making it more versatile than the majority of dual-cab utes on the market. Behind the driver there’s a protection frame, with the front passenger seat able to fold flat for long-item loading.
The Berlingo L1 boasts the biggest payload of Citroen’s van range at 850kg, with 1800mm of storage to the protection frame or 3000mm available with the front seat folded. Between the wheel arches there’s 1229mm, with a compact coil-spring beam axle suspension minimising cargo intrusion.
A longer L2 version powered by a diesel engine is also available starting from $25,990 with a five-speed manual or $29,990 with a 'clutchless' automated six-speed transmission.
The metal floor and sides of the cargo bay aren’t protected in any way from damage, with a low level of grip to stop items from sliding around. A comprehensive interior protection package is an accessory, and would be nearly essential for anyone not fitting racking to the rear of their Berlingo.
Up front, the Berlingo is ready to work with an interior stuffed full of storage.
There’s a lidded bin behind the instrument cluster, open space in the upper dash on the passenger side, a massive upper console, driver’s seat drawer, and a large lidded centre console, plus massive door bins. That means there's no shortage of space for tape measures, quote books, PDAs, drink bottles, pens, sunnies, torches, tools, and anything else you need to keep you and your business running.
There’s also a collection of tiny little pockets around the base of the gear shifter, which don’t appear to be of much use at all. There’s only one cupholder too, and it’s the wrong size to hold an average coffee cup or soft drink can.
In all, the accommodation inside is decent. The height-adjustable driver’s seat is comfy, although tall drivers found rearward seat travel incredibly limited. For those who can fit, getting in and out is easy with a high-set seat requiring no stepping or stooping to reach.
As an environment for spending long hours – as many delivery drivers do – the Berlingo is a decent place to count down the hours to knock-off time.
Road noise has a much more significant impact on comfort, with little in the way of sound deadening and a massive echo chamber behind the cabin. The way you load your van may have an impact in absorbing some of the noise, though.
The cabin includes a curtain that slots in behind the seats to separate front from rear and reduce load on the ventilation system. As Melbourne’s winter chill settled in, the Berlingo’s heater made short work of heating both the cabin and load area, but the curtain comes into its own if you’ll be opening the rear doors often.
In terms of ownership, unlike Citroen’s passenger car range, which features a five-year warranty, the Berlingo is covered by a new vehicle warranty of three years or 100,000km (whichever comes first).
Capped-price servicing is also offered through the genuine Citroen network. Pricing for the first five dealer visits is set at $416, $777, $416, $782 and $421 respectively at 12-month or 20,000km intervals ($2812 all up).
On the road, the Berlingo’s earnest 1.6-litre engine feels willing, and with torque coming on at mid-RPM there’s no need to rev it mercilessly to get it to do its best. Without the added punch of forced induction, there’s no solid shove in the back like you’d get from a Kangoo or Caddy, both with much earlier peak torque.
For short-distance intrasuburban trips, the Berlingo is up to the task, even with a moderate load on board. Although, with a full 850kg payload that might be a very different story.
Despite being a manual-only proposition, the super-light and user-friendly clutch means plugging through heavy traffic requires nearly no effort at all. The same is true of the light gearshift, but its long throw and vague gate mean you may need to pay a bit of attention to avoid a mis-shift until your muscle memory kicks in.
If freeway stints form part of your daily route, the lack of a taller sixth gear could be slightly grating. At 100km/h, the Berlingo spins at a highish 2800rpm, and closer to 3000rpm at 110km/h – handy for having torque on tap, but not ideal for economy.
On test, fuel consumption worked out to 7.8L/100km, and not far north of the official 7.1L/100km claim.
The standard equipment list reversing camera for the 7.0-inch touchscreen (which also includes Bluetooth, CarPlay and Android Auto) takes some of the pain out of reversing, but with no option for glazed side windows in the rear, all-round visibility is hampered.
Standard safety includes traction and stability control, ABS brakes, front seatbelt pretensioners and a driver’s airbag. Passenger and side airbags can be added as an $800 option, but autonomous emergency braking isn’t available either standard or as an option.
The Berlingo officially carries a four-star ANCAP rating issued in 2009 and only applicable to cars optioned with the airbag package.
Overseas, Citroen has already shown passenger versions of the next Berlingo, meaning a commercial-vehicle version can’t be too far off. Ultimately, runout deals can’t be too far away either.
Drive a hard bargain if you can to make the current version the sharpest value possible. Right now, it’s too far out to know how the all-new van will be positioned, priced, or even if an Aussie visa is guaranteed.
There’s not much from the current-generation vehicle that falls short. Basics are as they should be, and utility meets the general needs of the segment, though it may not be as modern inside as its German competitor.
With car-like comfort and easy, breezy driving manners, the Citroen Berlingo makes a pleasant work tool. The Berlingo, as with the rest of the light-van segment in general, is due for a boost in standard safety, but there’s otherwise little reason to shy away from this generation before it bows out.