What Car? says...
The Citroën Relay forged its reputation as an affordable large van many years ago, its popularity driven at least in part by the fact that attractive discounts were all the rage at the French manufacturer at the time.
Now, as it draws towards what should be its swansong, this large van has undergone one last revamp in order to keep with the times, adding new Euro-6d TEMP engines that enable the big workhorse to soldier on.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, Citroën has tackled the new emissions regulations by increasing the size of the Relay's engine; the theory goes that a larger engine will be more comfortable with a heavier workload, and therefore work less hard and emit fewer pollutants.
In the case of the Relay, it has also provided an added benefit in that the power ratings across the range have also increased, the 2.2-litre unit is now available in 188bhp, 138bhp and 163bhp outputs. All engine options come with stop-start as standard, which also helps them all to meet the emissions regulations.
Design changes on the outside of the Relay have been limited since its 2006 launch. While the van was facelifted in 2014, with a larger grille being added, there’s little to split the models apart except for a noticeable band of LED daytime running lights within the headlight unit of the most expensive new models
Keep reading the next few pages of this review to find out how the Citroën Relay compares with the best large vans in terms of performance, interior quality, day-to-day usability and, of course, load-lugging ability. We'll also let you know whether it should be on you or your company's shopping list.
And remember, we can help you find the best leasing deals through the free What Car? Leasing section, where you can get a quote for whichever make and model of car or van fits your personal or business needs.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
While the Citroën Relay’s design hasn’t evolved much over time, its engines certainly have. The Relay has flicked between 2.2-litre and 2.0-litre engines several times, even flirting with a 3.0-litre engine for a while, before settling on the new 2.2-litre BlueHDI unit.
Where the previous engine quickly became tiresome, mainly due to it being so noisy, the newer version is a great improvement. However, it does retain an underlying thrum, which makes it feel less refined than some of the engines available in competitors.
Adding to its image as a utilitarian van that forgoes the frills many newer vans have adopted, the gearshift is firm and quite notchy, requiring a purposeful nudge to see it through. The steering is also heavy and the suspension firm, but they work together nicely: it’s a rudimentary but satisfying, safe and secure van to drive. It's not what you'd call entertaining, though.
The interior layout, fit and finish
As a result of its age, it feels like it is from a different era, because the interior is quite bare and short on the sophistication of its smaller siblings, both of which are are based on passenger car-derived EMP2 underpinnings. The Relay is a functional van, but a bit bland.
The Relay has always been blessed with an open and airy interior, which means forward visibility is excellent, and the rearwards view is helped by large wing mirrors. The seating position is high, even for a large van, which also helps give you a good view of the road ahead.
Whichever trim you chose, the interior feels dated when compared with others in the sector, and there are certain controls and switches which don’t feel like they are made of the best quality plastics. The handbrake, located on the right-hand side of the driver's seat, eventually proves tiresome and has the annoying habit of getting caught occasionally on a trouser leg as you leave the van. As a result, you often see them bent outwards slightly after they’ve completed a few miles.
The one strong point, however, is the Relay’s storage space, especially if the central lower glovebox (available as an option if not part of the trim level) is specified. You also get a moderately sized but lockable glovebox and decent door pockets suitable for large bottles.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The Citroën Relay comes in three wheelbase lengths, with a choice of four body sizes and three roof heights, and while its capacity is impressive, it also excels for carrying a large amount of weight.
Load volumes range from 8m3 for an L1H1 van, up to 17m3 for a L4H3 model. Load length in the rear ranges from 2670mm to 4070mm, while the maximum internal width is 1870mm. Heights range from 1662mm to 2172mm.
The Relay comes with a side-loading door as standard, with an aperture width of 1075mm on the smallest-length van and 1250mm on all of the others. Loading height varies from 535mm to 565mm.
Payloads range from 1125kg to 1570kg. To put that into context, a 3.5-tonne Ford Transit van will carry around 120kg less than the best performing Relay.
All in, the Relay strikes a good balance between transporting volume and weight, which some other vans don’t quite master.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Another area where the Citroën Relay has improved significantly over the years is in the addition of safety systems, some of which are mandatory but many of which are useful extras, such as Roll-over Mitigation and Hill Descent Control. Traffic sign recognition is also now available and a lane departure warning system can be activated or deactivated via a button on the dash.
For a large van, the Relay is also surprisingly economical and can achieve its WLTP fuel consumption figures of around 35mpg with careful use of your right foot.
Servicing intervals have also increased with the newer Euro-6 engines, rising to every 30,000 miles or every two years, whichever is sooner.
The warranty cover on a new Citroën Relay van is three years or 100,000 miles, and it is also covered by five years of corrosion protection.
Entry-level X models are about as basic as a van gets these days, the list of nicities only extending to electric windows, heated electric mirrors, a DAB radio with Bluetooth and steering mounted controls. You’ll find other items listed in the brochure too, including a rake and reach adjustable steering wheel and 12v power socket, but they’re hardly anything to rave about.
Next comes the Worker model, which is geared more towards a vehicle that might need to venture off smooth roads occasionally. It’s not an off-road model by any means but it does get all-weather tyres, reinforced suspension and an underbody protection plate, plus Hill Descent Assist. Inside, a lower central glovebox replaces cup holders in the central area while, most noticeable of all, there’s a 5.0in colour touchscreen for the infotainment system. There's also lumbar support and an armrest for the driver’s seat, which transforms it into a being a nice place to spend long periods.
Enterprise is a more luxurious version of X, adding air-conditioning, cruise control and a speed limiter, as well as rear parking sensors. It also gets the 5.0in touchscreen with satellite navigation added, plus an alarm.
The final trim available is Driver, which enhances Enterprise specification with a rear parking camera, automatic wipers and lights and a Driver Assist Pack, which includes new safety features like Lane Departure Warning, speed sign recognition, collision alert and Active Safety Brake. On the outside, Driver models also get the LED headlights integrated into the main headlamp unit.
Driver is without a doubt the best of the packages, but we believe that most buyers would find an Enterprise model suited their needs. In contrast, X models are really only suited for rental or fleets that work the vans hard and change them quickly.
Regardless of which trim you choose, if it isn’t already included, we would suggest opting for the centralised glovebox compartment, which adds some much-needed additional closed storage.
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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.