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Motors

Van man becomes family man with big, comfy, Citroen

Wednesday, 6th December, 2017 5:53pm

The problem is almost like one of genetics. It should be possible, even desirable, to base a passenger car on a commercial vehicle and make it appealing.

After all, vans are designed to be robust, reliable, and exceptionally spacious, so just add seats, windows, and some creature comforts to that list and you should have something pretty good, right?

Er, no — not always anyway. We’ve driven more than a few van-based cars that look good on paper, but turn out to be noisy, rattly, uncomfortable, slow, and actually surprisingly expensive. What starts out as a good idea can so often turn into the cul-de-sac of wrong, unless very carefully managed. Which is why it’s such a pleasant surprise to report that this big Citroen, the Spacetourer, is actually something of a surprise. Yes, it’s based on a van — Citroen’s medium-sized Dispatch, as it happens, and yes it sticks pretty close to the simple recipe for these vehicles. You take one big, slab-sided van, cut some holes in the side for windows, and throw in as many seats as will fit, and voila, you have a practical, hopefully affordable, family transport.

Well, this time around, it was worked rather well, but this is one of those cars that does not make an especially good first impression. Walking up to it isn’t bad — the Spacetourer has relatively pleasing lines, for a van, and the Feel spec model we were driving looked fairly smart on 17 inch alloy wheels and in metallic silver paint.

The problem was that when you heave yourself up inside, the cabin just looks rather too plain.

Let’s point out right away that this is a vehicle with a starting price of €34,000, and our test car was optioned up beyond €40,000. That means it’s playing with the likes of big, sophisticated seven-seaters such as the Seat Alhambra, VW Sharan, and Ford Galaxy.

So finding yourself looking at and touching the cheap van-sourced plastics of the Spacetourer’s interior does not get things off to a good start. And while it is actually a pretty well equipped car, it doesn’t immediately look like it is.

Citroen’s moving of many of the controls onto the seven inch touchscreen means that there’s a dearth of buttons to remind you how much you’ve spent on your Spacetourer, which can lower the tone for a while.

Things do improve, and quite a lot, from there. The front seats are big, squishy, and very comfortable and the view out is commanding, allowing you to sneer down at SUV owners. Once you’ve fathomed out the touchscreen (it is a touch fiddly at times) you soon work out that, actually, there are quite a few toys to play with, including sat-nav, split zone climate, and such connectivity options as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for your phone.

Then you look behind you and remember that there are two rows of three seats in the back, each one folding and sliding to suit your needs. With two seats up front, that makes a total of eight, and that’s one more than the car-based competition can offer.

For a growing family, this is really hard to beat.

One of the most common questions we get asked (right behind ‘is it still okay to buy a diesel?’) is ‘what cars will take three child car seats side-by-side?’ Well this one will. In fact it’ll take two lots of three, side-by-side.

And you’ve got enormous sliding side doors (electrically operated on our test car) through which to load them. As ever, one of the big bonuses of buying a van-based car is practicality.

Normally, one of the major downsides is refinement, but the big Citroen actually manages to buck that trend too. It uses the familiar 1.6-litre, 115hp turbo-diesel engine, so performance is not really in its nature.

In fact, it’s pretty languid, but unless you really go for flat-out acceleration (and to be honest there isn’t much point in that) it remains quiet and refined at pretty much all times.

Drive the Spacetourer in the relaxed manner which suits it best, and your ears will remain unsullied.

It’s not too shabby on the economy front, either. Vans, with their big frontal areas and poor aerodynamics often trip up here, but the Spacetourer regularly saw better than 40mpg in our hands, which all things considered isn’t too bad.

Dynamically? Well, it’s no sports car. It was never going to be, but within the realm of reality, it’s actually not too bad.

By car standards, the steering is quite slow and over-assisted, but while that means it’s no fun at all in corners, it does make it that bit more relaxing to drive and easier to swing it around in tighter urban spots.

Our version was the medium-wheelbase model, and there are shorter and longer variations. A short-wheelbase could be handier if you are in town a lot, as our car did seem a touch lengthy for car parks and the like.

It does have the virtue of a very comfortable ride quality, probably largely a credit to the wheelbase. That combines with the engine’s refinement and the car’s overall demeanour, making the Spacetourer a distinctly relaxing car to drive and spend time in.

Okay, so it is still quite pricey (€40k is not small change in anyone’s money) and it’s definitely not as sophisticated as some of its car-based rivals, but the Spacetourer is at least comfy, exceptionally roomy, refined, and not at all bad to drive.

From van-man to family-man in one step.

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