Mercedes' first-ever compact van is the sister of the Renault Kangoo, but the Citan offers considerable brand appeal

The Mercedes-Benz Citan is the smallest van to wear a three-pointed star, and the first product to be born of Merc’s joint venture with Renault. And if you think the Citan looks strangely familiar, you’re right – under the skin you’ll find a Renault Kangoo.

And if that seems a little odd, think of it this way. In 2012, the Kangoo enjoyed a 17.4 percent share of the market. If you’re going to work with someone, you may as well do it with someone who knows what they’re doing.

Mercedes is keen to point out that the Citan isn’t a bit of badge engineering

Mercedes is keen to point out that the Citan isn’t a bit of badge engineering. The suspension, engine and bodywork have been reworked to provide a bit more Mercedes-ness.

There is an impressive number of configurations in the range. There are three wheelbases offered in the panel van range with or without fuel-saving BlueEfficiency kit. And there’s a five-seat Tourer van-derived MPV and a part-van, part-MPV Dualiner which offers up to five seats, plus a large cargo bay. It’s the panel van in BlueEfficiency trim in the mid-length wheelbase that we’re driving here.

Impressively refined. And rather car-like, which bodes well for the Tourer version. Acceleration is perky, although with only a driver and no cargo carried, it ought to be. The five-speed gearbox has a nice positive action, and despite lacking a sixth ratio (that’s reserved for the range-topping 110bhp version), a motorway cruise is possible in relative peace.

And although the steering is tuned for ease of use, it is reasonably accurate, if lacking in feel. Better is the turning circle, which measures 12.2m (its just 10.1m for the shortest wheelbase models).

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The Mercedes-tuned springs and dampers provide more than a modicum of dynamics with good body control when unladen. Mercedes fits adaptive ESP, and a demonstration on a skidpan showed the system was able to virtually eliminate the nose washing wide when cornering hard.

But despite the fitment of this advanced ESP kit, the Citan scored a below-par three stars in its Euro-NCAP crash test. It was criticised for hard dashboard structures and airbags that failed to provide enough protection. In response, Mercedes will work with Renault in a bid to improve its crash performance.

Mercedes’ modifications to the Citan’s 1461cc four-cylinder turbodiesel sees emissions and fuel consumption reduced over the equivalent Kangoo. In 109 CDI guise, the Citan develops 90bhp at 4000rpm, with 147lb ft peaking between 1750 and 3000rpm. Above 3000rpm, torque drops suddenly and the otherwise surprisingly refined engine becomes coarse. Emissions are rated at 123g/km, and Mercedes says that when unladen, this particular Citan should be capable of 65.7mpg on the combined cycle.

There is an entry-level 75bhp version designated 108 CDI, while the 111 CDI tops the range, while the 114bhp 112 is the only petrol option in the range.

The fixed bulkhead of our test van meant it wasn't possible to see out of the rear, although a rear-view mirror is still fitted. The curved A-pillars provide good three-quarter visibility, and the sliding side doors fitted to the Long and Extra-long wheelbase models afford excellent access to the cargo bay. Mercedes offers asymmetric rear doors which open through 90- or 180-degrees, or a single tailgate.

Once inside, the van is free – wheelarches apart – from anything that’ll hamper loading cargo. Official measurements put the cargo area at 3.1sqm – 1753mm long, 1460mm wide and 1258mm high and a 1219mm gap between the arches. The maximum payload is up to 760kg.

As for standard equipment the Citan van and Dualiner both get front electric windows, electrically adjustable, folding and heated door mirrors, USB connectivity, central locking and day-running lights. The MPV-styled Citan Tourer gets a manually adjustable front seats, Bluetooth, sliding doors, all around electric windows and roof rails as standard. However, being a Mercedes there is a wealth of options to choose from including climate control, sat nav, automatic wipers and lights, rear parking sensors, alloy wheels and heated front seats.

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Although commercial vehicles are chosen primarily for their running costs and reliability, it’s hard to avoid the sheen that the Mercedes badge provides. Arriving at a job in a Merc carries kudos. As does having a Mercedes people carrier - with only the Citroën Berlingo, the now discontinued Peugeot Partner Tepee, Ford Tourneo Connect and Volkswagen Caddy Life its closest rivals.

And as a van for an owner-driver, the Citan is rewarding – as much for its surprisingly spritely dynamics as its competitive fuel economy and CO2 emissions. Only a marginal increase in price over the equivalent Kangoo and those disappointing safety credentials count against it.