► CAR lives with a Berlingo MPV
► Wholly utilitarian, but is it more than that?
► Ben Oliver has time to find out...
I tried to fight it. I really did. Tried to deny my true nature. Distracted myself with a series of premium SUVs and estates. But in the end I had to be true to myself, and come out as the kind of guy who, deep down, wants a seven-seat Citroën Berlingo in prosthetic beige.
There are many ways to judge a car. The Berlingo clearly doesn't score as highly on performance, material quality and desirability as the Audi SQ8 I ran last. But fitness for purpose is a simpler, nobler, more honest and frankly harder aim for a car maker. And if you have a family, and regularly need to transport a lot of people and stuff, I'd challenge you to name a car more fit for your purpose than a van-based MPV that offers seven adult seats, a 4000-litre box of boot or some combination of the two in a package 20cm shorter than my old Land Rover Discovery, and which you can buy in top-spec form for less than 30 grand or lease for around £400 a month on a PCP.
I even think the Berlingo looks good, from certain angles, if you squint. Its size belies a kerbweight of just 1525kg, which means the thrummy 1.2-litre three-pot petrol's 129bhp doesn't feel overwhelmed, even with a decent load aboard and when working through the eight-speed auto. It promises 65.7mpg, but early experience makes me doubt it'll quite deliver that.
But it's the inside you really care about with these things. This seven-seat XL version of the Berlingo doesn't offer the panoramic roof and airline-style overhead storage of the short-wheelbase five-seater, but I think the big one is the one to have for maximum flexibility and space, and it's only 25cm longer. The rearmost seats are better than the middle ones for adults and are easy and light to lift in and out. The middle-row seats fold flat into the floor individually, and the vast, square space they leave has so far comfortably taken four adult bicycles upright with their wheels on, and five picnicking children when it was too cold to eat outside.
I could live without the top-spec XTR's stripy seat fabric, it definitely needs more than two USB points and heated seats would be a more efficient way to warm a solo driver on a frosty morning than heating all the air inside this vast box-on-wheels. But these are minor gripes. The Berlingo doesn't just fit into family life: it amplifies it. There's something liberating and encouraging about never having to edit what you bring with you on a day out: we just chuck everything in and have better days as a result.
By Ben Oliver
Logbook: Citroen Berlingo XTR
Price £28,880 (£30,825 as tested)
Performance 1199cc turbocharged three-cylinder, 129bhp, 12.3sec 0-62mph, 124mph
Efficiency 65.7mpg (official), 44.2mpg (tested), 156g/km CO2
Energy cost 12.0p per month
Miles this month 2254
Total miles 2502