No one wants a 4 door sedan anymore it seems. It’s anything but a three-box shape. In its relentless battle with life-long competitor BMW to enter in the smallest sliver of niches’ Mercedes-Benz now enters the compact van based MPV segment with the Citan Mini Van.
It’s a tough category in Europe that has been dominated by the likes of the Fiat Doblo, Ford Tourneo, VW Caddy, Ranault Kangoo and many others. Buoyed by the success of the pretty Vito large MPV both here and overseas, Mercedes-Benz dipped its toes into the segment in 2012 utilizing its Renault-Nissan-Mercedes alliance to make the Citan which shares its platform and French manufacturing plant with the Renault Kangoo.
What we drive here is the top of the line Citan which sees some improvement for the 2017 model year. In comes in three flavours of Compact, Long and Extra Long. Our car here is the Long version. So is the Citan a competitor in the mini van/MPV category and does the Mercedes star shine as brightly atop this more mass market segment the storied marque has entered into?
First, the looks. It’s a traditional MPV by any measure leaning more on the practicality side than anything radical or segment busting, such as Citroen and Peugeot’s recent radical crossover styling approaches. It’s not as dashingly handsome as it’s bigger Vito sister which has sophisticated front ands and tail lamp treatments which lifts it over its other large van competition.
The Citan eschews the sharp LED lamps upfront for a softer and more friendly, non threatening design. It’s pleasant enough to the eye but take away the big Mercedes star and grille at the front, and it becomes less distinctive.
The details of the car do give away its European sister underpinnings and the curved window frames and door handle detailing as well as the rear tailgate look very much like its Renault sibling and even the FIAT Doblo, which we’re more familiar with over here.
The top of the range version we tested, adds body colour to the rear D Pillars and front bumpe,r and aerodynamic 16” alloy wheels which lift it over the more base models. In summary, it’s a pleasant enough looker but van first.
Mech & Tech
The Citan comes with a 1.2 litre turbocharged petrol engine. Unlike some other 1.2 litre engines, this is a four pot. It puts out a respectable 114bhp at 4,500rpm and 190Nm between 2,000 and 4,000rpm. Sound’s diesel-like, doesn’t it? Especially at such low revs. The power drives the front wheels through a six-speed dual clutch gearbox, no less. Braking is via discs all round, and the suspension is the typical MacPherson strut and multilink front-rear set-up.
Mercedes-Benz have fettled several areas including the engine and suspension to make it more worthy to wear the star – they don’t just slap it on the front and call it a day, but engage in meticulous fine-tuning to ensure it lives up to the family standards.
How does it drive? Well, it’s super easy. The controls are all non-fussy and easy understand, so the time spent trying to figure anything unusual is minimal. The leather wrapped steering wheel is nice and soft to the touch, the 6 speed dual clutch auto is activated by a simple but chunky lever, and you’re off.
Steering is very light and the accelerator pedal modulation allows for smooth take off. The Citan is surprisingly wide inside but with short front overhangs, substantially sized side mirror and good visibility, the car is quite easy to place on the road as well in parking. To aid parking, there’s a beautifully integrated rear view camera in the centre rearview camera, making things even easier.
On the road, you expect leisurely progress rather that rabid pace in a machine such as this, especially with a wheezy sounding 1.2L block. But, aha, they’ve stuck a turbo on it and the initial acceleration of the Citan does catch you by surprise and pleasantly. The unit pushes out a decent 114bhp, so for the city run, it proves more than adequate.
One of the things Mercedes adds to the mix is that it takes the Renault and tweaks the suspension settings to its own norms. And it shows, with a ride that is soft and pliant, the Mercedes name can be justified in the comfort stakes.
Does it handle? It’s a van, let remind you and it’s supposed to van, which a contraction of /caravan/, ie something designed essentially to transport people and goods. But, with a kerb weight just under 1.4 tons, the Citan does acquit itself reasonably well in the handling stakes, with adequate grip and body control at reasonable speeds. You do of course feel the shift of weight at higher speeds, but in general it seems well planted to the ground.
Living with it
Now the Van part, most essentially. How is it inside? Well, width wise it’s only 100mm shy of the much larger Vito, and with a pretty high roof, the cabin feels pretty cavernous both front and rear. The Tourer version we’re driving here is aided with front and rear panoramic glass roofs, so the sense of airiness is even better. The local Mercedes agents were worried about the un-shuttered glass roof panels creating too much heat in the sunny local conditions, but the 3M heat proofing solution on the test car seems to have done the trick.
The front dash board is simple and fuss fee, with easy to understand controls for the AC and other controls. The radio is an aftermarket Japanese Unit, which jars a bit with the rest of style though. The higher spec car brings some splashes of colour to the cabin with red highlights around the air vents, and sticking on the gear lever leather and other areas. It must be said though, that this is where the Citan’s Renault roots are made obvious as everything from the vast swaths of plastic, dash dials, fonts and orange LED displays are completely unlike the slick styling and touch screens of the rest of the stables, including the new X Class pickup, even with the latter’s Nissan roots.
The rear is accessed by large sliding doors on either side, which have a handy locking function at full stretch to make sure they don’t slide back on you when entering/exiting on a slope. The rear floor is superbly low, making this an ideal car for passengering senior citizens, less-abled persons and fat dogs, as in my case. In fact the Citan and its ilk is regularly used as wheel chaired person transport in Europe with a few handy conversions.
The boot is also pretty large with a 685 litre volume that can be nearly tripled extended with the fold-flat split rear seats. You can also transport items almost 1.8m in length. So far, so van.
The seats, are pretty comfortable and well padded, whilst being clad in a pretty tough looking weaved cloth.
Space wise, the little Merc van really does score and would prove to be very handy and comfortable daily for a daily of 5 and their luggage. There’s Isofix points for baby seats both front and back too. Touring can also be decent as there’s plenty of space to allow for kids to travel at the back with enough space to not turn combative or 4 Adults and their week’s worth of luggage and surfboards, et al.
However, whilst flexible and spacious the Citan is, I’ve also been spending some time looking at some mind-bogglingly engineered Japanese Kei car people transporters such as the Suzuki Wagon R and the Honda N-Wagon. Yes, that’s a totally different category and much smaller, but the flexibility and sheer inventiveness of how the interior spaces work is an origami bouquet of delight. They shift, they slide, they fold to provide and amazing myriad of combinations for your lifestyle, all whilst offering high tech and safety and a tiny price as well. The Europeans would really do well to learn from the Japanese how to make interior spaces really, really smart.
The Citan has the usual crash-absorbing engineered structures, ABS brakes with EBD, Mercedes-Benz’ adaptive ESP (Electronic Stability Programme) and two airbags in the cabin (with optional thorax airbags too). It’s the standard complement of safety kit, really. It also has daytime running lamps, hazard warning flash during hard braking
EuroNCAP results are four-star overall, with 79% for Adult Occupant and 81% for Child Occupant.
Fuel Economy & Price
The Citan range starts at Rs. 6.8 million, with our test car spec at Rs. 7.5 million. You get the comprehensive Mercedes-Benz warranty too, and DIMO’s after-sales service to back it up. In terms of fuel economy, Mercedes-Benz claim 12km/l in town and 16.5km/l outstation. You will of course get lower figures in town, especially in our choking and chaotic Colombo traffic where even a hybrid will struggle to provide the much-touted figures we see in ad campaigns. The Citan is not a low-slung sports car but a family van, so adjust your compass accordingly. For a family van, its pretty decent.
Well, what do we conclude, finally? For the volume of space you get and as an entry point for a Mercedes the Citan presents pretty good value. Where the car really does score is simple good looks, super easy driving and ride comfort and that all important cavernous space that’ll prove to be excellent family transport. So yes, Citan, you really can van.
1,192cc, four cylinder
114bhp @ 4,500rpm
190Nm @ 2,000-4,000rpm
Six speed dual clutch
Discs all round
Wheels & Tyres
16 inch alloy
Kerb Weight: 1,395kg
Fuel Tank: 60L
Boot Space: 685L