Citroën's Berlingo, introduced in 1996, has been a hit – but not perhaps in quite the way the company expected.
About 800,000 of the original van version have been sold, but Citroën has shifted even more – about a million – of the Multispace variant, a sort of budget people carrier with extra seats and rear windows.
The original Berlingo, now renamed Berlingo First, lives on but has been joined by the substantially new second-generation Multispace tested by our readers this week. Citroën has a habit of running old models on alongside their successors for a few years, and in this case it has a good reason for following this policy: the new car is so much bigger than the original (it is 10 inches longer) that it feels more like a larger sister model for the Berlingo First than its replacement.
Citroen Berlingo Multispace 1.6 HDI VTR
Engine: 1.6 litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel
Top speed: 100 mph Acceleration 0-62 mph in 14.3 seconds
Average fuel consumption: 49.6 mpg
CO2 emissions: 150g/km
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The new car looks very similar to the old one but is based on the platform of the C4 Picasso MPV; this fact provides the key to understanding both its increased size and its appealing, if contradictory, personality.
Inside and out, the new Berlingo displays the same sort of cheerful plasticky practicality as the old; the exterior is protected by big chunky bumpers and rubbing strips, while the interior is full of useful cubby-holes and storage spaces. It also offers an enormous amount of room for passengers as well.
But out on the road, it quickly becomes clear that the new Berlingo provides nothing like the van-like driving experience its unpretentious design might lead you expect; instead, those C4 Picasso underpinnings make for excellent ride comfort and flat, car-like cornering. Only the slightly annoying bus-like horizontal tilt of the steering wheel provides any hint of a link to the world of commercial vehicles. The diesel engine, like most of those fitted to recent Peugeots and Citroëns, is impressively quiet and strong.
Add Citroën's traditional keen pricing to this car's practicality and impressive on-road performance, and it seems a safe bet that the second-generation Berlingo will be as successful as the original.
Keith Edwards, 47, news cameraman, Wilmslow
Usual cars: Ford Galaxy, BMW convertible
Car makers don't turn out many turkeys these days. All the more puzzling then to me that these 'ugly ducklings' sell in such numbers, but then the penny dropped. They're not made to win beauty contests or races but perform the more mundane tasks of everyday family life. And this one does a great job. It may not be a looker but underneath the skin is a sound chassis that faithfully obeys orders from the helm. It drives smoothly, quietly and without drama and will do everything that anyone could reasonably ask of such a workhorse. The engine's a gem and pulls well from low revs without fuss, but this is quite a bus and it could get a bit short of puff with a full load. And what a load that can be: capacious is barely adequate a word. It's all been beautifully thought out.
Howard Roscoe, 34, analyst, Manchester
Usual cars: Ford Focus ST, Vauxhall Vectra
My initial thought on the Berlingo was that it was no looker. Getting inside, it feels a lot bigger than it looks on the outside and there is plenty of space and legroom. The dash is a bit lumpy; however everything is clear, easy to use and perfectly functional. The ride and handling are surprisingly good for a car of this ilk: the Berlingo feels responsive, yet it soaks up the lumps and bumps in the road and the seats were particularly comfy. Performance is perfectly adequate and the gearbox is slick to use. The Berlingo is quick enough and only sounded like a diesel when pushed hard. It was easy to drive on motorways as well and cruised happily at 70 with little or no wind noise. For me, the Berlingo is a very comfortable, easy to use, extremely practical family car at a very good price.
Nigel Brewitt, 44, senior fingerprint officer, Rotherham
Usual cars: Mazda MX5, Toyota Yaris
My initial impression was that it seemed to be much less like a van with windows than the previous model, while appearing larger and more solid. I was impressed by the storage space and I also liked the sliding rear doors for ease of access in confined spaces. In addition, the cabin felt spacious and the all-round visibility was excellent. Once underway, the diesel engine felt smooth and willing, although I guess a full load of people and cargo would be the ultimate test. The gear change was smooth and road noise very acceptable even at motorway speeds; the ride also remained settled on more uneven surfaces. Overall, I would recommend the Berlingo as an excellent value-for-money alternative to the more traditional family cars on the market.