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
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
books
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' is based on historical events
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
filmSir Ian McKellen will play retired detective in new film
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
tv
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Sport
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Sales Perfomance Manager. Marylebone, London

    £45-£57k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Marketing Manager

    £36000 - £38000 per annum: Charter Selection: Charter Selection are working wi...

    Accounts Assistant, Hammersmith

    £25000 per annum: Charter Selection: Exciting sports company with a strong bra...

    Day In a Page

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil