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Mercedes-Benz Citan: Does absence make the heart grow fonder?

I borrowed the Dawsonrentals long term test van from sister titles Commercial Motor and Motor Transport last night and I have to say hopping into the Mercedes-Benz Citan after such a long time away from it was a surprise.

I’ve never been a fan of the Citan’s interior – more on that later – but I am a big fan of the way it looks and the way it drives. This was the first time I’d experienced the Dualiner version of the Citan, and while the high waistline of the van leads to relatively small and awkward looking rear windows, the front of the van is still a looker, with a strong grille, expertly mixing the style of the bigger Merc vans into this little French (remember it’s a Renault Kangoo at heart) co-conspirator.

Behind the wheel, and having temporarily parted company with my own long term Ford Transit Connect, I was initially shocked at how little room there was behind the wheel for my relatively normal sized legs. Tweaking the seat arrangement, lowering the seat height and reclining did improve things, but I don’t remember the panel van version being quite so cramped as this five-seater van.

Dawson Rental Citan

My own relationship with the Citan ended before the vehicle was even launched, having driven the small city van the length of the country from Lands End to John O’Groats for a story about taking a spare part between Mercedes’ two furthest dealers. The 800+ miles, covered in a little over 36 hours, was enough to make me turn my back on the Citan for a long time – familiarity really does breed contempt – but last night we were reunited and I have to say I was glad to have our little get-together.

At its launch Mercedes made a great deal about the changes they had made to the van’s steering and front suspension, and it must be said the alterations have been made expertly. Renault has since revised its own Kangoo and they too have transformed the little van with a greater feel and more directness in the rack, but for my mind the Citan is bang on the money. Initially it felt too heavy and cumbersome, especially after having switched from the lighter Transit Connect steering, but after a few minutes the steering wheel felt ideally paired to the gutsy low-end power of the 89hp 1.5-litre turbodiesel engine. It also felt far more comfortable than I remember, the suspension skipping over the potholes and particularly nasty speed bumps of south London with ease and sophistication. I wasn’t even bothered by the lack of a bulkhead, and the usual noise found in vehicles with a caged rear was far less noticeable. It was by all accounts a pleasant journey and reunion.

Nevertheless, a few things continue to niggle at me, namely the aforementioned interior. Perversely while glancing right at the traffic lights into the cab of an LDV Convoy this morning, I spotted that the two share an eerily similar cowling for the dials. But whereas the Convoy has a nice open dash area to the left of the instrument panel, with storage and a gently sloping console for heater and cassette deck controls, the Citan’s dashboard is far too upright and reduces the sense of space in the cab significantly. Visibility too was a problem and on these dark winter nights, with my new lower driving position, the large base of the A-pillar obscured a good chunk of the road I am usually more accustomed to seeing.

Lastly, and this is a really minor point but one that irks me as a casual user of the Citan, the main speed markings on the speedometer increase in increments of 20mph from 0mph, which means instead of glancing down to see the mark for 30mph, or even 50mph as so often is the limit on A-roads these days, you get 20, 40 and 60mph.

No doubt the Citan will grow on me, and over the next few days my feelings may well adjust themselves, but for now my time away from the Citan hasn’t made my feelings for it increase all that much.

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