Citroen Berlingo long-term test (2022) review | CAR Magazine

Citroen Berlingo: the six-month long-term test

Published: 17 January 2022 Updated: 17 January 2022

► CAR lives with a Berlingo MPV
► Wholly utilitarian, but is it more than that?
► Ben Oliver has time to find out…

This Berlingo long-term test was an experiment. The need to cut emissions has forced SUVs into ever more coupe-like profiles, decimating their boot space. I’ve lived with a few and liked them, but often been surprised by their impracticality. I wanted to see if something way cheaper, with seven adult-sized seats and a hangar of a boot, was now peak family car, or whether its van origins would fatally kipper its image and quality and long-distance chops.

The answer? I’m currently trying to buy this one from Citroën. The Berlingo has ruined me for other cars. My next test car has arrived, another premium SUV, and though it has many fine qualities I look into its tiny boot and despair. My eight-year-old son saw the new car and said he thought it was better to carry stuff than go fast.

berlingo ltt interior

We used the Berlingo for the six months until late September and had a better summer as a result. It carried everyone and everything we needed it to. I’ve probably forgotten how to fit bike racks or take front wheels off, because you just don’t need to. We made a 10-day road trip three-up from the south of England to the west of Ireland with three bikes (all wheels on), three bodyboards, wetsuits and all the other kit a reasonably active young family needs and I could still use the rear-view mirror. The kids grew so attached to ‘the van’, as it became known, that they took it in turns to sleep in it.

That trip answered my concerns about the Berlingo’s long-distance comfort. The seats lack under-thigh support and the armrests are oddly set but we covered 1500 miles to Ireland and back – and a fairly chunky 9000 miles over six months – without any grumbling from my slipped disc. The combination of the 126bhp, 1.2-litre petrol triple and the eight-speed auto is refined and sufficiently powerful at motorway speeds with a reasonable load aboard, and its thrummy, short-shifting nature is surprisingly fun when you’re empty and on a back road.

But its fuel use is ruinous, and the only reason I might not buy this particular Berlingo. Over those 9000 miles we averaged 32.2mpg, with a single-tank best of 38.2mpg on a steady motorway run, although 35mpg was more typical in such circumstances. The average range over 24 fill-ups was 362 miles with a best of 424 miles, again on the motorway. At its best the Berlingo only skirted the bottom of its 36.8-43.7mpg WLTP combined figure, and the 129bhp 1.5-litre diesel with a six-speed manual might be the better choice for now. There’s also now an electric version with a claimed 174-mile range which would be perfect for days out, but I still wouldn’t fancy relying on our en-route public charging infrastructure for 10 charges with two small kids aboard on that road trip to Donegal.

berlingo ltt boot space filled

Faults? Very few. The roller cover on the central storage box fell apart, mainly due to my clumsiness, and the not-quite-carpet on the back of the middle-row seats has balled up alarmingly as they spend so much time folded: that needs to be fixed. But otherwise the car wears its miles lightly, and I could see us adding a lot more if I can continue to afford the fuel bills.

And any concerns about the Blingo’s looks are quickly forgotten once you use one. You might not want one, but you need one. And when you realise how much you need one, you’ll want one. A friend with a Vanquish has been reading these reports and now plans to buy one, calling his desire for a weird French van a ‘dirty little secret’. Time to come out, my friend.

By Ben Oliver

Logbook: Citroen Berlingo XTR

Price £29,150 (£31,445 as tested)
Performance 1199cc turbocharged three-cylinder, 129bhp, 12.3sec 0-62mph, 124mph
Efficiency 36.8-43.7mpg (official), 32.2mpg (tested), 156g/km CO2
Energy cost 18.2p per mile
Miles this month 2133
Total miles 8929

Month 5 living with a Berlingo: selfish mode activated

berlingo ltt seats folded

While the Berlingo will clearly be bought overwhelmingly by families it also makes a good car for one. Here it is in full ‘selfish mode’, adopted when I’m transporting my bike to an event, or swimming in the sea, or both. The bike goes in with its wheels on, and folding or removing the other seats leaves a throne-like rearmost chair surrounded by space in which to change in comfort (and at least some privacy, with the XTR’s standard tinted rear glass). If you’ve just stepped off the bike after hours in the saddle, or emerged shivering from a frigid English Channel, it feels genuinely indulgent to climb into such luxury.

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 36.8-43.7mpg (official) 31.7mpg (tested) 156g/km
Energy cost 18.5p per mile
Miles this month 705
Total miles 6792

Month 4 living with a Berlingo: king of the car park

berlingo ltt old one

Instagram influencer Andy Bruce often bravely leaves one of his extraordinary collection of cars in my local station car park. But what do I choose to snap my Berlingo next to? His Ferrari 812 GTS, 458 Speciale Aperta or Singer Porsche? No! I only had eyes for this French-registered Mk1 Berlingo in the rare Bivouac trim: not one of Andy’s, as I was unsurprised to discover when the owner returned to find me fanboying over his unlikely icon.

The size comparison shows how much my XL version has grown, but after four months of use I’m certain that the extra seats, space and versatility are worth the extra cost and 25cm in length. As you can see, it’s still car park-friendly.

And not only is this Mk1 the direct forebear of my car, but it also reminded me of the same-era Renault Kangoo I was given as a courtesy car in France when the Aston Martin DB9 I was testing broke down. I liked it so much I bought one when I got home. I’ve had a soft spot for this Frenchest of motoring breeds ever since; they’re the true heirs to the spirit of the 2CV. And unlike Andy, I lose no sleep if I leave my car in the station car park overnight.

By Ben Oliver

Logbook: Citroen Berlingo XTR

Price £28,880 (£30,825 as tested)
Performance 1199cc turbo three-cyl, 129bhp, 12.3sec 0-62mph, 124mph
Efficiency 36.8-43.7mpg (official), 31.5mpg (tested), 156g/km CO2
Energy cost 19.0p per mile
Miles this month 1091
Total miles 6086

Month 3 living with a Berlingo: the all age van club

berlingo ltt rear seats

Can we just pause for a moment to marvel at the extreme oddness of my Citroën Berlingo XL? It has the body of a van, a cabin which will take seven adults in complete comfort, a 4000-litre boot, and a turbocharged, three-cylinder, 1.2-litre petrol engine turning an eight-speed automatic gearbox. It reads like the product of an online random car-spec generator but it mostly works amazingly well.

On a typically busy family weekend it was kept busy ferrying my kids, their mates and their mates’ parents in varying combinations to the movies, the beach and the burger place. The two rear rows of seats were up and down like a yo-yo: it’s remarkable how easy this cabin is to configure, and how easy it is to access the third row via the big, square sliding doors, or the boot.

Even with the Berlingo fully laden and at motorway speeds, that tiny 129bhp motor provides decent urge. But it’s working hard: as is the air-con to either heat or cool that cavernous cabin. The result is disappointing fuel efficiency – just 31.4mpg over 12 fills, with a single-tank best of 35.9mpg after a long, steady motorway run. That yielded 424 miles between fills, but 366 is the average.

The Berlingo isn’t significantly cheaper to fuel than the seven-seat diesel Discovery I ran, or even the monstrous 429bhp Audi SQ8 with Europe’s most powerful passenger-car diesel engine which preceded the Berlingo, both of which averaged just under 30mpg.

But even by comparison with less-fancy seven-seat SUVs, the Berlingo is cheaper to buy, tax, insure and service, and way bigger inside: enough to make you question if you really need the badge and image of more conventional family choices.

I’m not sure I’d go back to premium SUVs, but I also don’t think I’d spec the petrol and auto again. You can now order a Berlingo EV for delivery later this year: an even odder set of attributes than this car, but one which might prove perfect.

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), 31.4mpg (tested), 156g/km CO2
Energy cost 19.0p per mile
Miles this month 1501
Total miles 4993

Month 2 living with a Berlingo: easily broken, easily fixed

berlingo ltt centre console

I don’t think many cars have a cabin trim part which might reasonably be leant upon and which can also be broken by doing so. My Berlingo, however, has a huge bin in the central console with a roller-blind cover which succumbed to the pressure exerted by my elbow when leaning over to open the passenger door. It could have been sturdier, I could have been more careful. The advantage of French cabins is that they’re easily prised apart, so despite carrying switches and vents for the middle row it took 10 minutes (and no tools) to pull the console to bits, refit the cover and reassemble with panel fits no worse than they were before, saving a trip to the dealer.

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), 31.0mpg (tested), 156g/km CO2
Energy cost 19.0p per mile
Miles this month 990
Total miles 3492

Month 1 living with a Berlingo: hello and welcome

berlingo ltt rear

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

By Ben Oliver

Contributing editor, watch connoisseur, purveyor of fine features