Vehicle Comparisons

Citroen Berlingo van

Citroen Berlingo van

Citroen's improved Berlingo is one of the larger compact vans on the UK market, offering a usefully large payload capacity and a maximum load volume of up to 4.1m3. It's now smarter looking than before and gets some extra hi-tech, but the main news lies beneath the bonnet with a range of fresh BlueHDi diesel engines. As before, the driving experience these units deliver might not be as perky as some would like but the comfort and refinement are both a match for the sector's best efforts.

The second generation Berlingo actually shares its basic platform with the old first-generation version of Citroen's C4 Picasso MPV. As a result, it's not surprising to find that ride comfort has been prioritised. Road and engine noise are well contained too, making sure that big distances fly by and the steering is light, combining with the tight 11m turning circle to aid manoeuvring. A few might notice that around the twisty stuff, this spacious Berlingo feels a little less agile and immediate in its responses and rolls a tad more than the original but most operators will accept a slight loss there.

The Berlingo is offered with three BlueHDi diesel powertrains, plus there's an all-electric version and a minority-interest VTi 95 petrol engine option. Nearly all sales will be of the BlueHDi variants, which deliver either 75, 100 or 120bhp. Go for a BlueHDi 100 model equipped with Citroen's occasionally jerky ETG6 automated manual transmission and you'll find optimised pedal mapping to adjust power effectively for smoother start-ups and acceleration. Gear change speeds are modulated more precisely, based on driver input, for improved performance and comfort, and its optimised gear shift patterns further improve efficiency.

For even greater safety on the road, this Citroen is available with Grip Control to increase traction, incorporating hill-start assist. Some versions can now be specified with a fixed speed limiter enabling the operator to set a permanent maximum speed from a choice of four available limits.

The look of the Berlingo van has been updated in recent years, with the bumper, radiator grille and daytime running lights all now being carefully integrated to give the front a smart appearance. The bumper and radiator design has been created to sit low and wide as part of a look that Citroen hopes will underline the robust strength of the vehicle.

Internally, the Berlingo remains an impressive piece of work with good quality materials and neat design. The main cabin change is the adoption of a full-width over-windscreen storage shelf with map reading lights on either side for driver and passenger. Other stowage space remains abundant and clever solutions abound ready to swallow up all the paraphernalia of your working day. In the two-seater Berlingo, the single passenger seat folds down to reveal a desk and cup holders. There's also an 'Extenso' extra middle seat option.

As before, there are two Berlingo body styles to consider and both are on the large side of what we expect from a compact van. Both versions share a 2,728mm wheelbase but the longer L2 model has 248mm extra tagged on behind. It means that even the smaller L1 is 4,380mm in length, that's 243mm longer than the original Berlingo with 350mm extra in the wheelbase department. Payloads range from 625kg to 850kg in the L1 and 750kg in the L2 version, sizable carrying capacities that edge awfully close to that of some small panel vans at the top end.

This second-generation Citroen Berlingo van is large but not too large, very capable and certainly sophisticated. A key brief for this model is to try and tempt users down from their larger panel vans and thanks to a larger payload capacity, lower running costs and that potential 4.1m3 maximum load volume, we could see that happening. True, there are some capable alternative options going head to head with this Citroen but it's good enough to give any one of them a run for their money.

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Ford Transit Connect

Ford Transit Connect

Ford's Transit Connect is a small van - with big ideas. It must suit operators in both small and compact sectors of the LCV market - and does so thanks to the choice of both short and long wheelbase body styles and a versatile load bay. There may be prettier little vans, but there are few more practical ones.

You don't choose any van prioritising ride and handling but with Ford's strong reputation in this department when it comes to passenger cars, then it's fair to expect this Transit Connect to dynamically, be one of the class leaders. Which broadly, it is. Like any LCV, it handles better fully loaded, but even in the unladen state, cornering response is predictable and body roll well controlled. Once you've dropped off your load, you could even imagine rather enjoying yourself on the way home around the twisty stuff in one of these. To a point.

Of course, to a certain extent, you'll be limited by the modest outputs of the 75, 100 and 120PS 1.5-litre TDCi diesel units that most Transit Connect customers go for. There's also a 1.0 EcoBoost petrol engine option. If you're towing, then the top diesel's the variant to choose, offering a braked trailer towing capacity of up to 800kg. Depending on the variant you choose, the turning circle is between 11 and 11.9m.

There's plenty of hi-tech here as well. Safety-wise, the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) is standard across the entire range, plus there's Hill Launch Assist to stop you drifting backwards on uphill junctions, Anti-Lock Brakes with Hydraulic Brake Assist, Active Yaw Control (that assists with oversteer and understeer), Roll Movement Intervention (to reduce body roll) and, if the worst comes to the worst, Roll Over Mitigation.

From the outside, it's clear that Ford's development team have prioritised function over form in this design. So, though the front end is these days sleeker and smarter, the overall look is still very boxy and practical-looking.

Inside, where build quality from the Turkish factory remains solid, it's much as before, though there's now a wider use of switchgear and design cues from plush Ford passenger car models like the S-MAX. Customers of early Transit Connect models may also notice more comfortable seats and higher quality, more durable materials. Getting comfortable at the wheel is easy thanks to a steering wheel adjustable for both reach and rake.

And there's plenty of cabin storage space. Though it's difficult to know where you would put a sandwich box, a flask or a big bottle of water, there are compartments both in front of the gearstick and behind the handbrake, then between them in the centre area between the seats, a holder for coins and tokens and two large cup holders, narrow bins in each door, a lidded glovebox, an optional tray under the front passenger seat and a shelf at the top of the facia capable of holding A4 documents. Oh, and a curry hook for your Friday night takeaway. A load-through hatch in the bulkhead and fold-flat passenger seat enable long loads up to 3.0m (L1) and 3.4m (L2) to be safely carried in the vehicle. In addition, a multi-fold dual passenger seat now enables van models to carry up to three people in the cab.

The improved Transit Connect remains a practical, no-nonsense, well-rounded package that still does a very effective job for Ford in appealing to business customers in both the small and not so small panel van sectors. The practicalities still stack up well against obvious rivals in both segments who clearly looked very carefully at what this model has to offer but in many respects, failed to improve upon it.

It was just as well though, that the changes wrought upon this improved model were introduced. The introduction of a greener, more refined 1.5-litre TDCi diesel is welcome, as is the availability of Ford's clever 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol unit. With electric power in its future, this Connect will continue as an alternative that all small and compact van buyers need to consider. Tough, practical and ready for anything. Just as any Transit should be.

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Volkswagen Caddy

Volkswagen Caddy

With a more efficient engine range, this latest version of Volkswagen's popular Caddy adds class-leading running costs along with sharper looks and higher specifications to its already impressive list of attributes. As a result, if you're looking for something Citroen Berlingo, Renault Kangoo or Ford Transit Connect-sized, it's a difficult option to ignore.

Under the bonnet, buyers get a range of three 2.0-litre TDI engines, ranging in power output from 75 through 102 to 150PS. All models are available in combination with a five or six-speed manual gearbox, while customers of the higher-powered versions can also opt for a DSG automatic gearbox option (with six or seven-speeds depending on engine power output).

On the move, handling is still assured, sharpening as usual as the weight you're carrying rises. And performance? Well to be honest, it's rather too leisurely in the least powerful 75PS 2.0 TDI model. For that reason, we'd council you to consider the 102PS version of this engine if you possibly can.

What else? Well, a braked trailer capacity of up to 1,500kg is within the Caddy's remit and it's worth pointing out that pulling potential of this magnitude is rare in this sector. The reasons why have much to do with this vehicle's substantial mass. With gross vehicle weights between 2,175kg and 2,350kg, it's a much heavier LCV than any direct competitor. Many vans of this size after all, don't even break the 2,000kg barrier.

Understandably in such a practically-orientated market, Volkswagen designers didn't bother to spend much of this revised model's improvement budget on aesthetics, though the monobox shape does have a slightly sleeker look thanks to the adoption of the same kind of smarter front end used in Volkswagen's larger Transporter van, as well as on its Amarok pick-up.

Behind the wheel, the Caddy feels comfortable yet robust, and boasts smarter upholstery and switchgear, as well as enhanced stereo and infotainment systems. The standard five-inch touchscreen Colour Composition radio can be upgraded to a higher-tech Composition Media item, or users can specify the Discover Navigation system.

Overall, the cabin's neat and unfussy with dark grey plastics prevailing on every surface. And thanks to beautiful build quality from the Polish Poznan production line, an air of sturdiness that's uncommon in small LCVs. Storage provision is good too, with four cup holders, a decent-sized glovebox, dash-top trays and door bins large enough to hold an atlas or a 1.5-litre drink bottle, plus the option of extra stowage compartments under the seats. There's also a long shelf above the windscreen, though the presence of only a small lip along its leading edge would lead me to worry about its contents being deposited on my head during sudden inclines or under hard acceleration. Paperwork and clothing won't be too much of a problem but, just for safety's sake, keep hammers, tins of paint and drinks flasks in the door pockets.

Volkswagen has a very effective LCV line-up and this improved Caddy is a key part of it. The load practicalities are sound, the styling is attractive enough, the interior has a real quality about it and it's good to see that safety has been further prioritised. Most importantly perhaps, the improved engine range also means that this van now has a set of running costs that are right up with the class best.

It's true that there are slightly bigger rivals in the compact van sector but for the majority of operators, the 4.2m3 of space offered by the largest Maxi Caddy will be quite sufficient, for many of them alleviating the need to stretch up to buying something Transit or Volkswagen Transporter-sized. A quality choice then - from a quality brand. As this Caddy sets out to prove, good things come in little - and not so little - packages.

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