Citroen's Berlingo Multispace has come a long way. There's even now an all-electric version. Jonathan Crouch checks out the improved second generation version and wonders if families really need to pay more for pricier compact MPVs.
Ten Second Review
Try and picture a van-based compact people carrier. Bet you weren't imagining anything quite as nice as this. The current version of Citroen's much more civilised second generation Berlingo Multispace has in recent years been further distanced from the original MK1 model's basic commercial roots. With smart styling, strong equipment levels and the hi-tech option of efficient BlueHDi diesel engines and even all-electric power, this value-for-money five or seven-seater is now a vehicle that demands to be taken very seriously indeed. If you're after a budget family carry-all, it's well worth a look.
Some cars aren't too precious about the lives they need. Take Citroen's classic post-war 2CV. You could drive it across a ploughed field, hose it clean, subject it to a fearful leathering, then pass it on like a family heirloom. It was uniquely French, uniquely Citroen and its modernday successor was the first generation of this car, Citroen's Berlingo Multispace.
By the time this second generation version was launched in 2008, we'll over a million Multispace models were pounding European roads - but people were hanging on to them. To further develop sales, Citroen needed to bridge the gap a little between this Berlingo and more conventional small people carriers. Hence the emergence of this MK2 model as a more sophisticated thing, with underpinnings now based on a car, the French brand's C4 Picasso MPV, rather than a van. In recent times, the brand has improved it further, adding clever BlueHDi diesel technology for lower running costs, even more clever equipment and a smarter look. It all aims to create a very complete compact people carrier. The only one you'll ever need? Let's find out.
You'll probably be very pleasantly surprised by how the Berlingo Multispace drives. The old bump, thump and reverberations that characterised earlier versions have well and truly gone. I know it's a bit of a cliche when discussing this sort of MPV but there is a lot of truth in describing this boxy Citroen as 'car-like'. For what is quite a tall, high vehicle, there's none of the tippy feeling that characterised the first generation version of this design, helped in no small part by beefier anti roll bars.
And a much improved suspension set-up. Which in turn has made possible the kind of ride quality you'd like to expect from a Citroen: in other words absorbent and very well tuned for our terrible roads. It's an important thing to consider, for I reckon that aside from safety and practicality, ride quality needs to be one of your key criteria when making a decision on an MPV-style vehicle. Too firm and you'll never manage to get the kids off to sleep on a long journey at night: too soft and they'll get car sick. The Berlingo Multispace strikes a good balance because it's a little softer than you might expect in compression and rebound - in other words, over the bumps - but a little firmer than you'd think in roll - in other words, around the corners.
Engine-wise, you get to choose between a 1.6-litre VTi 95 petrol unit at the bottom end of the line-up, but from then on, it's diesel all the way, with Citroen's latest 1.6-litre BlueHDi powerplant offered in three states of tune, with either 75, 100 or 120bhp. To be frank, the petrol engine only really makes sense for low mileage owners. On longer trips, the extra torque you get from the diesel - 40% more even with the feeblest BlueHDi variant - really tells. Mind you, you don't have to have an engine. For frugally-focus urban-based families, the clever all-electric version could appeal.
Design and Build
The transition from utilitarian boxiness to a semblance of swoopy style was smartly accomplished with the second generation Berlingo Multispace in 2008. A few well chosen front end tweaks have kept it looking smart. But it's inside that the contrast between this modern Multispace and the utilitarian original are most marked. Spartan wipe-clean black plastic is replaced in top second generation variants like this one by smart design, soft-touch plastics and a hi-tech cabin-fest capable of satisfying the most demanding modern family. Everything from MyWay satellite navigation to a Bluetooth and USB-enabled 'Connecting Box' for the stereo system. There's even an optional Modutop roof apparently inspired by aviation which combines a glazed top with multiple stowage compartments and even interior roof bars for storing your snowboard. It also includes an air freshener system that works with the vents to spread a subtly scented atmosphere around the cabin.
Talking of storage, there are cubbies and storage bins absolutely everywhere in this Berlingo, though some, like this useful overhead storage shelf, are either optional or to be found only on plusher variants. There's a 675-litre boot which can take as much as 3000-litres if you remove the seats.
As before, standard Berlingo Multispace models are five-seat models only, the rear cabin accessible by sliding side doors that'll stop your kids from re-sculpting the paintwork of adjacent cars when they leap out in a crowded carpark. Opt for the mid-spec Feel trim and you can carry more of them, should you choose to pay extra for a 'Family Pack' that will give you a couple of extra fold-out (and removable) seats in the boot - though these are really only intended for smaller folk.
Market and Model
Let's face it, cash-strapped families don't want to spend too much on the car that'll move them about. The good news with this Berlingo Multispace is that they don't have to. Prices range in the £13,500 to £18,500 bracket, around £5,000 less than you'd pay for a conventional five-seat MPV like Ford's C-MAX, Renault's Scenic or indeed the Citroen C4 Picasso that shares this model's underpinnings.
There are a few caveats here though. It's no good buying an entry-level Touch variant and expecting all of the flexibility that makes this model what it is. For things like the three individual rear seats and the seven-seater Family Pack (and I'd want both if I was a potential buyer), you've to spend at least £15,500 on a Feel-spec model - and even then, both of these features cost extra. At this level, most will want the BlueHDi 100 diesel engine, a unit which, for another £700, can come complete with Citroen's latest fuel-saving technology mated to a clever ETG6 automatic gearbox.
At the top of the Berlingo Multispace line-up is the XTR trim level we tried, with its mildly SUV-style looks. It's actually quite capable thanks to raised suspension and underbody engine protection, something you can take advantage of if you pay another £400 to specify the Safety Plus Pack that'll give you a Grip Control system capable of dealing with slippery surfaces in its stride.
Cost of Ownership
Day-to-day running costs are kept well in check, but they're not shown in their best light by the entry-level 1.6-litre petrol-engined model, a car that returns an unremarkable CO2 figure of 148g/km and a combined fuel economy reading of not much more than 40mpg.
Most though, will want a diesel, where the news is much better. Equipped with a manual gearbox, all three of the volume 1.6-litre BlueHDi units - 75, 100 and 120bhp variants - manage well over 55mpg on the combined cycle.
All are clean too. The CO2 figure for the BlueHDi 75 unit is 113g/km. That's a return duplicated by the BlueHDi 100 model and you can improve that to 109g/km if you for the same car fitted with the ETG6 auto gearbox. The BlueHDi 120 manages 115g/km. If you really want clean Berlinggo Multispace, you'll really want the all-electric 'E-Berlingo' model, which offers a 106-mile range and can be re-charged to 50% of its total range in 15 minutes or to 80% of capacity in 30 minutes from a dedicated rapid charge point.
The original first generation Citroen Berlingo Multispace was a car that was enormously endearing. Like a faithful family hound, it wasn't flashy, could be a little agricultural in its manners but would never let you down. The second generation design though, set out to add a little pedigree to the breed and in doing so, changed the rules quite significantly, positioning this model as a more desirable family accoutrement. Spend enough on this much improved MK2 model version and it can be as stylish, safe and high-tech as you could possibly want.
Going that route of course dilutes much of the price advantage that so sets more basic variants apart from more conventional - and arguably more car-like - compact MPVs. But it doesn't negate it completely. Which means that you can specify this Berlingo precisely the way you want and still end up with one of the most affordable five or seven-seat people carriers on the market. And a car that's far more spacious and practical than most of its contemporaries into the bargain. Which of course is why Berlingo Multispace sales remain so strong - and why you need to try one of these if you're looking for a good value set of family wheels. You can thank me later.