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Thursday, February 9, 2023

Citroen e-Berlingo

remarkable thing happened to the Citroën ë-Berlingo while we had it on test. On the third day, without warning, it changed from being an expensive EV outlier in a range of piston-powered people carriers into the mainstream model.

Stellantis issued a terse release explaining that, henceforth, petrol and diesel versions of its van-based MPVs (including the Berlingo, Opel/ Vauxhall Combo and Peugeot Rifter triplets) would be electric-only in the UK and EU. Combustion would still power the commercial versions, but the family-oriented ones were goners.

The idea was “to ensure the future viability of these models”, which at first seemed a contradiction in terms. You had to read further to get the true gist: van-based MPVs are heavy and have a big frontal area so use more fuel than svelter ones; and with car makers pressured to cut emissions, something had to give. The Berlingo and its ilk were that something.

None of which strictly affects the merits of the ë-Berlingo: it’s still a useful, utilitarian MPV.

But what the change means is that the leisure vehicle aspect of the Berlingo-Combo-Rifter range – extensively depicted all these years in the brochures – is gone. That’s a function of poor range, which our test (admittedly in freezing conditions) showed to be drastically shorter than the “up to 182 miles WLTP” the 50kWh battery is claimed to deliver.

It repeatedly showed the realistic range to be somewhere between 110 and 120 miles, and you would only travel that far if you were absolutely sure of finding reliable charging at your destination. If, as is common, you risk pitching up at overcrowded or unreliable chargers, you would be wiser to factor in 90- to 100-mile hops – a major change of capability in a car whose petrol and diesel versions get close to a 500-mile touring range. The Berlingo is now a pretty much city-bound people carrier. End of.

In that role, this XL model, with the longer of two wheelbases, does quite well. It is very large inside, and among the few seven-seaters with both great access and adult-size room (head, shoulder and knee) for its rearmost seats. Fold or remove those seats and you’re given a very large, high and symmetrically shaped luggage area.

The price you pay is an overall length knocking on 4.8m, which makes it long in a supermarket space and isn’t helped by a fulsome width (with the admittedly panoramic side mirrors) of 2.1m. The short- wheelbase M makes more sense in the city, unless you need seven seats.

The Berlingo performs well as an EV, despite a 2.44-tonne kerb weight. A 136bhp motor driving the front wheels delivers a very respectable 0-62mph time of 9.0sec (accelerator response is sharpened by Sport mode or dulled by Economy), although the top speed is modest indeed at 84mph and you will shorten the range yet further if you go anywhere near it.

Happily, the ë-Berlingo retains most of the suppleness we’re used to, probably because the chassis people are content to allow rather relaxed body control in exchange for good, quiet bump absorption. There’s a pleasant strolling aspect to progress.

The long wheelbase can make the XL feel cumbersome, but the steering is as nicely weighted, accurate and perfectly geared as it has always been. Driving this MPV is still fun.

In sum, it’s a thoroughly decent vehicle, but its bandwidth of usability is restricted. Its accommodation is brilliant but its shortage of range will be a bind for many. The basic Feel version is well priced and comes with the virtue of 16in tyres on steel wheels that are far harder to kerb than most. It’s a very practical thing – except in one all-important aspect.

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