What Car? says...
It’s not uncommon for car and van manufacturers to work together to launch a new product. Pooling their resources lowers the development cost, and most customers will never know that their vehicle shares many of its components with at least one other model.
That’s the route that the Citroën ë-Relay has been down. It might be the latest large electric van to hit the market, but we’ve already seen its siblings, the Peugeot e-Boxer and Vauxhall Movano-e.
Unlike those two models, though, the ë-Relay isn’t built by Citroën itself. Instead, and like the e-Boxer and Movano-e, it’s built by a third-party electric vehicle specialist. The company, Bedeo, converts a conventional Citroën Relay in Turkey before it’s shipped to the UK.
Will the fact that it’s a third-party product rather than a Citroën original help or hinder the ë-Relay? That’s what we’ll find out over the next few pages of this review.
We’ll take you through the battery and motor options available, telling you what it’s like to drive and what kind of electric range you can expect to get from a full charge.
We'll also tell you what the interior quality is like, how much cargo it can haul and, ultimately, how it compares with its key electric van rivals, including the Ford E-Transit, Mercedes eSprinter and Renault Master ZE.
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Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
There are two battery options available for the Citroën ë-Relay, starting with a 37kWh battery pack that gives you a modest official range of 73 miles. A larger 75kWh battery increases that to a more respectable 154 miles, but that's still less than the Fiat E-Ducato and Ford E-Transit can manage.
Power comes from a 121bhp electric motor, which replaces the diesel engine in the regular Citroën Relay. That's at the lower end of the power spectrum for your average large van, but as an electric van with instant torque (192lb ft), it should do the job for most drivers. That said, the ë-Relay doesn’t surge forwards when you put your foot down with quite the same enthusiasm as some rivals – instead, it limps to life.
The ë-Relay is a heavy van, even when it’s not loaded up with any cargo. That means that when you fill it to its 3.5 or 4-tonne capacity (depending on which version you go for) it begins to feel lacklustre. It’s not the amount of power that’s the problem, it’s just that the E-Ducato or Mercedes eSprinter do a better job of delivering it to the road.
There are no varying levels of regenerative braking (which recovers energy as you slow down) in the ë-Relay. That's a shame, because being able to manage how much power is clawed back into the battery, or being able to coast for long distances, is a real benefit when your driving range is limited.
There is a slight slowing down as you lift off the accelerator, but it’s not enough to be useful unless you’re able to plan hundreds of metres ahead to bring your speed down. Instead, you’ll have to use the conventional brakes more often than you would in rivals that offer several degrees of regeneration.
Big vans usually have a hard suspension set-up to cope with the heavy payloads they carry, but the ë-Relay doesn’t feel all that uncomfortable. It rides well and can even handle a twisty road with a minimum amount of fuss and body roll. The steering is quite heavy (even by large van standards), but it does lighten up as the speed increases.
The ë-Relay has front-wheel drive, and that means you can hear more of the electric motor than in the the rear-wheel-drive E-Transit. It’s not particularly noisy, but coupled with a higher level of road noise and the sound of wind whipping its way around the van’s large wing mirrors (especially at motorway speeds), it is noiser than the more refined E-Transit and eSprinter.
The interior layout, fit and finish
At the moment, electric vans are very much being aimed at fleet buyers. Rather than catering for a wide range of needs, most manufacturers are offering just one trim option that leans towards the higher (i.e. more expensive and better equipped) end of the market.
The same is true in the case of the ë-Relay. It's available only in Enterprise trim, which is ordinarily the middle of the Citroën Relay range. The electric version gets much of the diesel van’s equipment, including a 5.0in colour touchscreen, electric and heated door mirrors, and air conditioning. The electric Enterprise trim also adds rear parking sensors and a display screen in the rear view mirror showing the battery charge level and driving range.
It's not the most comfortable or attractive of interiors to be in, but it is practical with a good deal of storage. The seats are hard though, and the steering wheel position is too upright. The Mercedes eSprinter and Ford E-Transit are considerably better appointed, more comfortable and built to a higher quality.
Then there’s the third-party conversion by Bedeo to consider, because while the simplistic push buttons for engaging Drive, Neutral and Reverse are effective, they look very aftermarket with their chrome-effect surrounds.
That’s not the worst conversion howler. In the ë-Relay’s instrument cluster, you’ll find the gauges for fuel and engine temperature as well as the rev counter, all still in their original position next to the speedometer, but with the needles removed. It looks plain weird.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The Citroën ë-Relay is generous when it comes to the amount of space on offer. The interior has plenty of room for two passengers, and the driver has a good range of seat travel to allow them to get comfortable.
There’s also decent storage available, with large door bins along with smaller compartments near the driver, and two open compartments on the passenger side of the dashboard. There’s a cupholder in the central portion of the dash and a generous concealed storage box in the lower section of the dash.
When it comes to the load bay of the van, the ë-Relay is available in three body lengths, referred to as L2, L3 and L4 (from smallest to largest). Lengths range from 3210mm to 4070mm, giving a load volume from 11.5m3 to 15m3. Unlike the diesel Citroën Relay there is just one roof height, H2, which is the most common standard van height and gives you a 1932mm internal loadspace measurement.
There are two different gross vehicle weights (GVW) for the ë-Relay – 3.5 tonnes and 4 tonnes – but only some of the van sizes are available at the two weights. L2 and L3 model vans are plated at 3.5-tonnes, while L4 vans are built on a 4-tonne chassis and get double leaf spring rear suspension.
In terms of payload, L2 vans can carry up to 1070kg and have the smaller of the two battery sizes, but the larger L3 vans’ payload drops to 740kg because they use the heavier 75kWh battery pack. All L4 ë-Relay vans get the 75kWh battery, but due to the additional GVW they are left with a payload of 1150kg.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
It’s possible to make some considerable savings on running costs by having an electric van if you're able to charge it efficiently on a 7kW home wall box. Doing so will take around six hours if your Citroën ë-Relay is fitted with the 37kWh battery and up to 12 hours for the 75kWh version.
If you need to charge up in a hurry and can find a suitably powerful charging point, the ë-Relay will allow a 50kW DC rapid charge. That will top up the battery from empty to 80% in an hour.
Whichever method you choose, you’ll be making savings over the diesel Citroën Relay (its MPG fuel consumption figures are in the mid-to-low twenties). The flip side, of course, is that an electric van is significantly more expensive to buy than a petrol or diesel one.
The ë-Relay’s starting price is marginally cheaper than the Maxus E Deliver 9 and Mercedes eSprinter but it's considerably more expensive than the entry-level Ford E-Transit. You don’t get a great deal for you money either, because the Relay it's based on is an ageing van that lacks many of the modern safety systems newer vans get as standard.
You do get a driver’s airbag and traction control, but if you want more than that you’ll have to opt for the Drive Assist Pack. That option adds speed-limit recognition, smart beam headlights, automatic emergency braking (AEB), collision alert and a lane-departure warning system.
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About the author
George Barrow is one of the leading van and truck reviewers, and is the UK’s only representative on the prestigious International Van of the Year jury. He has written about vans and commercial vehicles for the past 15 years, and can be found in titles including The Sun and What Van?, alongside What Car?.
Barrow is well regarded in the commercial vehicle industry, securing access to the latest models – and the people who made them – long before other titles.