It looks van-like in silhouette, but it is really a Recreational Vehicle, offering maximum versatility at minimum cost
Berlingo's brilliant disguise Citroen Berlingo Multispace -- PHOTO: CITROEN

DRIVING a van is really not much fun. The steering is sloppy, the ride choppy and the image slovenly.

If the vehicle is a car-derived van rather than a panel van, you could imagine yourself driving a saloon with blacked-out rear windows, but you would still have to bear with the 60 kmh speed limit.

But if what you are driving is the Citroen Berlingo Multispace, then you will really have a whale of a time. Although similar in profile to the Berlingo van, the Multispace is a different kettle of fish.

It may be related closely to a van, but its station in life is to be a Recreational Vehicle offering maximum versatility at minimum cost.

Though van-like in silhouette, the Multispace looks chic with its rising wedge signature crease, huge glasshouse and sliding doors. Two thick rubbing strips on the doors help reduce the visual bulk of the flanks.

The huge cabin is a cheerful place to be in. The colour-coordinated interior features cloth upholstery in a striking but tasteful combination of blue and red.

Instrument cowling, gear knob and carpets are in blue, with door panels offset in red. In keeping with its shared van lineage, the Multispace has its fair share of hard plastics, but overall fit and finish are far above commercial vehicle standards.

An electrically-operated vinyl roof opens to reveal a truly huge sunroof, which extends nearly the whole length of the car's top.

The tall roof has been put to maximum use. Above the front windscreen is a parcel shelf, while rear passengers can pop their personal items in overhead storage nets.

Under-floor compartments allow secret or embarrassing objects to be hidden safely.

In true French fashion, seats are extremely comfy, a little soft but still supportive. The tall stance liberates loads of headroom, while the upright seating means rear leg room that is generous for a small car.

Open the huge tailgate and the full benefits of the shared-van concept become apparent. Luggage space is box-like, with a flat floor and a whopping 624-litre size, bigger than what any saloon or hatchback can offer, and matching the capacity of the larger estate cars.

Fold the rear seats and luggage capacity goes up to 2,800 litres if the thing is loaded up to the roof.

There is space in the boot for a pair of optional folding seats, giving the Berlingo the distinction of being the smallest seven-seater in the market.

These side-facing seats are like those fitted in some Land Rovers, but cannot possibly match the comfort provided for the more fortunate five seated further forward.

Powered by a 75 bhp 1.4-litre engine, the Berlingo is not exactly a fire-breathing hot rod. It is lively enough, well able to keep up with traffic with its yardstick sprint time to 100 kmh in 14.6 secs.

Top speed is a respectable 150 kmh, but given its bluff aerodynamics, reaching that speed will need a very long road.

The single-overhead cam engine is refined, with no harsh spots and a willingness to rev freely to its 6,500 rpm redline.

Both shift quality and clutch action cannot be faulted. And fuel consumption averages a miserly 13.9 km per litre.

For a vehicle with such huge doors, the Berlingo feels very rigid, with a tight body feel and no drumming of panels. There is impressive suppression of road and engine noise, but a rustle from the leading edge of the roof is sometimes audible.

The ride is supple, and the long suspension travel helps the Berlingo soak up bumps with aplomb.

It does not corner like a sports saloon, but the handling is up to modern front-wheel drive standards.

However, the turning radius is a rather huge 5.625 metres, making it not the ideal car for very tight parking manoeuvres.

Overall, the Citroen Berlingo Multispace is a cute little recreational vehicle which has a charm and character all its own.

A fun top and loads of space make it a versatile all-rounder for the young and young-at-heart. And at $86,888 with COE, inclusive of a five-year warranty/maintenance package, it merits serious consideration if you fancy something out of the ordinary.

* Call Advance Automobile on 472-0011 for details.