Keep the family in it

Roger Bell compares the Citroen Synergie with the Nissan Terrano

Britain's love affair with "lifestyle" off-roaders, most of which crunch nothing more demanding than manicured gravel, seems to have peaked. After a decade of dramatic boom (sales rose from under 13,000 in 1986 to over 80,000 last year) 4WD registrations have levelled off. By the end of the year, they may even be in decline.

Not so MPVS. Multi-purpose vehicles - boring vans with windows to cynics, revolutionary family holdalls to the converted - are gnawing into the market across a broad front. Just over 7,000 were registered in Britain five years ago when the pioneering Renault Espace led the field. The forecast this year is for nearer 30,000, with the lion's share going to the excellent Ford Galaxy and its VW Sharan and Seat Alhambra clones. By the turn of the century, it's estimated that 600,000 MPVs a year will have been sold in Europe.

Traditional estate cars have not been the invading MPVs' only victims. Off-roaders - perhaps better described as all-purpose all-roaders - are among their conquests, too. And why not? Size for size, these two specialised breeds have much in common.

The 4x4 Nissan Terrano (the Ford Maverik's twin) and the Citroen Synergie (made alongside the joint-venture Fiat Ulysse and Peugeot 806) may be from different market sectors but they're competitive on price, power and seven-seater accommodation. While the big, butch, all-drive Terrano can clearly out-scramble the front-drive Synergie, it is on suburban tarmac that the two usually compete.

Although similar in size, the Synergie, unencumbered by the weight of a 10-speed, 4x4 transmission system, is considerably lighter - to the benefit of performance and, more significantly, economy. It's also easier to drive, not least because the gearlever, which protrudes from a classy dash, feels less agricultural than the Nissan's. Much as I like the effortless mid-range punch of the torquey Terrano's civilised 2.7 litre turbo-diesel, the 2.0-litre petrol engine of the test Citroen is smoother, quieter and niftier through the gears. Parity in performance (but not in economy) is achieved only when the Terrano's thirsty 2.4-litre petrol engine is pitched against the Citroen's frugal 1.9 turbo-diesel.

Driven with restraint, the Terrano behaves with reasonable decorum. Pushed beyond its natural ambling gait, though, it feels cumbersome. Steering is sluggish and vague, cornering grip modest. Like most off-roaders, the Terrano lacks the stance, agility and tenacity of a low-slung saloon. It's the price you pay for massive boulder-straddling ground clearance and fairly crude suspension designed more for acute articulation than ride comfort. Even on decent roads, the Nissan bobs and jerks harshly, albeit without kettledrum thumping from the big (and very expensive) tyres. The cabin is well isolated from road noise by a separate rugged chassis.

From the driver's seat, the Citroen Synergie looks, feels and behaves much more like a normal saloon. Although the roofline is high the centre of gravity is quite low. Whereas the Terrano perches on the road, as if on stilts, the Synergie, riding on smaller wheels and more sophisticated car-like suspension, squats on it. Handling and cornering benefit from this, though the ride is disappointingly agitated.

You sit a couple of inches taller in the Terrano, all the better for sightseeing and hazard spotting. However, the versatile Synergie has the more imposing cabin and dash. Its individual seats - rows two and three served by easy-sliding doors - can be juggled around or discarded altogether. In the Terrano, only the uncomfortable rear bench can be removed. With all the seats in place, luggage space is pretty meagre in both cars.

If you really need mud-plugging, bank-climbing, stream-fording, precipice- defying transport, the Terrano's your car. Recent major improvements have elevated this rather gawky-looking vehicle from wimp to warrior, built like a tank and well endowed (the turbo-diesel is all muscle). As a road- going people carrier for the urban jungle, though, it is over-specified and under-achieving. The Synergie - a good MPV but not the best - makes a better job of transporting seven adults (if not their luggage) speedily, economically and comfortably.

Citroen Synergie: Price: pounds 16,200 to pounds 23,090 according to specification. Engine: 1.9-litre, 92bhp turbo-diesel or 2.0-litre 123bhp petrol. Transmission: five-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive. Performance: top speed 99mph; 0-60mph in 13.9 seconds, 31.7mpg urban cycle (diesel); 110mph, 0-60mph in 12.1 seconds, 23.9mpg urban cycle (petrol)

Nissan Terrano: Price: pounds 16,600 to pounds 23,100 according to specification. Engine: 2.7-litre, 125bhp turbo-diesel or 2.4-litre, 118bhp petrol. Transmission: five-speed manual gearbox, part-time four-wheel drive with selectable low-ratio, auto-locking front hubs. Performance: top speed 96mph, 0-60mph in 16.2 seconds, 22.6mpg urban cycle (diesel); 99mph, 0-60mph in 14.3 seconds, 17.9mpg urban cycle (petrol).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

    Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

    Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links