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Clone wars

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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.

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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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