Citroën Berlingo MPV review
“The Citroen Berlingo MPV was very ‘no-frills’ before, but now has a surprisingly nice interior, lots of kit and Citroen’s latest safety features”
- Hugely practical
- Improved design
- Lots of equipment
- Petrols can feel strained
- Door mirror wind noise
- Huge tailgate
The Citroen Berlingo pioneered the concept of offering customers a small van-based MPV in 1996 and has since become a phenomenon, racking up well over 3.3 million sales and developing something of a cult following. Parents with young children, dog owners, people who need a car which can double as a van for work, and drivers who have outdoor hobbies all love the Berlingo’s simple, affordable space and no-frills motoring.
Skip forward to the third-generation Berlingo and the concept hasn’t changed, but you now get a much smarter product, in terms of both design and technology. Although it is still clearly a van-based car, it now has stylish touches which are borrowed from Citroen’s SUV and crossover range. It now shares most of its hidden parts with the Peugeot Rifter and Vauxhall Combo Life, but the Citroen gets arguably the most stylish nose.
A slim upper grille is flanked by LED lamps, while its headlights are sunk into the front bumper. On the sides, there are two 'Airbump' strips which should help shrug off parking knocks, while chunky roof rails mean you’ll be able to carry bikes or more luggage. The latter is unlikely to be necessary in five-seat mode, though, when there's a huge 775 litres of space in the boot. Upgrade from the standard Berlingo M to the XL version (which is 35cm longer) and this grows to 1,050 litres - that’s about the same as a supermini with the seats completely folded!
The XL can be ordered with seven seats and access to the rear is easy thanks to large sliding side doors - a real boon in tight parking spaces, especially for parents struggling with young kids and child seats. The tailgate is huge to help load luggage, but the Berlingo also has a separate opening glass hatch, meaning you can access the boot in tight spots without having to move the car forwards.
The interior is a far better place to be than before, with almost no feeling that you’re driving a model closely related to a van. The materials look and feel plush and there’s a striking infotainment system. It’s also good to know that Citroen hasn’t held back on safety features, despite the Berlingo’s affordable nature. No less than 19 assistance features are available to make driving safer and less stressful.
The engines on offer are a 1.2-litre petrol and 1.5-litre diesel in a variety of power outputs from 99 to 128bhp, most of which are capable of over 50mpg, although engine choices are limited to certain trim levels. The petrol works well despite its comparatively small capacity and would generally be our pick. However if you’re looking to fully load the Berlingo often, tow with it or cover lots of miles, the extra pulling power and fuel economy of the higher-power diesels makes more sense.
The top 128bhp version of the petrol engine is available with an automatic gearbox and there’s even the option of off-road technology, which uses selectable driving modes for different surfaces, just like on expensive SUVs. It won’t give you the same grip as a 4x4 but it might be useful for drivers who occasionally encounter rough roads and slippery situations.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Despite its practicality, the Berlingo has been designed from the outset to be cheap to run, so it’s fitted with the same small engines as Citroen’s superminis. They all have turbochargers for greater efficiency and there’s a choice of six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic gearboxes.
The PureTech 110 manual is our pick for low-mileage drivers, because this 1.2-litre petrol returns up to 45.8mpg and emits from 146g/km of CO2. Run one for business use and it'll fall into a more affordable Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) band.
If you drive over 12,000 miles a year, it could be worth going for a diesel instead for the additional miles between refills. The BlueHDi 100 model is thriftiest, returning up to 57.4mpg, while the same engine with 128bhp manages up to 57mpg. CO2 emissions span from 134-154g/km, resulting in similar Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) bands to the petrol for business users.
Road tax for every Berlingo will set you back £150 a year, while Citroen servicing is as affordable as other mainstream brands.
Engines, drive & performance
Chances are you won’t be buying a Berlingo for the way it drives, but this also means you might get a pleasant surprise from behind the wheel. It almost always feels like a car – rather than a van – and there’s plenty of composure and grip from its chassis and tyres.
Despite its tall roof and reasonably high seating position, there’s not too much lean in corners, while a tight turning circle and light steering make manoeuvring a breeze. The suspension is also supple enough to allow your passengers to nod off or play games without complaints about a bouncy ride.
We’re big fans of the 108bhp 1.2-litre petrol in smaller Citroens, and here it’s smooth and pleasant to use. However, it can feel a little strained if you plan on carrying passengers in all seven seats, at which point the extra grunt of the 1.5-litre diesel starts to make sense. The petrol engine is also available with a smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox that's well suited to the Berlingo's nature.
It's worth noting that not every engine is available throughout the range. The PureTech 110 petrol and BlueHDi 100 diesel are only offered with Feel and Flair trims. Meanwhile, the range-topping PureTech 130 petrol and BlueHDi 130 diesel are limited to the top Flair XTR versions.
Interior & comfort
Although it's based on a van, the third-generation Berlingo is a big step forward in terms of design and technology. The dashboard has been given a much more upmarket feel than before, with better materials and some of the quirky touches from Citroen's C4 Cactus and C3 Aircross models. It’s easier to use, too, with direct controls for the heating and ventilation, so you don’t have to fiddle around with menus.
You’ll still be using the touchscreen a lot, though, and the eight-inch display now perches above the dashboard. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard. Thanks to the sheer amount of space inside, the Berlingo has an airy feel, with a huge windscreen and tall side windows. Citroen has also devised interior ‘ambiances’ to make the most of the space. The standard version is mostly grey, with the occasional dash of green, while ‘Metropolitan Grey’ adds a strip of green and a China Grey dashboard. The ‘Wild Green’ ambiance adds green upholstery with an orange stripe.
Trim levels are called Feel, Flair and Flair XTR, and standard kit includes LED running lights, an eight-inch touchscreen, DAB radio and Bluetooth. Flair adds 16-inch black alloy wheels, black roof rails, an opening tailgate window, privacy glass, individual rear seats and electric rear windows. Meanwhile, the top Flair XTR spec brings 17-inch wheels, a 'Top Vision' rear-view camera, a head-up display and a more quirky design.
Citroen has concentrated on making the Berlingo ride smoothly, and for the most part it’s pretty good, but sharp bumps can be felt around the interior. There’s also quite a bit of wind noise, particularly from the large door mirrors at higher speeds.
Practicality & boot space
First things first, there are two versions of the Berlingo: the shorter M and 35cm longer XL. While these feel identical for front passengers, the XL offers more space and the option of a third row of seats, and a bigger boot.
Of course, this choice will come down to how you plan on using your Berlingo, but given even the standard M has a vast 775-litre boot (in five-seater mode), most buyers are likely to go for the cheaper version. The XL sees boot space grow to a supersized 1,050 litres and in both you can fold the seats down with a foolproof set of levers in the boot, or on the seats themselves. Impressively, once the seats are down, they also leave a flat loading area for sliding items over. Choose seven seats and the back two can be removed from the car entirely when they aren’t needed.
Another neat trick is a flat-folding front passenger seat, so if you need to carry a particularly long item like a surfboard or grandfather clock, the Berlingo M can accommodate something up to 2.7 metres long, while the XL stretches this to just over three metres. Getting objects in shouldn’t be an issue, thanks to the huge tailgate, but that can be a bit of a nuisance in tight car parks or in a garage. Luckily, Citroen has recognised this and made the rear window open separately, allowing you to pop smaller items inside.
Every aspect of the Berlingo has clearly been designed with families in mind, and this is encapsulated by its 186 litres of interior storage spaces. That’s more than the entire boot of some city cars. Choose the Modutop and there’s also a long roof locker, a bit like the one you’ll find in an airliner.
Reliability & safety
The Berlingo has been a very successful model for Citroen – it was its top-selling car in 17 countries in 2017 and more than 3.3 million have been made since 1996. As it's based on commercial hardware, you’d also expect it to be pretty tough, but we’ll have to see if there are any niggles with the third-generation model. The fact Citroen is currently 18th out of 30 manufacturers in our 2020 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey is a small worry but it's an improvement on its 24th-place finish in 2019. Just over 17% of Citroen owners reported a fault within the first 12 months of ownership.
Safety has taken a real leap in the latest Berlingo, with no less than 19 driving assistance systems offered. These range from lane-departure warning and autonomous emergency braking to a colour head-up display and adaptive cruise control. In Euro NCAP crash tests it managed four out of five stars, with an impressive 91% score for adult occupant protection. It dropped points in the vulnerable road users category because of its tall bonnet and stiff windscreen pillars, while its autonomous braking system is unable to detect cyclists.