The Citroen Berlingo, like the Peugeot Rifter and Vauxhall Combo Life with which it shares a platform, is an MPV built on light van architecture.
It’s a segment that lauds practicality above all else, prioritising masses of space in the boot (775 litres, 4,000 with the seats folded) to swallow up buggies, prams, wheelchairs and – with the seats down – push bikes while leaving room in the cabin for five full-sized passengers.
Past versions of the car have struggled to disguise the commercial vehicle underpinnings and have typically been drab looking, boring and wobbly to drive and in a world filled with rugged-looking SUVs and slick hatches, pretty unappealing image-wise.
Citroen Berlingo Flair
Price: £21,875 (£26,020 as driven)
Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, diesel
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Top speed: 114mph
0-62mph: 12.3 seconds
Economy: 45.1 -50.3mpg
But it’s also a segment that’s refreshingly, completely, lacking in pretence. A seven-seat SUV like a Skoda Kodiaq or a Peugeot 5008 will let families fit more than two children’s car seats in the back and allow the driver to kid themselves that they are still the rugged adventurer they were in their 20s, able to handle themselves off-road and ready for the apocalypse should it arrive while they whisk the children off to pre-school.
The five-seat Berlingo will let you do that without the delusional ego stroking at a fraction of the price.
That’s not to say the designers haven’t made any effort, the new car is the best looking Berlingo yet and the remodelled grille, the air bumps along the flanks and the roof rails on the top tie the aesthetics to the rest of the Citroen line-up’s distinctive styling.
Inside, the cabin is very similar to what you’ll find in the Rifter: it’s comfortable, spacious and has a mood lighting bar suspended beneath the ceiling and more practical little pockets than an army surplus jacket.
Our test car was in the higher of the two trims available at launch; Flair. This adds parking sensors, electric rear windows, sat nav and an electronic handbrake to the lower-specced Feel trim level.
It doesn’t feel especially luxurious but that extra equipment is expected by buyers now and helps elevate the Berlingo in comparison to the Berlingo van.
The car was powered by the 1.5-litre diesel engine in 99bhp tuning. A 74bhp and a more powerful 128bhp version of the diesel is available as well as two petrol variants.
The 99bhp version felt a good fit for the car, without ever feeling sprightly and ought to be enough for most drivers. The car also comes in seven-seat configuration and I suspect the added weight of the extra passengers will make the 128bhp tuning the better option there.
Automatic transmissions are available, but our test car had the five-speed manual gearbox which shifted smoothly without feeling slick.
The steering is accurate and light at low-speed – which is just as well as the car feels pretty large in comparison to most SUVs and even the outgoing model. I’d be sure to add the park assist and vis pack at £700 so you get a reversing camera on top of the parking sensors that are standard with this trim.
The steering stiffens up a bit speed, but not overly much. Coupled with a ride that’s on the soft side this isn’t a car that rewards drivers with thrilling handling if you try and push it on a twisty B-road. There’s quite a bit of body roll too, but if you drive it sensibly it’s a relaxed and comfortable drive.
Our test car starts at £21,875 before options which, when you factor in useability, space and levels of standard equipment is an attractive price. Add on options and the price starts to shoot up quite quickly but, choose carefully and you can get an awful lot for your money.