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Going going green

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Citroën’s new Berlingo is badged the Airdream to highlight its greener credentials, but do the changes make for a better, more economical drive?

 

The Range

The Airdream shares the same load dimensions and weights as the standard Berlingo; so the weights range from 1.9t to 2.1t gross and payloads vary from 621kg to 876kg. However, the Airdream is only available on the Berlingo’s 90hp 1.6-litre HDi. Wheelbase on both models is the same at 2,728mm.

The two load volumes of 3.3m3 and 3.7m³correspond to the two load lengths, 1,800mm and 2,050mm, and there is just the one roof height (1,250mm). Both models have a 1.6-litre Euro-5 engine producing 88hp and 215Nm of torque at 1,500rpm and a six-speed automatic transmission.

 

Driveline

Automated transmissions have become fairly common in the LCV market, particularly in higher GVW vans where the greatest economy gains are likely to be achieved. So, too, have the stop/start systems that manufacturers have begun fitting across many models to help lower CO2 emissions. What we have yet to experience, however, is the two systems on the same vehicle – until, that is, the Berlingo Airdream ESG6 arrived.

With a six-speed automatic transmission, controlled by a dash-mounted selector the Berlingo’s gearbox functions as you would expect. Simply rotate the dial to select drive and press the accelerator, or if you want to take control of the shifts yourself, pull on the paddle-shifts located on either side of the steering wheel. It’s not until you begin to slow down that the system gets interesting.

Ready to pounce as you near a standstill is the stop/start system, which is activated at around 3mph to help cut idling times in traffic. While this is a worthwhile system, it is different to the conventional three-pedal systems where the stop/start is not activated until the clutch and brake pedal are both depressed. Without a clutch pedal, the Berlingo waits until the brake is pressed to kill the engine, a reasonable method, albeit one that is slightly unnerving when we found ourselves coasting into a parking space with the engine already in shutdown.

The system is part of a much wider fuel-saving set-up used in these new Airdream models, with the £340 premium customers will pay for an Airdream model adding a micro-hybrid drivetrain system with ‘regenerative braking’.

Engine options remain unchanged, which meant both vehicles arrived with a 1.6-litre Euro-5 engine producing 88hp and 215Nm of torque at 1,500rpm. 
Unlike an electric or hybrid system, where energy clawed back through braking is used to increase mileage, the Airdream’s system feeds power back to the alternator during braking, allowing alternator load on the engine to be decreased at other times.

It’s not really regenerative braking, but it does reduce the power drain to contribute a small amount to boosting overall MPG. The 1.6-litre engine producing 88hp and 215Nm of torque meets Euro-5 requirements thanks to the inclusion of a DPF and emits just 123g/km of CO2.

Productivity

Medium-sized city vans need to be suitable for a wide range of customers, and flexibility is vital for success. Fortunately for the Berlingo, its loadspace is certainly accommodating. The Extenso folding seat in this model ensures large loads can be carried, increasing its usability among tradesmen and adding an extra 0.4m3 of useable volume. This means the Berlingo can transport up to 3.7m3 or 3.3m3 with the passenger seat folded upright.

Vehicle weights range from 1.9t to 2.1t gross and payloads vary from 621kg to 876kg.This, and the minimal intrusion from the wheelarches, helped when scoring the loadspace for volume and features, but access is hampered by the small opening of the sliding side door, while the central rear door catches (both top and bottom) stick out too much and could either tear items being loaded in, or catch out unsuspecting victims as they attempt to load items towards the middle of the vehicle.

The rear doors open to 180°, and six lashing points are located throughout the loadspace. The floor has a wooden covering and side protection comes from half-height plastics.
 

Model Wheelbase Length Width Height Loadspace Length Loadspace Width Loadspace Height Volume Payload
L1H1 2728 4380 1810 1250 1800 1380 (1230) 1205 3.3 621-876
L2H1 2728 4628 1810 1250 2050 1380 (1230) 1205 3.7 750-768

Cab Comfort

In vans of this size our team of testers always struggles with leg room, but the Berlingo offered a welcome surprise with large amounts of seat travel. Getting comfortable isn’t a problem because the steering column is adjustable for rake and reach, while the seat is height adjustable.

However, support from the seat is pretty basic and has no lateral supports, no lumbar support and a seat squab that many will find too short. Storage locations on the other hand are plentiful – however, we would question the usefulness of some.

The overhead is always a bonus, but the immediate storage around the driver is poor with 11 small holes suitable only for knick-knacks and crumbs. Bizarrely, there is no cup holder. It’s a shame because the interior feels robust, with good quality materials.

A Traficmaster satellite navigation system is included as standard on all Berlingo models, along with a CD/MP3 player, Trackstar stolen vehicle tracking and all the usual expected items. In addition, LX models such as this Berlingo get electric windows, load area protective covering, nearside sliding door, height-adjustable driver’s seat, heated electric mirrors and a rechargeable and removable torch over regular X models. LX models also get the Extenso multifunction dual passenger seat that allows items as long as 3,000mm to be transported.

With a removable navigation system and the Extenso seat itted as standard in this Berlingo, the list price of £14,015 seems reasonable for a van of this size. Add stolen-vehicle tracking and electric windows and mirrors into the equation and the Citroën is a well-specced basic vehicle.

Extras including air-conditioning, Bluetooth, parking sensors and cruise control help add considerably to our test vehicle’s price, but even without them many of the basics are there.

On The Road

First impressions are good as you settle into the cab. The seat is height adjustable and there is plenty of travel in it to allow long-legged occupants ample room. Turn the key, and the engine grumbles into life at a fairly subdued level, but as you begin to accelerate away that volume rises, while additional noise resonates from the open rear.

Power delivery is strong throughout the rev range, particularly in high gears where the 1.6-litre engine delivers beyond expectation, especially given its economical top-end gearing. Under normal driving you will notice the over-assisted steering that limits feeling from the road, but you can still have an enjoyable time behind the wheel.

The suspension set-up is a bit soft, and there is a tendency to wallow around the road. Also, when pushed on track, the Berlingo did suffer badly from understeer, but during normal driving its benign characteristics are relaxing. Although the gears can be changed using the paddles mounted behind the steering wheel, the novelty quickly wears off. Instead, it is better to leave the automated transmission to its own devices and focus instead on being light-footed on the throttle to avoid the box making clunky shifts.

After learning these idiosyncrasies, a smooth and economical drive can be achieved through provoking gear changes by lifting off the throttle early, or when really necessary (in the event of a steep gradient) through use of the paddles.

Amazingly, fuel economy in both the city and on motorways was nearly equal. The Berlingo’s ‘regenerative braking’ undoubtedly helped achieve 39.9mpg on our urban route, while the gearing boosted its performance on faster roads, allowing it to notch up a creditable 41mpg. Both are a long way off the claimed 60.1mpg and 0.7mpg and 1.4mpg lower than the manual model but, as we always say, our test routes are demanding, as demonstrated by the vehicle’s stop/ start counter that record 27 minutes and 43 seconds as the time spent stationary in London’s traffic. The rest of the 3.5-hour journey was spent travelling at an average speed of 12.5mph.

Cost of Ownership

With a removable navigation system and the Extenso seat fitted as standard in this Berlingo, the list price of £14,015 seems reasonable for a van of this size. Add stolen-vehicle tracking and electric windows and mirrors into the equation and the Citroën is a well-specced basic vehicle.

Extras including air-conditioning, Bluetooth, parking sensors and cruise control help add considerably to our test vehicle’s price, but even without them many of the basics are there. A three-year, 100,000-mile warranty is standard for the industry but the Berlingo’s service interval of 12,500 miles is well below the competition which offer 20,000-plus miles between inspections.

Parts prices are also something to be aware of, and although a saving can be had on purchase price compared to rivals, our basket of spares shows that simple items such as headlights are up to 90% more than the competition.

Official test figures show that the Airdream is 9.0% more economical than its standard equivalent, and our fuel economy report seems to back this claim up. 
Citroen offer a 3 year, 100,000 mile or 2 year, unlimited mileage warranty on their vans, and service intervals are sets at 20,000 miles or 2 years. The French manufacturer has expansive coverage in the UK, with over 200 dealerships nationwide.

Summary

Competition among 2.0t vans is fierce, and many of the rivals to the Berlingo are exceptional. Because of the availability of automatic transmissions, our comparison vehicles are Volkswagen’s Caddy, the Fiat Doblò and the Renault Kangoo, but there are several other badge-engineered variants available.

Reinventing the Berlingo with a new Airdream badge to highlight its greener credentials is a smart move by Citroën, which might be following in the wake of successful BlueMotion and Ecoflex signatures from VW and Fiat. Whether that will translate into sales is uncertain, but the lure of lower fuel consumption thanks to low rolling resistance tyres and that ‘regenerative’ system might turn a few heads.

The engine is the centrepiece of the Airdream Berlingo, which is just as well, because the cab lacks useful storage. The folding passenger seat is a useful addition in smaller vans like the Nemo, and although the Berlingo can take 3,000mm lengths with the seat folded down, the lack of a proper bulkhead on one side of the vehicle and no protection to the driver’s left should be a concern if extensive racking or lashing isn’t used.

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