The Citroën Berlingo Multispace struggles to live up to its cult-wagon past

Is this still the world's coolest not-at-all-cool car?

Price: from £12,795
As tested: VTR HDi 90
Engine capacity: 1.6-litre diesel
Top speed (mph): 102
0-62 mph (seconds): 13.3
Fuel economy (mpg): 54.3
CO2 emissions (g/km):

The Citroën Berlingo should have an image problem. It's the domesticated version of the French company's cheap-as-chips commercial van that's been transformed into the MPV of choice for families on a budget and retirees who are trying to stretch their grey pound to a mini-break with the grandchildren. It's also ugly and has a silly name, but don't let this fool you. Citroën's van with windows is actually a very hip set of wheels.

When it was first launched here in 1998, groups of young, trendy adventurous types were soon spotted loading its cavernous rear with bikes and stacking surf boards on its roof. They were heading for the surfing beaches of Cornwall and the mountain bike-trails of the Lakes, and as they did so the Berlingo got cool by association.

The adrenaline junkies loved it for the same reasons as their more sensible parents; it was an easily affordable means of getting around plenty of gear with sliding doors and an extra row of seats.

Enter the latest model. It gets a new range of efficient engines and some styling tweaks to make it look more like an MPV than a van, but other than that it seems that Citroën has been sensible enough to change little. So the boot is still the size of a barn and there are more secret compartments than a magician's coat for everything from baby wipes to spare inner tubes.

Not having four children or any baby wipes, I opt to drop the rear seats entirely and load up two bikes for a cycling trip. The bikes and weekend bag fit with ease (there is room for the men's pursuit team) through its sliding doors and the motorway calls after a quick jaunt across town.

The Berlingo is happy enough with both and its 90-brake horsepower engine hums along nicely. Don't get me wrong, it isn't an exciting drive – there isn't even a redline on the rev counter – but it's smooth and on bendy lanes is more than capable enough of progressing along.

Just like the old model it has acres of leg- and head-room, a handy dashboard-mounted gear stick and great visibility for the driver, so long runs to the hills or beach are no problem. And if you want to cart the kids around instead of boogie boards and bikes, you can opt for the family pack, which adds an extra row in the rear and still leaves plenty of room for school bags and the weekly shop in the massive boot.

Look closely, though, and this new Berlingo struggles to live up to its cult-wagon past in a few key areas. In the most basic trim, your only option is a petrol engine, the extra seats needed to make it a true MPV will set you back £850, you'll need to fork out an extra £650 for air conditioning and even electronic stability control (a near-universally standard safety feature help to keep you on the road) will set you back £600. And unfortunately, all these packs don't include anything to improve the Berlingo's awful appearance.

Many of its traditional buyers won't care about this – it's still a rugged and practical vehicle at the bargain end of the market – but Citroën needs to be careful. The likes of Skoda, Hyundai, Kia and soon Dacia (Renault's budget brand which hits Britain later this year) all offer competitively priced cars that do much the same thing as the Berlingo. But I've always had a soft spot for the Berlingo's boot and it would be a real shame if it stopped being cool.

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