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When news surfaced that Mercedes-Benz and Renault were to collaborate on a small van, more than a few eyerbrows were raised. Could the popular, but plastic, French van cut it in the premium portfolio of Mercedes?

The relationship itself made perfect business sense, extending Mercedes’ range below the 2.8-tonne GVW Vito and using shared technology and production facilities. But the decision to choose the Kangoo for some badge-engineering, however, seemed unusual. In the medium and large van sector the Renault Trafic and Renault Master vans of the time were both seen as inferior products to the Vito and Sprinter. Could Stuttgart be prepared to compromise quality in order to cash in on the small van segment?

Mercedes says no, and in defence of the Renault Kangoo it is not a bad van. They sell in their thousands in Europe and are popular in the UK too, it’s just what you’d consider an immediate bed-fellow for Mercedes. Understandably when the new Kangoo-based Mercedes Citan was unveiled there was much anticipation (and some trepidation), but first impressions were overwhelmingly encouraging.

Mercedes had restyled the front end in accordance with the current trends in its passenger car range, and claimed to have not only tweaked the engine control unit, but also installed its own front suspension. These modifications, they said, would improved fuel efficiency and sharpen the handling compared with the Kangoo.

It was to be an improved version of the Kangoo, then. But, the two models would not compete directly, as with any Mercedes product, there was to be a price premium on the Citan, while Renault had plans to quickly revamp their Kangoo model.

Mercedes-Benz Citan
Mercedes-Benz Citan

Expecting a higher calibre of discerning customers, choice was also part of the Citan model range. Renault streamlined its Kangoo line-up in February 2012, deleting the Kangoo Compact, but Mercedes took the decision to offer a Citan Compact version in the UK.

The small van allows a 2.4m3 loadspace and just 330kg load capacity, giving Mercedes a compact van that not only competes with traditional city vans, but also a model that can rival the dimensions of a car derived van like the Ford Fiesta van or Vauxhall Corsavan.

Two other wheelbase lengths, Long and Extra-long, are also available, the latter offering a maximum load volume of 3.8m3 and an 810kg maximum payload capacity.

Additional body types include crew van, a Tourer passenger version and a Citan Sports version of panel van.

Power for the Citan vans comes from the fruit of a joint venture between Renault and Nissan, with the 1,460cc diesel engine used in a variety of cars such as the Renault Clio, Nissan Qashqai and Mercedes A-Class being available in two ratings for Citan in the UK. The common-rail 1.5-litre Citan 108CDI engine produces 74hp, while the same engine in the Citan 109CDI produces 89hp. The BlueEfficiency package helps reduce average engine CO2 emissions to 123g/km, while service intervals are variable dependent upon usage. BlueEfficiency fuel saving tweaks also mean the Citan is claimed of returning as much as 65.7mpg, and is backed up with a three year unlimited mileage warranty.

Productivity

With a 2,697 mm wheelbase, the Long version of the Citan is a close competitor to the regular versions of Volkswagen’s Caddy and Fiat’s Doblo panel vans. That means it is a small van by most standards in this segment, with external dimensions of 4,321mm long, 1,829mm wide and 1,816mm high. Despite its size it provides a respectable 3.1m3 of storage space with a loadspace that is 1,753mm long, 1,460mm wide and 1258mm high. There is also 1,219mm between the narrowest points of the wheel arches, which is sufficient to accommodate a 1,000 x 1,200mm pallet either way round.

Model Wheelbase Length Width Height Loadspace Length Loadspace Width Loadspace Height Volume Payload
L1H1 2313 3937 1829 1810 1369 1460 (1219) 1258 2.4 490
L2H1 2697 4321 1829 1810 1753 1460 (1219) 1258 3.1 630-760
L3H1 3081 4705 1829 1810 2137 1460 (1219) 1258 3.8 795-810

Its 575mm loading height is amongst the highest you’ll find in a city van, but we still found it low enough to make lifting heavy loads into the rear a non-issue. Access to the loadspace can be sought through twin sliding side doors and 180-degree-opening asymmetric doors at the back. Incidentally, the handles on each of the doors do feel a fraction flimsy as you pull, and while it wasn’t apparent they would break, with frequent use we wouldn’t be surprised to see a few missing in later life.

The rear inside of our test van was protected by a plastic covering for the floor as well as the optional half-height plastic load lining. Six floor-mounted load lashing points offer some load restraint for the 810kg maximum payload you can transport in the 2-tonne GVW versions of the Citan.

 

Cab Comfort

On the inside the Citan looks far removed from its French relative. Mercedes has most definitely given the interior a distinct refresh, with smart fabrics and a boxy new dash – the styling of which puts a considerable amount of plastic between you and the windscreen, which may not be to everyone’s taste.

Still, it looks smart, and with a height adjustable seat and decent amount of travel in the seat front-to-back, there’s plenty of room to get comfortable.

Mercedes has successfully styled the Citan to make it in-keeping with the Sprinter and Vito, but if the switchgear and air-vents don’t look familiar, there is one dead-giveaway that betrays its Kangoo origins. The handbrake. The Citan retains the bizarre L-shaped contraption found in the Kangoo, a decision that, given their other interior style changes, is beyond comprehension. Ergonomically it’s great, but it is form over function as it successfully blocks both the 12v socket, and one of the Citan’s only few storage holes.

As is the case with most small vans, storage is not brilliant in the Citan. Narrow door pockets, a small glovebox and hard to reach compartments in the centre mean you won’t be storing much in the front of the Citan.

Standard fit equipment includes a comprehensive trip computer, electric heated mirrors, a Bluetooth enabled radio with USB and Aux connections, Eco start/stop, hill hold assist and 180-degree rear doors.  Importantly for a van that lacks any real storage solutions, the Citan also gets an overhead shelf – adding much needed space to accompany the deep but narrow storage in the armrest and slender door pockets.

Our van pictured also came fitted with parking sensors and air conditioning, while additional extras include heated seats, alloy wheels and a reversing camera.

Mercedes-Benz Citan
Mercedes-Benz Citan

On The Road

The decision to buy a Citan over an equivalent Kangoo may hinge on any number of reasons such as Mercedes’ dealer network, the brand’s reputation for reliability or simply the kudos of arriving in a Mercedes rather than a Renault. But you’ll not just be getting a rebadged Kangoo: there is a real difference in the way the two vans perform on the road.

The engine, for example, in the Citan is the same as the Kangoo. The top powered version produces 89hp at 4,000rpm and maximum torque of 200Nm between 1,750rpm and 3,000rpm, but Mercedes has tinkered with the engine management system to differentiate the Citan. This fettling is largely unnoticeable, except, it would seem, when it comes down to the crucial aspect of fuel consumption.

The BlueEfficiency package undoubtedly helped the Citan’s fuel performance with the low rolling resistance tyres aiding motorway consumption and stop/start contributing to the better result in city driving.

Economy is obviously crucial, but Mercedes vans also excel in their driving capabilities, which led to a change in springs and dampers for the Citan, with larger diameter torsion bars and increased spring ratings in an effort to sharpen handling, reduce body-roll and firm the ride.

The result is a vehicle that drives with much more poise than many other city vans, and which is noticeably better than the Kangoo. Volkswagen’s Caddy, a key competitor to the Citan, is perhaps the closest in terms of ride refinement, but the Citan’s weightier steering is far superior, and provides more communication with the road through the front suspension’s MacPherson struts.

Equipped with a five-speed gearbox that is shared with the Kangoo, the lever slides sweetly through the gate, but a sixth ratio may have seen economy improve further. But at a 70mph cruise in fifth gear the Citan maintains a moderately comfortable 2,679rpm engine speed, ensuring a motorway journey is possible in relative peace.

A noise test of the Citan’s cabin revealed little in the way of surprises, with the readouts matching the Kangoo at almost every speed, but we did notice that the 195/65 R15 Michelin Energy Saver tyres produced the bulk of the noise, particularly over certain road surfaces.

Fuel economy

We recorded 41.8mpg in the city and 56.9mpg over our out-of-town motorway test route, both of which are impressive results for a half-laden van. The closest data we have for the Kangoo was over the same out-of-town route but with a full payload, where a Kangoo Maxi 85 model recorded 52.7mpg unladen and 46.2mpg laden.

Mercedes-Benz Citan

Safety

Mercedes pride themselves on their safety innovations, and the Citan is full of the usual acronyms – Adaptive ESP, ABS, ASR (acceleration skid control) and BAS (brake assist). Disappointingly, though, the Citan’s Euro NCAP score failed to live up to the mark, with a Kombi version receiving a three-star rating from the arbitrators of European safety.

Nevertheless, it gets a driver’s airbag as standard (with the option to include a passenger bag) as well as a speed limiter and cruise control.

Summary

The initial decision to partner with Renault may seem curious, but the Kangoo is a formidable force in Europe. While more upmarket models and brands dominate the UK, Renault has a reputation for offering excellent value for money. Its products may not be that glamorous, but they are fit for purpose, and Mercedes has identified that in the Kangoo, enhancing two of the French van’s weaker aspects – its handling and its interior.

Given the cost saving benefits of tweaking Renault’s van, greater lengths to deliver a more practical interior should have been taken with better storage solutions, but on the outside the renovation has been a remarkable success. From the rear it is still obviously a Kangoo, but the frontal views show the Citan to be a bold, almost attractive, design. The Citan is a fine example of how platform sharing should work.  

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