Re-1998 Part 5 : Kangoo and Berlingo

If you’d asked me in 1998 what were the most important car design trends I’d have thought it was MPVs and vans serving as family transport.

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Cars like the Berlingo and Kangoo fall into the second category. And interestingly, if I rummage around in my mind, Ford and Opel didn’t appear to want to do anything much in this sector. Sure, Opel had the Astra-based Combi and Ford had an Escort van. What they didn’t do was to rebody the whole cars whereas Renault and Citroen saw a place for a repackaged front-wheel drive van-with-seats.

Renault Kangoo Mk1

I expect they simply thought a car with a box at the back wasn’t good enough for tradesmen and provincial florists. Having reprofiled the vans they saw an easy way to make money by bunging in a second row of seats. Hence the Berlingo and Kangoo.

2002 Fiat Doblo: source

One question is this: why is it the French came up with this and Ford and Opel didn’t?  Why didn’t Fiat either, sooner. Fiat’s Fiorino dated from 1998 and ran until 2013. The order of appearance of comparable cars from competitors is this: The Fiat Doblo appeared in 2000. The Ford Transit Connect emerged into the world in 2002 (designed by Peter Horbury, some claim). Opel’s Combo C first went on sale in 2001.

1998 Renault Kangoo: source

If you ask me the Berlingo and Kangoo were switched at birth. Or else the Renault people were asked to design a Citroen and the Citroen people were asked to style a parody of a Renault. The Berlingo has a fun name and nothing else about its appearance is at all enjoyable. It’s far from bad but when parked next to the Kangoo you realise how little mojo Citroen had in the 1990s.

The Kangoo, on the other hand is a paradoxical design. The details are very sound, sober industrial design and the whole is riotous good fun. You can’t help smiling at this. I love it and it’s withstood the test of time. I can’t see anything about it that is not valid today.

1998 Renault Kangoo: Youtube

I feel sorry for designers at Ferrari and Porsche. They never have fun with their work. To be sure, they might enjoy the challenge. They do not however get to think as radically as they do at Renault. If the Avantime and VelSatis show LeQuement at his conceptual best, the Kangoo might be his most resolved and remarkable designs. I hope he’d agree because the idea of good design being as affordable as this is rather beautiful and civil. If the Kangoo isn’t in a museum somewhere it damn well should be.

Interestingly, all the succeessors to the cars discussed here are rubbish in some way. This generation of vans-for-families hit the sweet spot of space, simplicity and style. None more than the Kangoo. All hail!

But what did Car decide in 1998? Well, Horrel, P started off the article with some painfully unfunny remarks about Noddy and Big Ears: you see the vans’ upright rear and tall proportions put Mr Horrell in mind of breadvans and children’s stories, especially the Noddy series. I have never checked the visual reference and having done so I am still mystified. The Noddy car is approximately a cartoon of a 1950s car with separate wings. It’s very round, as if made of simply moulded plastic.

So, if anyone ever says a car looks like Noddy’s, demand to see the separate wings and open-top driver/passenger compartment. Neither of the two vans here look remotely like somthing from an Enid Blyton story. Twenty yeas later Mr Horrell’s inane comparison is rumbled.

Does this look like a Kangoo or Berlingo? Source

“They’re enjoyable to use, too. Drive as intended and you’ll be relaxed. There’s no aggression about these cars. Mind you, you can inject some. Drive as they are capable of being used and you can nip and tuck your way to the head of the queue when no-one around is expecting it of something that looks this way. …these cars make you feel smart”, summed up Horrell. And then he took it all back with “Even if they make you look like Noddy.”

It’s because of that kind of writing we set up Driven to Write, now that I come to think of it.

Slide show picture credits: Kangoo, Berlingo.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

18 thoughts on “Re-1998 Part 5 : Kangoo and Berlingo”

  1. True, for Citroën the late nineties were a particularly dull period. The Berlingo had to suffer even more as its design also had to work as a Peugeot with as little modification as possible. Seen in this light, the Berlingo isn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. I’d even count it as a highlight between all the Saxos, Xsaras and the first C5. Compared to the Kangoo, it’s certainly too sober, but it also has an air of quality and solidity about it that the Renault lacks, optically.

    What I found strange at that time is that PSA basically ‘forgot’ to offer rear doors in the beginning, and only reluctantly came with first one and later two sliding doors, forced to do so by Renault’s example. I remember that Renault even pointed out this fact in their ads (without explicitly naming the competitor, of course).

  2. Maybe P Horrell got confused and was thinking about Postman Pat delivery van ?

  3. At last! An appreciation of affordable good design – thank you Richard. As a penniless student back in the 1960s, all I could afford to run had 3 wheels (Heinkel, Messerschmidt, Reliant, etc.). Then on to car-derived vans (on which there was no purchase-tax to pay in the UK; also ideal for camping holidays and the materials required for renovating old houses), the best of which was (don’t laugh) a Moskvitch. All were a lot of fun.

    Many vehicles, of all types, later I met a friend’s Kangoo. It had replaced his Renault 4 (another brilliant example of French design) and it was exactly as you say, although let down by rear seats set far too low for any comfort and we therefore did not buy one. The Berlingo was indeed boring – but very soon the Fiat Doblo appeared and we ended up buying three in succession over the next nine years. All performed as they should, on occasion carried considerable loads, were very well designed and driving them was always a pleasure. Even, dare I admit, fun! And a worthy replacement for the last was a Peugeot Bippa Teepee. Stupid name, great car; this Citroen/Fiat/Peugeot collaboration is arguably the nearest most recent upholder of the original Kangoo concept. Can’t think of anything new that comes anywhere near . . .

    1. Thanks! I love the mk 1 Kangoo. It’s lemony fresh still and obviously hit the mark too. I rented a Teppee some years back but can’t say I enjoyed it too much. I recall thinking the dashboard was too elaborate. It needed to be more basic. The Jimny’s evolution shows that these utility vehicles can get by very well with mild revision driven by production needs not fashion-led styling.
      The Ford Transit connect also worked well though the Mk2 went the route of excessive complication.

  4. The Phase I Berlingo is one of my all time favourite van designs, I think it looks really smart with its simple yet flowing lines (especially compared to its predecessor, the C15!). I’ve driven both Berlingo/ Partner and Kangoo vans a lot as a postman in a previous life; the Berlingo/ Partner was a joy to work with, whereas the Kangoo was pretty horrible. They were noisy and had mind numbing rattles and creaks everywhere, the steering was vague, they drained their batteries all the time and the sliding doors kept falling out or refused to shut properly. We had a fleet of about 20 small vans (and about 20 Sprinters) at the sorting office where I worked and from what I remember, most of my colleagues hated the Kangoo as much as I did. Its predecessor, the Express/ Extra/ Rapid, didn’t get much love either. We also had Transit Connects and Caddys, both excellent vans to be used in anger, and Doblos, which I found as mediocre as the Kangoo.

  5. One addition regarding the Berlingo: I remember very fondly the show cars that Citroën derived from this model. One was a sort of beach pick-up, a bit in the mold of the Skoda Felicia Fun that was discussed here recently. While this one didn’t mean too much to me (being no surfer), the second one is one of my all-time favourites: the Berline Bulle. It was most probably intended as a sort of 2CV successor: a simple, roomy device with unaggressive, fun looks. Especially the rear half had strong 2CV overtones. It would have been a welcome addition to go against the standard Berlingo’s sobriety/boringness.

  6. Didn’t Renault play up the “link” with the R4 when selling the kangoo? I remember most of them had a 4l graphic in yellow on the back door. Always in the same place so definitely factory placed.

  7. “If you ask me the Berlingo and Kangoo were switched at birth. Or else the Renault people were asked to design a Citroen and the Citroen people were asked to style a parody of a Renault. ”

    I’m not sure I understand what makes the author think that the Kangoo looks like something that could (should?) have come Citroën.

    My personal experience of those small vans is limited to various house moves and includes a Vauxhall Combi (light and good fun to drive in town) and VW Caddy (very competent and well made but less nimble). Would I consider the family version of the latter as my main vehicle? If i needed the amount of space it offers, maybe.

  8. I always preferred the berlingo to the kangoo back in the day, and in my opinion the berlingo has held up better.
    The kangoo might look more contemporary with it’s lumpy/ungainly proportions and exaggerated wheel-arches, but then i’m not too fond of contemporary car design.
    The berlingo might be a bit boring, but the proportions are good, and the design flows nicely.

    Both were hugely popular with tradesmen here in Norway, but they are slowly becoming a rare sight, as they weren’t the sturdiest vans around and didn’t inspire the same devotion as the old High Ace’s and L300 vans.

    1. They are becoming rarer, yes. But incidentally I saw two (!) first series Berlingos today. Both seemed to be in pretty good condition, but they were passenger versions, not the craftsmen’s vans that often had a rough, short life. I don’t think any of their contemporary colleagues from Italy or Germany (aka Spain in case of the VW) have higher survival rates.

    2. Hi-Aces and L300s are a bit different, aren’t they? They are actual vans.
      I hope you don’t mind me observing that “contemporary” for these cars was 20 years ago. Surely that’s enough time to get used to them? I like the Renault’s strong and consistent styling. It does not try to look like a car. The Parlingo is hedging its bets.
      I have seen loads of these Kangoos in Germany recently, by the way. They can’t be that frail.

    3. i was referring to the design of the kangoo as more in line with contemporary car design then the berlingo.
      the berlingo looks like a 20 year old car, but the kangoo could easily be updated to look like a new car with some busy grille openings and added headlamp-fussyness.

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