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23 Jun, 2019 1:00pm Hugo Griffiths
First report: we find inner peace with our Citroen Berlingo XL Flair people carrier
“It's a van.” “No, it’s a car.” Arguments with six-year-old children rarely go well, but as soon as my eldest son climbed into our Citroen Berlingo, he had nothing but enthusiasm for the new MPV on our fleet.
I had a similar experience on my first encounter with the car, being immediately struck by its sheer size, exaggerated by the close confines of Auto Express’ underground car park. There’s no disguising the model’s slab-sidedness, either, partly because I’ve got the seven-seater XL version which, as well as having an extra two seats, is 35cm longer than its ‘M’-sized counterpart.
But any reservations about the Berlingo’s size or class disappeared as soon as I started it up and moved off, because there can be few cars on sale today that are easier or more relaxing to drive than the Citroen.
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The first thing that helps this laid-back vibe is the visibility from the driver’s seat, aided by the upright seating position, the vast windows and the SUV-esque ride height. Then there’s the steering, which is so light that manoeuvring in and out of parking spaces and car parks is a doddle, not least because our Berlingo is fitted with the £800 City Park pack. In addition to a self-parking system, this brings all-round parking sensors, plus top-down and conventional reversing cameras. There’s almost nothing around the car I can’t see.
But there’s more, because another option I’m lucky enough to have is Citroen’s EAT8 automatic gearbox. This conventional torque-converter suits the Berlingo’s chilled-out nature perfectly, slurring its shifts in a wonderfully smooth fashion that makes for effortless progress.
Ride is another area in which the model excels. The blend of modest 16-inch alloy wheels, high-profile tyres and soft suspension means that the speed bumps and potholes on our roads in the capital city intrude far less than they do in most cars.
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All of these elements combine to make the Berlingo genuinely pleasurable to drive around my patch of south London. Sure, the top-of-the-range BlueHDi 130 diesel engine can be a little gruff when pushed, a 0-62mph time of 11.5 seconds isn’t going to set the world on fire, and that comfort-geared suspension means you’ll experience a fair degree of body roll if you go round a corner too quickly. But that’s all the more reason to take things easy when you’re behind the wheel and enjoy the space and comfort.
Speaking of space, practicality is the Berlingo’s raison d’être, and I have a feeling that I’m yet to discover all the cubbyholes. Our XL variant misses out on the M’s optional Modutop roof-storage solution, but we’re hardly wanting for space.
There’s a massive, cabin-width overhead compartment above the front seats, a lidded cubby on the right side of the dash, a drawer under the driver’s seat and a wireless charging bay (a reasonable £100 option), plus a little shelf behind the infotainment screen.
And that’s before you get to the vast boot, made even bigger if you remove the third row of seats. Yes, some friends are already buttering us up to help them out with a garden clearance, and yes, Passion Red paint does make it slightly resemble a Royal Mail van, but I do like some of the other colours available, such as the dark blue shade.
Other issues? Well, including the fitted optional extras, this is a close-to £30,000 Berlingo. That’s a lot of money for a car of this kind and, while you can have a seven-seater XL for a little over £21,000, if you want the automatic transmission you’ll need a budget of over £24,400 – partly because an auto is only offered with the top-spec diesel engine.
If we’re being really picky, the rear-view mirror is far too small to make the most of the excellent visibility provided by the huge back window, and the fact the fuel filler cap is opened with the key reminds us of the car’s commercial roots.
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None of this detracts from the honest appeal of the Berlingo, though. It’s not a car for big egos, nor is it one for people with inferiority complexes. But if you put aside your prejudices about how ‘cool’ a car needs to look, the Citroen makes a strong case as the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of modern driving, and a car in which you can truly find inner peace among all the cubbyholes.
Oh, and my eldest son and I have settled on calling our Citroen Berlingo a people carrier, which we decided was both fair and accurate.
*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.
4 Inner peace is difficult to find on today’s hectic roads, but the Citroen Berlingo instantly brings about a sense of calm, relaxation and equilibrium. You’ll need to leave your ego at the sliding doors to truly appreciate it, but taken on its own merits, the Berlingo is faultlessly easy and enjoyable to drive, and the perfect tonic to the frenetic London life it’s quickly settling into.
- Model: Citroen Berlingo XL Flair BlueHDi 130
- On fleet since: May 2019
- Price new: £26,650
- Engine: 1.5-litre 4cyl, 128nhp
- CO2/tax: 118g/km/£145
- Options: Metallic paint (£545), smartphone charging plate (£100), Drive Assist pack (£200), City Park pack (£800), Grip Control (£650)
- Insurance*: Group: 14E, Quote: £441
- Mileage/mpg: 514/41.2mpg
- Any problems?: None so far