Although generally not as desirable and yearned-after as those of so-called premium brands, Citroen’s recent models have certainly brought a strong sense of fashionableness to the party and the new Berlingo for 2018 and beyond has a similar face to the eye-catching and in some ways sophisticated C3 Aircross, latest C4 Cactus and the also-van-derived SpaceTourer. Any hope of a newfound strand of aesthetic appeal continuing down the sides through to the rear is dashed, though, as the new model has hardly changed from these angles. The addition of Airbumps adds a touch of visual interest and Soft Sand Metallic suits it well. Seeing 16” steel wheels with trims fitted instead of alloys is worth a grin with the Berlingo’s ethos in mind, but Feel trim as tested lacks Flair guise’s tinted windows.
Wannabe drivers of today’s mandatory and ubiquitous ‘crossover’ SUVs should seriously mull over whether blingy kerb appeal is really worth prioritising over usability, as the cavernous Berlingo offers loads more space and even has a jacked-up seating position matching many medium-sized faux-by-fours.
Citroen’s respected penchant for bestowing its automotive creations with plenty of design flamboyancy and individuality hasn’t made its way into the new Berlingo, which is quite clearly van-based inside and uses perfunctory materials throughout, but they’ll undoubtedly stand up to years of battering from kids, colleagues and clobber.
From the dash-mounted gearstick to the air conditioning controls and the infotainment touchscreen that juts up out of the centre of the dashboard, ergonomics are impressive in the Berlingo and the seats front and rear are comfortable on long journeys, although they do lack side bolstering. The decision to omit native sat nav in favour of mirroring smartphone maps via Android Auto, Apple CarPlay or MirrorLink is perfectly understandable, and purists will appreciate the conventional handbrake present in the uncannily spacious cabin, which has no fewer than 28 storage features incorporated totalling 128 litres in their own right.
Combined with 775 litres of boot space to the window line, which is a 100-litre increase over its predecessor, plus a variable boot floor, 4,000 litres’ luggage space with the back seats flattened, and a maximum laden weight of 2,060kg, the Berlingo immediately starts stacking up as a mighty fine vehicle for those requiring maximum practicality above all else. The boot may lack ingenious features like SKODA’s Simply Clever suite of accessories, but its shape is nice and square, there’s no load lip to navigate and the rear window hinges open separately, making access much easier than hauling open the long and unwieldy tailgate. A real spare steel wheel is found under the boot floor, and a 12V socket along with four fixing rings are provided.
In 5-seat ‘M’ guise and ‘Feel’ trim as tested, the car lacked the tinted windows and orange seat inserts of ‘Flair’ models, but the impressive array of storage from under the seats to above the dashboard, combined with those nifty sliding doors and a high-up ride with excellent visibility give the new Berlingo plenty of plus-points, and the standard audio system even sounds pretty good.
On the road, the new Berlingo in 100bhp 1.5-litre HDi diesel guise with a 5-speed manual gearbox and a conventional handbrake has a traditional feel to it, which some drivers will actually appreciate. While the test mule was equipped with the Lane Departure Warning System that provides an alert before actively nudging the steering back on course, plus speed limit recognition, the experience is otherwise free from flashing graphics and distracting bongs. The options list can be raided for additional safety features if desired, from blind spot monitoring or a reversing camera to flankguard and trailer stability control.
The clutch is forgiving and nicely weighted, neither soft nor firm, and although the physical action of the 5-speed transmission can feel slightly notchy at times, the gear ratios suit the vociferous but somehow reassuringly charming engine well. Acceleration is unsurprisingly tortoise-like rather than hare, but the new Berlingo’s ethos is to provide reasonably comfortable and modest progress for ferrying families, five-a-side football teams or an abundance of claptrap around – and it does it successfully.
Berlingo drivers don’t buy or lease their vehicles with sporty agility in mind and while the latest incarnation’s steering is fairly spongey and uncommunicative, it’s lovely and light for manoeuvring in tight spots, complemented by a decent turning circle. Equally, the tilt experienced during overenthusiastic cornering is somewhat assuaged by typically French and therefore comfortable suspension that does a grand job of dealing with the UK’s lamentable roads. Wing mirrors the size of road atlases further enhance the vehicle’s generally strong visibility, although the thick B-pillars can sometimes impede sight at junctions.
Fuel economy is strong from the 100bhp 1.5-litre HDi diesel Berlingo, averaging just shy of 58mpg after around 300 miles of very mixed and often spirited driving, although admittedly with only two occupants on board and no flat-pack wardrobes in the back. Citroen cite 65.7mpg, and a figure closer to this may be achievable once the engine has bedded in, translating to a range of 650-to-700 miles. Yikes. Scotland to Cornwall for next year’s holiday, anyone?
Priced at £19,600 as tested, the new Citroen Berlingo Feel M 100bhp 1.5-litre HDi diesel 5-speed is a tad more expensive than the entry-level FIAT Doblo but is cheaper than its Peugeot Rifter sibling, and considerably more affordable than other people-carriers, which are admittedly more car-like. For regular use by five occupants who also cart plenty of gubbins around, the 130PS diesel unit mated to an 8-speed automatic gearbox would probably suit the Berlingo more ably.
Just like convertible cargo trousers, the Berlingo may lack the glamour of skinny jeans but leaves other vehicles caught short in terms of real-world usability, and its honest approach is to be admired.