Even the richest of manufacturers frequently have money-saving JVs for light commercials, particularly in Europe. Groupe PSA, allied with Fiat Chrysler for large vans, also now supplies Toyota with the Proace Verso. One size down, a modified version of the same EMP2 platform is used for the Peugeot Rifter, Opel Combo and Citroën Berlingo triplets. 

I always thought of the Berlingo as a small MPV. No longer. The extended wheelbase version lent to me recently had lavish space for seven as well as a decent amount of room for bags.

Berlingo-Rifter-Combo – PSA’s MPV triplets

A quick catch-up for anyone who missed the arrival of the new generation K9 series models: the Berlingo, Peugeot Rifter and Opel/Vauxhall Combo Life are part of the same family, this alliance having been created back in April 2015 and therefore long pre-dating the sale of Opel-Vauxhall to Groupe PSA. The Rifter name may be new but Peugeot still calls the LCV version Partner. And the Berlingo van? That’s Berlingo Van. With a capital V.

Five seats, seven seats, two body lengths

The third generation Berlingo had its public debut alongside the Rifter at last year’s Geneva motor show. There are five-seat (‘M’) and extended wheelbase (‘XL’) bodies. The second of these can be ordered with five or seven seats. In the second-row, each of three individual seats folds flat, and in XL variants, the third row can be removed.

Unlike the previous model, the current one’s sliding rear doors have windows which can be lowered rather than merely flipped via a hinge, while the tailgate’s window can again be opened.

Citroën says the standard wheelbase Berlingo Multispace’s load volume is up by 100 litres to 775, while the XL has up to 1,050 litres of space. I can believe those numbers. What I hadn’t realised is that the XL body makes this quite a lengthy vehicle for what used to be a model that for many years helped to define the C-MPV segment. Now, lengths are 4,403 and 4,753mm, so we’re talking slightly more than a Peugeot 3008 for the former and about the same as a 508 for the latter.

Architecture – EMP2 but with tweaks

Groupe PSA has given these models a bespoke architecture, which comprises an update of the previous platform with elements of the newer EMP2. Production is at VIGO, the retooled Spanish plant now seeing far higher levels of build thanks to the addition of not only the new models but also, for the first time, the Opel and Vauxhall equivalents. Prior to the arrival of the latest versions, there hadn’t been a passenger variant of the Opel Combo for Vauxhall. That vehicle was a JV with Fiat anyway, its build taking place in Turkey.

Curiously, only the Peugeot offers all-wheel drive. This is supplied by French 4×4 specialist firm Dangel, which has created four-wheel drive Peugeots and Citroëns since 1980. Buyers of all three models have the choice of 1.2-litre PureTech petrol and a 1.5-litre BlueHDi diesel engines, each of which comes with various outputs.

Divisive looks?

From one angle, the Berlingo is going to be loved by some and loathed by others, so it’s good that PSA offers alternative brands for anyone shopping in this segment. Personally, I loved the look of the old model and thought the integration of the brand’s chevrons into the shiny plastic lines which ran across the vehicle’s front end was an especially attractive touch. The new look? I’m not so sure that it’s an improvement. Still, no-one will mistake this MPV for anything else and that will appeal to many people.

The Berlingo’s stacked lights are joined by plastic inserts either side of the registration plate. While these are mostly dark grey, this is broken up with the addition of some white detailing. That is repeated on the vehicle’s sliding rear doors and the effect is successful if preventing a slab-like appearance was the intention. By contrast to what the styling department has done up front, the back end looks very similar to the previous model and that’s no bad thing.

Interior and access

The only serious flaw of this vehicle is how people in the second row close the sliding doors. Even after swinging yourself around to extend an arm it’s quite hard to get hold of the internal door handle as it is positioned too far back. Also, anyone lacking in the muscle department can have a battle to pull these doors open or closed when the Berlingo is on a slope. For that reason, electric assistance should be standard. By contrast, the tailgate comes with a strap which makes light work of closure.

It’s a pity about the too-heavy sliding doors as once inside, the available space is in the lounging class. You would have to be a giant to complain about inadequate headroom and that applies equally to the third row. The same is true for occupants of the front seats. They also benefit from an HGV-style shelf above the sun visors. I’m not sure what you would store up there; nothing that could slide around at least. This is a handy place to stash valuables if you don’t want to walk around the back and open the boot to hide any belongings when parked in less salubrious locations.

Soft ride, good roadholding

MPVs which can also be vans weren’t always the best to drive compared to vehicles expressly developed as people carriers. No-one can say that about the Berlingo. In fact, this biggish vehicle, propelled by a diesel engine linked to a manual transmission in the case of the press-test vehicle, comes as a welcome novelty. The steering has good weighting to it, if a few more turns from lock to lock than a car-derived MPV such as the C4 SpaceTourer. The ride though is a revelation, the 2,975mm wheelbase (2,785 for M versions) being one of the main reasons. Great to see Citroën finding its way back to the days when super-comfortable vehicles were its default setting.

I’m all for automatic transmissions as a way of removing much frustration from traffic jams. This Citroën though, has a great gear-change action and six well chosen ratios which get the best from 300Nm and 96kW. The XL length variant can also be ordered with a 250Nm and 75kW version of the 1,499cc four-cylinder diesel. That comes only in five-speed manual form whereas the 300Nm engine is able to be paired to an eight-speed automatic if owners prefer.

The petrol alternative has three cylinders and a capacity of 1,199cc, with 81kW of power and 250Nm of torque. The manual is a six-speeder and the same Aisin eight-ratio torque converter auto is optional.

Summary

Pricing for the new Berlingo line-up starts at GBP19,425 and stretches to GBP26,645 which seems like very good value as every variant has a decent level of standard equipment. You can also imagine that Groupe PSA will be making strong returns from its three van and MPV models, all of which are made in the one plant with the same architecture and powertrains.

With the Renault Kangoo at the end of its life cycle and the VW Caddy now four years old, Citroën, as well as its PSA brother brands, has a strong advantage in the European medium-sized MPV segment, for now at least.