First Drive: Citroen Relay facelift

Date: Monday, August 11, 2014   |  

This is the first drive of the third in the trio of revised heavy vans built under the alliance of PSA Peugeot-Citroen and Fiat, with the Citroen Relay joining Peugeot’s Boxer and the Fiat Ducato. The Relay debuted at the CV Show in late April, the only one of the three to be unveiled at the NEC, but it did not arrive in showrooms until July, as did the Ducato, both following the Peugeot van, which has been in dealerships since April.

Most obviously marking out the new Relay is the revised front end, with new headlights that incorporate daytime running lights, and a new grille, as well as new three-piece bumper arrangement that cuts repair cost. The new Citroen brand chevrons across the grille are supposed to emphasise the width of the vehicle to indicate strength, so says the designer Andrew Cowell.

Described by senior Citroen figures as “a key stage in the brand’s offensive in the van segment”, the French brand said its priorities for the revised large van included a modern design contributing to practical use, benchmark comfort, technologies for increased safety and proven quality and low running costs.

Four engine options exist, the core 110 and 130hp versions of the 2.0-liter diesel, the Airdream version of the 130hp which comes complete with stop-start to make it the most efficient in the line-up, if £200 more expensive when comparisons with the non-Airdream are possible, and the 150hp version only available on so-called Heavy applications.

We get seven of the eight available bodystyles in the UK, encompassing four heights and four lengths, with payloads ranging from 1140kg to 1995kg, and load volumes from 8.0-17.0m3. The French brand claims best-in-class load width of 1.42 meters between the arches and 1.87m wall-to-wall.

This L1H1 110hp and L3H2 130 models are likely to be the bigger sellers, though it was the L1H1 130 that was available to drive on the preview event. Fuel economy has improved from 38.2 to 41.5mpg, putting it among the class best, while emissions are down by 15g/km to 180. The best model in the range, the L1H1 130 Airdream, fitted with stop-start, comes in at 175g/km and fuel consumption of 42.8mpg. All models bar the chassis cabs get below 200g/km and offer at least 37.7mpg. 

Like its Peugeot and Fiat siblings, the revised Relay received re-engineered rear doors, suspension and better protection of the electronics by changing the way water runs off the vehicle.  The structural reinforcement involves better mechanics of the rear and sliding side doors, with the rear doors getting improved hinges and side door's runners, rails and locks have all been improved.

Also receiving attention are the braking system and shock absorbers, the former by optimizing the discs and improving the pedal action for smoother braking and the latter getting new shocks with revised mounts to try and increase durability.

Citroen has also standardized 15-inch wheels on the majority of the range in a move it claims will improve downtime, as the tyre size will have guaranteed availability in dealerships.

The change from pre-facelift Relay to new model comes with a £545 premium (all prices are quoted not including VAT), though Citroen claims the additional equipment now fitted is worth £600, and the gap between basic and Enterprise specifications has closed by £100 to £800. That extra standard kit on base edition models includes electronic stability control, Bluetooth and a USB socket, daytime running lights, full steel bulkhead and DAB digital radio, while the Enterprise now adds cruise control, alarm, five-inch colour touchscreen and Bluetooth to an offering that already included air conditioning and rear parking sensors. That level of extras makes the £800 step-up something well worth paying for most operators, given the parking sensors alone could save a similar expenditure by preventing parking knocks during the van's life. It's also worth remembering that Citroen fits the Teletrac telematics platform to all vehicles, offering Smartnav satellite navigation and the ability to upgrade to the Fleet Director fleet management system.

Citroen is keen to draw attention to the new safety technology available as an option on the Relay, which includes a lane departure warning system for £300, and the intelligent traction control and hill decent control package for £500, while the parking sensors can be turned into a parking camera for £225, which comes complete with markings to show where the open doors will reach out to from the back of the van.

 The in-built touchscreen system lifts the dashboard, and the total of 13 storage spots around the cabin give a decent array of options for the driver-related paraphernalia that needs to be accommodated, but the general quality is very much traditional van rather than some of the more recent car-derived cabins. There's nothing to complain about, it's comfortable and logically laid out, but it would be fair to presume a big step in material quality will occur when the Relay finishes its life cycle and a replacement hits the market a few years from now.

The changes to the engineering side of things have an effect, though it's not a huge leap in terms of comfort and refinement. The driving experience isn't markedly different, and the improvements are more the kind of thing that will be felt in-life, with the strengthened door mechanisms and redesigned bumpers, as well as wider rubbing strips. The Relay is still tidy if unremarkable to drive, but the 130hp engine is a good fit, though refinement isn't class-leading.

But the extra equipment and changes that will impact upon running costs are all welcome, though the price increase of over £500 less so, despite the generous levels of standard equipment. The efficiency gains are also useful, though it won't be long before the van's status at the head of the sector for efficiency will be challenged and surpassed. The Relay is improved in a whole manner of useful ways, but it's not enough to get it to the top of the class.

 

Verdict

Decent refresh gives Relay new energy, though others in the sector are better all-rounders.



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