September 17, 2019

Berlingo shows its mettle off-road

Dan Gilkes sits tight as van is put through its paces.

Being thrown around a rally stage in a mildly modified Berlingo van may be an entertaining way to spend the afternoon, especially when the driver is current Finnish World Rally star Esapekka Lappi, but does it have any relevance to the everyday Berlingo user? Well, in some ways, yes, it does.

Citroen is keen to demonstrate the breadth of its latest Berlingo line-up, which now features no less than four trim levels, including Worker. The Berlingo Worker comes with 30mm of additional ground clearance, underbody protection, plus mud and snow tyres. More importantly, it also gets Citroen’s Grip Control system, with Hill Descent Assist, as part of the package. Should you require the additional traction offered by Grip Control, you can specify it on other trim levels, but you won’t get all of the additional off-road equipment or the extra ground clearance.

The system is not new, it’s been offered on Berlingo for several generations. Grip Control incorporates a clever electronic traction control system, with the driver able to set terrain types through a rotary dial in the cab. This includes road, snow, mud and sand, each one altering the relationship between the electronic differential and the braking system, to allow a certain amount of wheel slip and boost traction.

Traction boost

However, this isn’t the only way to get a bit of extra off-road capability on Berlingo. On the Continent, the van can be converted by French company Dangel to provide increased traction in 4×2 form, or be a full-on high-riding 4×4. The 4×2 conversion costs around E2,000, while the 4×4 is closer to an eye-watering E9,000. All of which makes the Berlingo Worker look like conspicuous value for those who only require an occasional traction boost.

Citroen UK won’t be listing the Dangel conversions on its price lists, though LCV product manager Matt Weston admits that if a customer wanted enough of the vans there could be ways to make it so.

Sales growth

At present, his attention is being grabbed by the rapid sales growth of the whole Berlingo range, with more than 8,000 orders from UK customers in the first six months of the year. Of that number almost 80% are the popular Enterprise specification, while 8-10% will be the Worker model. The higher trim Driver van, which should appeal mainly to owner operators, is expected to grab up to 15% of sales, with very few customers now taking the entry-level X trim.

“New Berlingo is doing better than the previous model. Our ambition was for 14,000 Berlingos in 2019,” said Weston.

It’s a similar tale with the latest Dispatch, with 2019 sales targets of 6,000 vans well up on the 5,000 sold in 2018. Right hand drive Dispatch models are already being built at the Vauxhall plant in Luton, shortening lead times for customers. Which is good news if, as expected there is a rush to buy before the end of October.

“I would imagine that September is going to be a big month, to avoid the risk of Brexit,” said Weston.

Indeed, Citroen has forward ordered around three months’ worth of vans, to avoid any potential tariffs that may be imposed after the end of October.

That said, the company is expecting to end the year around 6% higher than current SMMT forecasts for the whole van market.

All of Citroen’s vans are now compliant with the Euro 6d emissions regulations and the complete diesel-powered line-up of Berlingo is now on sale. However, while the eight-speed automatic transmission is currently only available on the 180hp engine, it will also be offered with the 120hp motor, where it is expected to become a far more popular choice. Automatic costs around £1,300 on a Berlingo and £1,500 on the larger Dispatch van.

Moving away from diesel power, Citroen has announced the Relay Electric, which will be with dealers towards the end of this year. This will be joined by a Dispatch Electric in mid-2020 and a new version of the Berlingo Electric by early 2021. In both cases, the electric vans will be offered in a range of models, with two battery packs to offer two driving ranges.

While we may be some way off an electric rally car, Citroen is keen to provide a range that has something for every job requirement.