Say hello to the Volkswagen Caddy & the Citroen Berlingo, 2 vans crying out for your attention in the small van market. Vanarama's Van Expert Tom Roberts puts them head-to-head in the first of a new series of commercial vehicle comparison articles.
Small vans are under a lot of pressure these days - they've got to be car-like to drive, comfortable to sit in & let users pack a load of kit in the back. The VW Caddy & Citroen Berlingo tick all those boxes, but in very different ways.
While the Caddy seems sleek & car-like, the Berlingo looks like a slightly scaled down medium van. From the outside, it's clear that they've been built for different van drivers. It can be argued that trim levels are the key differentiator for small vans, but with these 2 you'll see that this isn't always the case.
This head-to-head article is based on the 2 currently-available generations of the Citroen Berlingo (2019 onwards) & VW Caddy (2015-2021, this generation will continue to be available until the launch of the new one in 2021)
Under The Bonnet
Volkswagen Caddy: When the current generation Caddy was launched, you could get all sorts of engine sizes… but they've been smart by cutting them back to just 2 choices of 2.0-litre TDI turbo diesels outputting 102hp or 150hp & a 1.0-litre TSI turbo petrol engine outputting 102hp. For my money, the diesels are the way to go for commercial users with the 102hp being a particularly efficient choice & each diesel engine requires AdBlue that is held in a 10-litre tank. The warranty is also a standard 3-year (100,000-mile) deal.
Citroen Berlingo: When the Berlingo first launched way back in early 2019, it was available with legacy 1.6 diesel engines, but those have all been wiped away in favour of meeting Euro 6 emission standards. Now you have 3 choices of 1.5-litre diesel BlueHDi engines outputting 76hp, 102hp or 130hp, & 1 petrol engine - a 1.2-litre PureTech outputting 110hp straight from the PSA Group car stable. The diesel engines require AdBlue, held in the excellent-sized 17-litre tank. You also get a 3-year (100,000-mile) warranty, just like the Caddy's, although the first 2 years of the Berlingo's allow unlimited mileage.
Tom's Winner : Citroen Berlingo - the PSA Group's diesel engines offer users far more choice & efficiency - & the 17-litre AdBlue tank is very generous, meaning far less need to keep topping it up. But, the Caddy only narrowly misses out… although the 150hp engine is really good fun to drive & the petrol engine (while punchy) is never going to be the first choice for commercial users.
On The Outside
Volkswagen Caddy: As a committed VW fan, I'll come right & say it: the VW Caddy is a great-looking van. The engine grille & iconic VW badge sit square in the middle of the vehicle's front end flanked by sleek headlights. There are 2 wheelbase lengths to choose from, & trim levels follow standard VW pattern with Startline, Trendline & Highline models being the most likely ones you'll look at seriously, with special versions such as the sporty Black Edition on its way. There are no height options available & 2 wheelbase options to choose from.
On higher trim levels such as Highline, the front end is further enhanced by fog lights. Moving round the outside of the vehicle, opting for higher trim levels will net you body-coloured bumpers & passenger car-style door mirrors & handles. The Caddy's profile is also surprisingly smooth because VW have made the choice to remove any panel indentations on the back end - the result is a side profile like a blank canvas just waiting for your business advertising. If you want to pep up the vehicle's already stylish looks, cash in those steel wheels for 16" Bendigo alloy wheels & suddenly you're driving a sports van that will turn heads.
Citroen Berlingo: While the Caddy looks like a car with a loading bay, the Citroen Berlingo actually looks like a typical van - albeit slightly smaller & squatter. PSA Group's platform sharing has been unfairly criticised for swamping the van market with identical vans, but somehow the Citroen Berlingo's looks keep it unique. The Berlingo is available in 4 trim levels, starting with X (basic), then Enterprise, Worker & Driver - each of the 3 higher trims are tailored to a slightly different role. There are no height options & 2 wheelbase lengths to choose from.
There's no grille to speak of because it's hidden by a wide & oversized Citroen badge that sweeps across the front & into the front headlight clusters - it looks amazing! The profile of the vehicle will remind you of Postman Pat's van… no surprises there though because Citroen vans are a staple of the Royal Mail's fleet. Body-coloured bumpers at the higher trim levels set the sides off nicely, & the panelling of the non-existent back windows lend the Berlingo a workhorse look. Again, cash in the steel wheels for alloys & the Berlingo starts to look a bit sporty… but I still can't decide if the Berlingo needs them - the steel wheels fit the Berlingo's looks better.
Tom's Winner: Volkswagen Caddy - the looks just nail it for me, but the Berlingo has a comforting van-like look that will no doubt turn heads.
In The Cabin
Volkswagen Caddy: Where to begin? 8-way adjustability on driver's seat, including lumbar support with full height adjustment for driver & front passenger seats. A huge array of controls on the steering wheel & controls for the excellent radar cruise control with speed limiter & a proper hand brake… with a handle! There's a huge information display in the centre of the dashboard, complementing the excellent infotainment screen packed with gadgets & gizmos.
You've even got the new climatic air conditioning & generous storage compartments under driver & front passenger seats to go along with the great glove box. It's also a surprisingly noisy cabin, which makes me think there's a little too much baffling in the body, but the Caddy is really trying to make you feel like you're driving a car & a car is meant to be quiet - you're low to the ground & snuggled in there. Long journeys are easy to do & you'll sometimes forget you're even in a van.
The higher trim levels pack in more tech & comfort, but today's drivers will miss features such as Android Auto & Apple CarPlay, having to make do with Bluetooth, an aux-in socket & USB connectivity to use their devices. Overall, however, the Caddy's interior is what you make of it, go low on the trim & you'll notice it, go high & you'll really feel it!
Citroen Berlingo: The Berlingo feels like any other PSA Group small van (Peugeot Partner & Vauxhall Combo, & the new Toyota Proace City that shares the same platform) but it's very comfortable & incredibly spacious. The interior is well thought out, though, with space used excellently - from the stand-up infotainment screen to the flip top glove box & extra storage - not an inch feels wasted. The Berlingo wants you to be comfy & feel like you're in a tough van. It succeeds.
While the higher spec models are quiet in the cab, entry-level versions have far less baffling in the body so expect some noise. The driving position is higher than you'd expect for a small van, with excellent visibility & getting comfortable is a lot easier in the Berlingo than many other small vans. The seats are supportive & long journeys are a cinch - unless you're the middle passenger on a version of the van with a bench seat.
At the higher trim levels you get added bells & whistles inside, including two USB ports, Apple CarPlay & Android Auto. It feels advanced enough to be modern & features enough hard-wearing fabrics & comfort to be reliable. Opt for the lower spec & you'll get enough comfort & tech to be happy, go higher & the overall ambience in the front will stay the same, but will feel much more comprehensive like everything you need is only a button push away.
Tom's Winner: Citroen Berlingo - I like a van to feel like a van & the Berlingo does just that. It's incredibly well rounded & like the Ford Transit Custom feels like the whole package. The Caddy is by no means a loser here though, its cabin is excellent, but being tied to the car-side of VW so tightly does mean that if you want higher spec, you'll have to pay for it, but it's so worth it.
In The Loading Bay
Volkswagen Caddy: Let's get it out there right away, the Caddy cannot take a Euro-pallet sideways… not a deal breaker, but it's a fact. In its largest version (Maxi), the Caddy's loading bay is 2.2m long, 1.2m high & 1.16m wide between the arches for a maximum load volume of 4.2 cubic metres.
Rear door choices include 2-door & a single hatch, opt for the one that makes most sense for your needs & you won't go wrong… I do love the hatch option though. You also get one side-sliding door, but compared to the Berlingo's doors it does feel a little pokey. The vehicle's maximum payload in the Maxi is 736kg, which is far short of the 1000kg possible in other small vans.
Citroen Berlingo: The Berlingo CAN take a Europallet sideways, just another fact. It looks like a scaled-down medium van & operates like one too. In its largest version (XL) the Berlingo's loading bay is 2.1m long (slightly shorter than the Caddy Maxi), 1.2m high & 1.2m wide between the arches for a maximum load volume of 4.4 cubic metres.
Rear door choices are standard 50:50 or 30:70 on 2 doors, with the option to add a second side sliding door, which is a great addition. The side doors are particularly wide & would feel just as at home on a medium van. The vehicle's maximum payload in the XL version is 950kg with an unbraked towing weight of 680-750kg, & up to 1200kg braked depending on the version you choose.
Tom's Winner: Citroen Berlingo - it's a bigger vehicle & capable of carrying/holding more than the Caddy - the option to add a second sliding door is also a major tick in the Berlingo's boxes for weight-carrying tradespeople. But, the Caddy's payload is the only compromise you have to make if you choose it over the Berlingo, but if you're a low-weight trade (e.g. electrician) there's not a lot in it really.
Citroen Berlingo Vs VW Caddy: In Conclusion
In the end, while the Berlingo comes out on top (remember that the winner in each category is based on my personal opinion after spending ample time with both vehicles), the Caddy is still a prime choice in the small van sector. My advice will always be this: evaluate your needs, check them against the numbers & you'll find out in moments which of these 2 excellent vans is the one for you.
As I said in my introduction, small vans are under a lot of pressure these days, but I feel that these 2 vans fulfil such different requirements that their highlights & limitations only become deal breakers if you choose the wrong one for your needs. If you work in a heavy-weight trade (e.g. heating engineer or carpenter), then the Berlingo is the small van for you. But if you're in a low-weight trade (e.g. electrician or short-stop courier), then the Caddy is the small van for you. However, if you need a van that can handle more rugged site work, opt for the Berlingo, but if you're road-using the whole time, maybe the Caddy will suit your needs better.
As my final point, while putting these vehicles head-to-head I noticed how much the small van sector has changed over the last decade. In 2010, all small vans looked the same & did the same in terms of payloads & performance. But now, in 2020, vans like the Citroen Berlingo & its PSA Group brethren are making the point that small vans don't have to look the same or even pretend to be cars. The VW Caddy is making the point that small vans can look classy without compromising their commercial vehicle roots. In my opinion, they both make their respective points very well.
If you want to know more about these leading small vans, why not take a look at our in depth Caddy Review, Citroen Berlingo Review or for top deals check out our latest van offers.