Rory Reid road tests and reviews the Citroen C4 Picasso, a five-seater MPV that purportedly offers contemporary styling, good driving dynamics and plenty of space for all the family.
MPVs are like dentures. And coffins. Nobody aspires to owning them, but there comes a point in all our lives when age or unavoidable circumstance forces us to invest in these soulless boxes on wheels.
The Citroen C4 Picasso is just such a vehicle. However the designers of the very latest model have done their utmost to give it an air of desirability. It’s pretty for a start, surprisingly so, and is built on an all-new platform that means it’s light on its toes with engines that give it staggering economy.
But is it as good a package as it seems? Would anyone actually buy such a vehicle out of choice? We hopped reluctantly behind the wheel to find out.
We’ve never used the words ‘sexy’ and ‘mini MPV’ in the same sentence before, but we came damn close to doing just that when we clapped eyes on the latest C4 Picasso. It’s a striking thing that shames not only its predecessor, but the vast majority of its rivals. Its front end is particularly attractive, with a large, fairly aggressive grille and narrow LED day-running lights that sit above a set of squared-off headlights.
The C4 Picasso isn’t all eye candy. The car rides on Citroen’s new EMP2 platform, which helps it shed 140kg in comparison to the outgoing model. Aluminium, high strength steel and a composite rear floor cut weight by 70kg, while a further 70kg is lost through the use of an aluminium bonnet and a tailgate made of lightweight composite materials. The end result is that the C4 Picasso now weighs the same as the smaller C3 Picasso – no mean feat.
Its interior is arguably more impressive. The dashboard has a beautiful, almost concept-like design, with a variety of well-chosen materials and textures that exude quality. The seats, with their contemporary stitch pattern, are a particular highlight, and look as if they fell straight out of a a high-end design studio – even the cloth trimmed pews on entry-level cars look a damn sight better than most leather-clad equivalents in some high end vehicles.
The new Citroen C4 Picasso is slightly smaller than its predecessor, but it offers greater interior space due to the fact its front and rear axles are slightly further apart. The cabin certainly seems enormous — it’s light and airy thanks to a whopping five square metres of glass (including a mammoth panoramic sunroof) and narrow pillars that provide plenty of all-round visibility. The immensely comfortable front passenger seat is designed to resemble a chair in the business class section of an airliner, and it even features an electric footrest.
There’s plenty of legroom in the rear, with three individual chairs of equal size, so you won’t have drawn the short straw if the family pecking order places you in the middle seat. The entire rear footwell is flat, with no awkward transmission tunnel to straddle, and the left and right seats come with optional trays that fold down from the back of the two front seats. Each of these features a small light so kids have no excuse not to do their homework. Our only gripe back there was the fact the seats were a little on the firm side.
The boot is larger than ever, up from 500 litres to 537 litres. Slide the rear seats forward and this jumps to 630 litres. Fold the seats flat and the total rises again to 1,709 litres. There’s a decent number of cubby holes to store general flotsam. There’s a nice little stash box under the footwell in the rear, for example, and another under the dashboard, which also houses the car’s USB and auxiliary ports, as well as a 220v electrical outlet. The central storage bin between the front seats is a little small for our liking, as are the glove box and the door bins.
Performance & Handling
That C4 Picasso’s new platform helps it shed an impressive 140kg compared to the outgoing car. This model is also said to have a lower centre of gravity, thanks to the fact it sits closer to the ground and its engine is mounted lower. Citroen says it’s more agile than ever, but it’s no sports car — there’s a fair bit of body roll when changing directions, no matter how slowly you drive. On the flip-side, the ride is incredibly smooth and it admirably irons out imperfections in the road. Don’t bother fitting the optional 18-inch wheels, though – they make small potholes seem like giant craters.
Power is supplied by a choice of engines – VTi 120 and THP 155 petrols, as well as HDI 90 and e-HDI 115 diesels, all with 1.6-litre displacements. Of these, we were able to test the 1.6 e-HDI 115 diesel and THP 155 petrol. The latter is the clear choice for those who demand performance – it’ll accelerate from 0-62mph in a reasonably nippy 9 seconds (enough to see off some junior hot hatches), revs smoothly, is refined and delivers a decent 230Nm of torque at low speed. The e-HDI 115 is the better bet, however. It’s marginally slower, taking 11.8 seconds to reach 62mph, and it’s not particularly torquey for a diesel, offering a fairly wheezy 270Nm at 1,750rpm, but it’s very cheap to run.
Our test cars were fitted with Citroen’s 6-speed manual gearbox, which was pretty clunky. It’s accurate, but changing gear feels and sounds like you’re stirring a bag of rocks with a small shovel. Citroen promises a robotised version of this manual transmission, which does away with the need to manually change gear or use a clutch. A proper six-speed automatic (which should prove smoother, albeit more expensive) will be available in 2014.
Economy & environment
Those looking for economy above all else should consider the e-HDI 90 diesel, which boasts 74.3mpg and CO2 of 95g/km, but with a 0-62mph time of 15.3 seconds, you’ll need the patience of a saint to drive it. A better compromise is the e-HDI 115 diesel. It’s noticeably quicker than the entry-level diesel lump yet returns 70.6mpg while claiming CO2 low emissions of 105g/km. The THP 155 petrol is thirsty in comparison, sucking down fuel at a rate of 47mpg while coughing up 139g/km of CO2
Equipment & Value
At the time of our test, Citroen had yet to decide final specification for its UK C4 models. However the car can be specified with a vast amount of tech. The most impressive of this is an optional high resolution 12-inch display atop the dashboard. The left third of this screen permanently shows the vehicle’s speed, while the right two thirds can show a wealth of other, user-definable information. Vehicle settings, a rev counter, navigation info, trip computer data or simply a picture of the user’s choosing (uploadable via USB) can all be shown.
Below this is a smaller, 7-inch display, which comes as standard across all models. This is a capacitive touchscreen unit that allows control of all typical vehicle functions – climate control, navigation, audio playback, phone, driving aids and Citroen’s Multicity Connect feature. The latter is an online, subscription-based system that allows access to various apps, including Facebook, Coyote speed camera information, local weather, etc. The screen itself is a quite slow to respond to inputs (imagine your iPhone, drunk) which makes it slightly frustrating to use, but if you like gadgets, you’ll appreciate its presence.
Speaking of gadgets, the C4 Picasso comes with a shedload of advanced tech that should make your life easier behind the wheel. The highlight for us was the clever Park Assist feature, which automatically parallel or reverse parks the C4 Picasso for you.
The C4 Picasso has yet to be independently crash tested, but Citroen expects it to gain a five-star rating when Euro NCAP gets a chance to smash it up. Until then, it comes with a suitably impressive array of active safety systems that help keep you and yours safe. The car has a lane departure warning system that aggressively senses when the driver is drifting out of lane. When this happens, the car’s motorised seatbelts will repeatedly tug at your shoulder until you pull back into line. It’s incredibly effective, but also incredibly annoying.
In addition, the C4 Picasso is fitted with automatic high beam operation, which keeps the headlights on full beam except when the car detects it might be blinding other road users, blind spot monitoring, and Citroen eTouch. The latter enables the car to call the local emergency services using its own built-in SIM card when it detects the vehicle has been involved in an accident.
Citroen has done a stellar job with the C4 Picasso. OK, it won’t set your pulse racing (what MPV will?) but its interior and exterior styling and its wide breadth of abilities make it a real winner. It’s comfortable, practical, drives well and is versatile enough to keep even the most demanding of families content whether they’re popping to the local park or driving cross country. If you’ve been forced down a path in life where you must confront the ominous spectre of MPV ownership, we suspect you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this one.
Model tested: Citroen C4 Picasso e-115 HDI 6-speed manual
Engine: 1.6-litre e-HDI 115
Acceleration: 0-62 in 12.3 seconds
Top speed: 117mph
Emissions: 105g/km CO2
Price: £17,500 to £24,500