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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.