Citroen Nemo SensoDrive Review
|Facts At A Glance|
GROSS VEHICLEWEIGHT: 1,680kg – 1,700kg
CitroenNemo SensoDrive- THE GEAR FACTOR
Anautomatic gearbox in a small urban van makes sense on paper but howabout in the real world?
TheCitroen Nemo with the SensoDrive gearbox is more economical than themanual model, it’s easier to use around town and it doesn’t cost toomuch more. Automatic vans aren’t commonplace on our roads but modelslike this could well change all that.
If there was ever a van ideally suited to an automatic gearbox, theCitroen Nemo is it. The little Citroen is a highly specialised sortdesigned to operate in busy urban areas where picking a path throughthe traffic can be hell in anything even remotely large or unwieldy.It’s the kind of environment where the van driver can be on and off theclutch like he’s trying to inflate a bouncy castle with a foot pump buta good automatic gearbox has the potential to eliminate all that effortat a stroke. But can it do more? Citroen reckons that if you specificyour Nemo with its clever SensoDrive transmission, then the answer isyes.
TheNemo is yet another Citroen van built in partnership with Peugeot andFiat. Peugeot’s version is called the Bipper which, for us, instantlyputs it at a competitive disadvantage and the Fiat model is rather moreelegantly dubbed the Fiorino. Along with its cousins, the Nemo is ahighly significant vehicle in that it plugs a gap between theestablished compact van sector (think Citroen Berlingo van) and smallersupermini-derived vans (think Vauxhall Corsavan), an area where fewother products dare to tread. We could call it a sub-compact van if youlike, but the point is that it’s small, mobile and nimble enough toexcel in congested urban areas when carrying a big load isn’t necessarybut it remains large enough to be of day to day use. In this kind ofrole, the SensoDrive automatic gearbox would appear to make very goodsense.
"TheSensoDrive gearbox only adds to the Nemo’s suitability for the urbanrole."
TheSensoDrive ‘box is mated to the Nemo’s 1.4-litre HDi diesel engine.It’s an automated manual gearbox with a mechanical clutch taking careof the shifting on command and negating the need for a clutch pedal.The idea behind it is that operators get the two-pedal driving benefitsof a proper automatic with the economy of a conventional manual. Thesystem works well too. It can be operated in fully automatic mode orprompted to change gear manually with the stubby dash-mounted lever. Ifyou adopt a relaxed driving style and are relatively gentle with thethrottle, progress is smooth. The 1.4-litre engine develops 70bhp whichdoesn’t sound a whole lot but 160Nm from 1,750rpm means it has thelow-end muscle that drivers like for getting their payload smartly offthe line. The Nemo isn’t earth-shatteringly quick but the chance toapproach the speed limit has become a rare luxury in the areas whereit’s designed to work, so that shouldn’t unduly matter.
TheNemo has independent front suspension braced with an anti-roll bar,while at the rear is the old commercial vehicle standard transversebeam. The set-up works well helping to give the Nemo the lively andenergetic feel on the road that the latest supersized Berlingo haspartially lost. The downside is that the Nemo is less comfortable aproposition on the open road, but around town its short overhangs andteeny dimensions make it highly manoeuvrable. The turning circle issuper-tight at under 10 metres kerb to kerb.
Onthe whole, the Dispatch is one of the better drivers’ vans out there.The steering is a little on the light side for high speed travel butwell-weighted for urban driving. The firm suspension tackles cornersadeptly and even with the high-roof bodystyle we tested, body-roll iswell controlled. The gear change would be sharper in an ideal world butin general the Dispatch serves up a polished experience to whoever’sbehind the wheel aided by a driver’s seat with height, reach, rake andlumbar adjustments.
There’slittle doubt that the Citroen Nemo SensoDrive does what it sets out todo in making the lot of drivers in urban areas that little bit easier.Whether enough van drivers get the chance to have their lives made abit easier, however, will depend on whether the Nemo SensoDrive canpersuade the people who hold the company purse strings. It gets off toa promising start by actually consuming less fuel than a 1.4 HDi Nemowith the five-speed manual gearbox. On the combined cycle, theSensoDrive model returns 64.2mpg compared to 62.8mpg in the manual andaround town, it’s 51.4mpg plays 49.6mpg. Emissions are a similar storywith 116g/km of CO2 coming out of the SensoDrive model and 119g/kmemerging from the manual. With the SensoDrive Nemo costing £400 morethan the manual, fleet managers will be doing their sums and onesuspects that many buying decisions will come out in the SensoDrive’sfavour.
TheNemo measures just 3,860mm in length but uses its interior space tofull effect in offering a 2.5m3 load volume and a 610kg maximumpayload. The space itself is usefully square and a ladder framebulkhead protects the rear of the driver’s seat. Choose the optionalExtenso folding passenger seat and that load volume can be increased to2.8m3 with the load length upped from 1,520mm to 2.5m, ideal for pipes,planks of wood or other long items.
Itsstyling should win the Nemo many admirers. The bumpers, the wheelarchesand even the windscreen dome outwards and along with the wide track,this creates a squat, planted stance. The inherent chunkiness alsosuggests the Nemo is a tough customer and there’s not much to dissuadeyou from that opinion on the inside. Fiat’s influence on the project isevident in the cab. The air-vents, the stereo and other components havebeen seen before in Fiat products but all feel solid and look the part.The design is simple and the materials robust but storage could be moregenerous. Space is adequate for driver and passenger but largeroccupants might find it a little confined during a long day at thewheel.
TheCitroen Nemo SensoDrive is available only in LX trim. That means itgets standard equipment such as an MP3-compatible CD stereo, a tripcomputer, ABS brakes, a driver’s airbag and pre-tensioner seatbelts butalso benefits from the LX extras. These run to a sliding side door onthe nearside, electric front windows, remote central locking, thefolding passenger seat and heated electric mirrors. Air-conditioning isan option, as are a Bluetooth hands-free kit and rear parking sensors.
Automaticgearboxes don’t always make much sense in commercial vehicles. Thesometimes sizable price premium and fuel economy penalties make theextra convenience of self shifters a tough thing to justify. Citroen’sNemo SensoDrive is an altogether different proposition as not only isthe van designed for use in urban areas where the benefits of an autoare magnified, but the gearbox is actually more fuel efficient than theequivalent manual. With only a modest price premium required to getone, the SensoDrive gearbox looks a great fit in the Nemo.
Thisvehicle’s carrying capacity isn’t great but the advantages of itscompact size will be felt more keenly by urban operators than any lackof space in the rear. The van offers good visibility and a tightturning circle, while the SensoDrive ‘box only adds to its suitabilityfor the urban role.