‘Tis the season to be jolly, but there was little jollity while I was driving the Citroen SpaceTourer MPV, says Declan Colley.
It was close to being at the bottom of the pile of all the cars I’ve driven this year.
Any car that was designed to be a van and yet is marketed as a car is bound to have inherent fallibilities. This must be factored into any critique.
Even so, and taking into account my personal bias against van-derived cars (most of them truly are terrible), there are a few plus points to the SpaceTourer, but they are determinedly outweighed by its many downsides.
The plus sides are easily summed up. It is not that bad looking — at least not from the front.
A bit boxy, sure, but then its primary aim is to ferry plenty of people about in relative comfort, so squarish looks are the order of the day and sliding side doors confirm the practical, van theme.
Seating is plentiful and comfortable and the amount of technology on offer — and its usability — is very impressive. It also has a huge rear door, and the glass section of it can be opened independently, which is nice. There’s a good engine, too and, erm, that’s about it.
From a driving point of view, however, the SpaceTourer is pretty grim. Now there are those who like vans and who like driving them. I’m not one of them. I do like driving and I do particularly like driving precisely. That is not something van-derived cars will deliver.
Consequently, the lock-to-lock movement of the steering wheel seems to take longer to negotiate than turning a supertanker. On the open road, there are bags of understeer, and on rougher surfaces the chassis will occasionally shimmy, which is a little alarming.
There is a hugely entertaining video out there of Citroen’s Irish WRC driver, Kris Meeke, thrashing a Dispatch van — the one on which the SpaceTourer is largely based — around a special stage in the UK. He does all sorts of do-not-try-this-at-home things with said van.
Now, Meeke is a driving colossus and can do things with cars about which I could only dream. Vans, too, obviously. But he does these in the relative safety of a closed road, untroubled by other traffic.
However, when you are driving the SpaceTourer you will troubled by other traffic, and I’m not sure you want to find its limit in those circumstances.
Terminal understeer aside, grip levels were not too bad, but the ride was pretty grim, and, on the roads I regularly use, I cannot imagine that a full set of passengers would be terribly comfortable.
Accessing the driver’s seat was difficult. Apart from needing to be as nimble as a Barbary macaque to climb aboard, once you’re there, other difficulties arise.
Apart from being surrounded by some of the least tactile of plastics, you’d need arms as long as your legs to get at the handbrake, and the gear lever is not as intuitively reachable as you would like.
Storage for oddments, too, is slight. There are a couple of central and door-mounted pockets, but if you leave a phone in one it will slide about noisily on those terrible plastics and probably end up on the floor; same with keys, coins, and all the other detritus we carry around in cars.
So, the general driving experience was not riveting. Certainly, the seating is comfortable — all of them, and you can get as many as nine, depending on spec — and they are all pretty accessible, too. On the plus side, also, all of those seats will accommodate a genuine adult in comfort.
I did also like the 1.6-litre, turbodiesel engine. The 115bhp output might not seem like much for such a big vehicle, but it has plenty to offer; the 11-second, 0-100kph time and the 171kph top speed might not seem like much, but the engine is very willing and its claimed consumption rate ,of 4.3 l/100, km will definitely appeal, as will the €280 annual tax bill.
Undoubtedly, there is a place in the world for a car such as this — for taxis, sports clubs, hotels, and for any activities where the number of seats is more important than how the car comports itself. It is terribly practical and quite nice in certain ways.
Unfortunately, one place you will not find one is in the driveway chez Colley and while I have always had great time for all things Citroen — not least because many of them were daft — the SpaceTourer is not one of the company’s finest moments.
it is ill-conceived and poorly finished. Other than the seats, the interior décor is rubbish and even if you found nine people to volunteer to get into it, you would have to hope they didn’t have any luggage, because there is no room for it. With all the seats occupied, there is hardly room for a ham sandwich in the ‘boot.’
Coming from a company with a reputation built upon design, flair, panache and style, this is a very poor reflection of Citroen’s legacy. I know that co-conspirators, Peugeot and Toyota (who will both also have a version of this) can have blame pointed at them, too, but this has little of the essence of a Citroen and it is all the poorer for that.
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