By Jonathan Crouch
The Citroen Berlingo Multispace made its name as a van with windows and seats. When it first appeared way back in June 1998, it was a rather crude and simple thing. Those looking for a bit of trivia might enjoy the fact that it was the very first car reviewed on the studio edition of Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson claiming that it rode like a Jaguar. Since that time it's become a good deal bigger and more sophisticated, or at least it has since the second generation version was launched in 2008. This model got its first significant revision in 2012, a version that sold until 2015. That's the version we'll be looking in detail at here as a used car buy.
When the second generation Berlingo Multispace was launched in 2008, this model changed focus. Now running on the same platform as the Citroen C4, the Berlingo van this MPV has always been based on grew bigger and slicker. Ride quality was improved, the cabin grew more sophisticated and it no longer seemed a vehicle that you'd think of taking a hose to get rid of interior filth.
Fast forward to 2012 and Citroen instigated a facelift of its popular people hauler. As well as reducing emissions and adding power to some engines, this revised Berlingo Multispace got a wider grille, a new chevron badge and an updated headlight arrangement. The indicators, for example, were now to the side of the main light units and were underlined by blue segments. The lower part of the grille could be fitted with static cornering lights integrated with the fog lights and LEDs provided an eye-catching daytime lighting signature. The side mirrors were updated with a more aerodynamic design, helping to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. A 'Black Pack' was also introduced, with Onyx Black trim on top of the front bumper, side mirrors, side rubbing strips and rear number plate moulding. Inside the cabin, colours and materials were revised on all levels of trim for a more contemporary feel. Two new body colours, Nocciola and Belle Ile Blue, were also added to the palette of available paint finishes. Further Berlingo Multispace revisions were revealed in mid-2015 when the vehicle was updated to Euro6 status..
What You Get
The transition from utilitarian boxiness to a semblance of swoopy style was smartly accomplished with the second generation Berlingo Multispace in 2008. The post-2012 package of facelift changes offered further icing on the cake, intended, according to Citroen, to give this design a 'stronger personality'. 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 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. Citroen even offered 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 the useful overhead cabin storage shelf, were only optional on original models or could only be found on plusher variants. A few of the hideaways you might only locate after a few days with the car - take the secondary glove box behind the steering wheel. It makes up for the fact that space in the ordinary glovebox is so restricted.
That steering wheel betrays a few commercial origins by being a touch more upright in stance than is strictly car-like but at least it adjusts for both reach and rake. Otherwise though, the driving position's good, providing you're in a version with a height-adjustable driver's seat, with all the controls clearly marked and falling easily to hand, especially the gearlever that sprouts neatly into your palm from the dash. And we love the extra rear view mirror (fitted to plusher variants) that enables you to more easily see what your little horrors are getting up to behind as you drive.
In all models, the rear cabin is 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. Entry-level spec Berlingo Multispace models though, only get five-seats. Find yourself a mid-spec VTR-trimmed variant fitted with the optional 'Family Pack' and this Citroen will come with a couple of extra fold-out (and removable) seats in the boot - though these are really only intended for smaller folk.
Bear in mind also that unless you get yourself a pricier top-spec XTR variant, you may not get the three individually folding, tilting and removable main rear seats that we'd say are pretty essential to the whole Multispace experience. Not unless the original owner paid extra for them anyway. You can recline these chairs for greater comfort on longer journeys, or, if there are only two of you, fold forward the backrest of the centre seat to create a picnic table with built-in cupholders. Base Multispace models unfortunately get none of this cleverness, simply making do with a conventional ordinary fixed rear split-folding bench.
Either way though, rear seat passengers should be pretty comfortable - especially when it comes to headroom levels fit for the carriage of the most elaborate headgear. With these three individual seats, this becomes one of the few affordable compact MPVs capable of comfortably transporting three fully-sized adults on longer journeys in decent comfort. They'll be well looked after too, with individually-controlled ventilation and additional lighting, plus aircraft-style seat back tables (standard on the XTR) and storage provision that includes two floor compartments designed to keep your gear away from prying eyes.
As for luggage space, well on models not fitted out with the two extra sixth and seventh seats, the cargo area is vast. Though not that easy to access. The huge tailgate is heavy to lift - and awkward to raise if you're in a tight space. Some models were fitted with the option of the separately opening rear hatch glass. This allows you to far more easily throw in smaller items like shopping bags. Original buyers could also specify a 50-litre drop-down roof compartment that drops down out of the ceiling to swallow smaller items like tennis racquets.
But what of the luggage bay itself? Well, with the rear parcel shelf in place, a total of 675 litres is available - or 1,350-litres if you load to the roof. Take out the second row seats though (assuming you're strong enough of back and you've a garage to store them in) and a potential load space of 3000-litres means your Multispace could swallow four washing machines. Try doing that in a Zafira, a Scenic or a C-MAX.
What to Look For
The Berlingo Multispace feels pretty durable: it has its commercial vehicle roots to thank for that. It is, however, the nature of the van-based MPV market that models come in for some pretty rough treatment. It's always best to give the interior a thorough going over to make sure all the handles, levers, buttons and dials work as they should. Kids can play havoc with most MPVs but the Berlingo Multispace is built tough. Still, it's worth checking over the upholstery, door panels, parcel shelf and head lining to see if its torn, scratched, damaged or discoloured. Check the paint finish too. Citroen paint quality isn't the greatest. Electricals should all work as expected. Take a walk round and check that all indicators are functioning and check that the wheels and bodywork aren't wearing too many supermarket car park war-wounds.
(approx based on a 2012 Berlingo 1.6 HDi) A clutch kit is around £300, as is a diesel particulate filter. Front brake discs are £75 a pair and pads will set you back around £40. Mirror glass is £13, spark plugs are £10 each and a timing belt retails at £60.
On the Road
If you haven't sampled one of these second generation Berlingo Multispace models, you'll probably be very pleasantly surprised by how this Citroen drives. The old bump, thump and reverberations that characterised the first generation version were well and truly banished by this MK2 model. In fact, there's a lot of truth in describing this boxy French contender 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 we 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.
Refinement of course is leagues ahead of the first generation model, but that of course shouldn't be today's benchmark. How does it compare against an ordinary car-like MPV like Citroen's own C4 Picasso? Not too badly, we'd suggest. The interior space is greater of course, so you will get a little more noise reverberating off the walls but engine noise, tyre rumble and wind roar have all been reduced to manageable levels. Which is just as well, for these small differences actually have a big effect on how fresh you feel at the end of a journey. Your stoppers are four disc brakes with anti lock, electronic brake force distribution, emergency brake assist and automatic deployment of the hazard warning lights when you really plant the middle pedal. In other words, you're more than covered.
Engine-wise, you get to choose between a 1.6-litre petrol at the bottom end of the line-up, but from then on, it's diesel all the way, with Citroen's trusty 1.6-litre HDi offered in three states of tune, with either 75, 90 or 115bhp. 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 HDi variant - really tells.
The HDi 75 variant is respectably quick for this kind of car, making sixty from rest in around 14s, but even so, almost all Berlingo buyers opt for this unit in 90bhp form. This pokier unit is interesting insofar as it was offered with either the expected five-speed manual gearbox or the rather more exotic 6-speed EGS robotised manual transmission in the case of the frugal e-HDi version. The EGS box requires a little bit of practice to drive smoothly, but it does return slightly better fuel consumption and emissions figures and if you're routinely driving in traffic, your left leg gets a well deserved rest. There are even paddle shifters, although we doubt you'll feel like an F1 driver at any point.
At the top of the range, the punchy 115bhp engine is the one to choose if you plan on doing any towing or you just like a car that makes mincemeat of typical overtaking manoeuvres on the motorway. It really surges nicely through the gears on a plump wave of torque and will get to 60mph in a smidgeon over 12 seconds on the way to a still rather modest top speed of 107mph. But then this Berlingo does have a bit of frontal area to present to the air stream.
Other things to note? Well the manual gearbox doesn't like to be hurried with a rather long throw between ratios, but then this isn't any kind of sports car. More importantly, all-round visibility is very good, with particular credit going to the enormous mirrors. Along with a relatively tight turning circle and the vast glass area, it all makes town driving much easier than you might expect.
Beyond the city limits, the top XTR-trimmed model should fit in quite well with all the 4x4s on the school run thanks to SUV-like trimming that isn't all for show. True, it doesn't have all-wheel drive but it can make the better use of its front-driven wheels in slippery conditions thanks to the optional 'Grip Control' system, borrowed from Peugeot's 3008 Crossover. Original buyers could get this set-up packaged with extra cost ESP stability control, a feature that the system's dash-mounted rotary controller enables you to activate or disable. This offers a dial with three settings to help you better power your way through either snow, mild off road or sandy conditions. OK, so it won't be much good in the Serengeti but a combination of the system's extra traction and the XTR model's slightly increased ride height should deal comfortably with muddy car parks and icy mornings.
The Citroen Berlingo Multispace made plenty of more expensive MPVs suddenly look very silly when it was first introduced back in 1998. Here was a car that could fulfil the family hauling duties without putting a huge dent in the budget. Today, it's still at it. Other manufacturers have tried to copy the theme, but the Berlingo has always been one step ahead of them.
These post-2012 facelift Mk2 models are well worth tracking down, because for affordable money, they offer virtually everything you'd get with a plusher compact MPV and give you greater practicality, plus a lot more change in your pocket. We'd push the boat out a bit and go for an XTR-spec model but, truth be told, there's really not a bad Berlingo Multispace in the range. It's cheap, but as a used buy it remains a class act.