Richard Aucock
26/09/2006 00:00 | By Richard Aucock, contributor, MSN Cars

Citroen C4 Grand Picasso review (2006 onwards)



Citroen C4 Grand Picasso (© Citroen)


We were running behind on the C4 Picasso launch, and didn’t even arrive at the hotel until late afternoon. Everyone was itching to drive the cars. Not yet, we were told. First we had to sit through the press conference.

Citroen C4 Picasso (© Image © Citroen)

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In a hot, dark, muggy room: yes, lecture room fever soon set in. But suddenly, I was roused from my lethargy. Not by a flying white board rubber, but a video. Showing a French hottie folding the Picasso’s middle seat for access to the rear. She pulls the backrest lever, up glides the base to hinge against the backrest, allowing the whole thing to slide forward. Brilliant. And that was just the start: the video went on to introduce the system that tells you whether parking spaces are big enough, it showed the illuminated strips in the dash, roof and door panels, the lights in the rear picnic tables, even how the door bins light up as your hand approaches. I held back from clapping at the end.

Airy cabin

Citroen C4 Picasso (© Image © Citroen)

When we finally got to the cars, the good feeling continued: it even looked good. Competing against the Vauxhall Zafira, VW Touran and Renault Grand Espace, this new seven-seat compact MPV has shunned the utilitarian look of some rivals and gone all-out to catch eyes. Through well-surfaced lines, neat detailing and, above all, the most amazing panoramic windscreen. Stretching deep into the windscreen, it doubles the driver’s field of vision and creates a totally unique feel from within, for all passengers. Coupled with large quarterlights and thin windscreen pillars (cyclists rejoice!), this is the airiest-feeling compact MPV you can buy. Does wonders for mood, even on grim French evenings.

Citroen C4 Picasso (© Image © Citroen)

Interior design equals the flair shown outside, and adds top-drawer quality to the mix, too. Hardly something Citroen’s renowned for, the money saved in basing this on a stretched C4 platform has partly been spent in specifying soft-touch trims, canny details and high-line assembly standards. The split air con controls are tactile, colour-changing instruments are cool and the whole appearance is sophisticated. High-set seats are firm (again, very un-Citroen), the driving position as normal as the zany fixed-hub steering wheel isn’t.

Three rows of seats

Citroen C4 Picasso (© Image © Citroen)

The rearmost seats, while folding cleverly flat, are best left to children. It’s better in the middle row, with bags of width and three individually-sliding seats. The pews themselves are firm and funny shaping to the floor and can annoy feet, but it’s up to class standards. Even better, the big windows flood the rear with light, and an optional separate compressor for the air con gives true four-zone climate control. The optional panoramic sunroof will make it a necessity. Don’t worry about saggy rears when fully laden with large people either: another compact MPV first is pneumatic self-levelling rear suspension.

Engine choices

Citroen C4 Picasso (© Image © Citroen)

Four engines are offered in the C4 Picasso – 127bhp 1.8-litre and 143bhp 2.0-litre petrols, plus 110bhp 1.6-litre and 138bhp 2.0-litre HDi diesels. Two thirds will go for diesel, the majority choosing the 1.6-litre. Rightly so as it does nearly 48mpg, has a torquey, easy-going nature and generally decent refinement (though there are quieter engines in the class). The 2.0-litre HDi is appreciably punchier and the choice for laden Picassos. And the petrol? We only drove the 2.0-litre and found it hard work and lacking in torque. Not helped by the Electronic Gearbox System (EGS) semi-auto gearbox. Now, this marks a policy change for Citroen, and we’re not completely convinced by it here.

Auto or manual?

Citroen C4 Picasso (© Image © Citroen)

Basically a paddle-shift clutchless manual with auto mode, the EGS ‘box is efficient and clever, but its quick shifts can be jolty in auto guise. Things are better in manual, particularly as the paddles are lovely things, but it’s still not as smooth as a well-driven manual (even one as sloppy as the Picasso’s). However: on the 2.0-litre HDi, it’s the only option. On other variants, Citroen would prefer you chose it too, and has fitted a cool box on the dash in such models to encourage you. The company is sure we’ll all gradually shift to semi-autos: we’re not sure the EGS, which works pretty well in the standard C4, complements the C4 Picasso quite well enough to convince.

Driving ability

Citroen C4 Picasso (© Image © Citroen)

It does make gearshifting easier though, something that suits the character of the car. Suspension is soft, typically French, and gives a fluid, cushioned feel on smooth roads that’s extremely relaxing. Throw in a few undulations and it can feel underdamped, while surface harshness can introduce a gritty feel (and some noise). But with generally high levels of refinement, it makes a sweet cruiser. It handles well too – once you accept the high levels of roll and super-light, over-assisted steering, the C4 Picasso threads through bends with honest appeal. Your lolling passengers may have words, mind.

What it costs

Citroen C4 Picasso (© Image © Citroen)

There shouldn’t be such grumbles from your bank manager. When it’s launched in January, Citroen predicts prices will be between £15-£20k. The entry-level model will feature ESP, climate control, cruise control, seven airbags, anti-lock brakes, electric windows and a CD player; not bad then, and a greater kit count than the rivals it’s priced on a par with. Citroen is also making concerted efforts to reduce its dependency on cashback deals, and improve the residuals of this all-important model: in some ways, it’s the most important new car from the French maker this decade, such are the aspirations touted for it. You can tell this by the effort that’s gone into it.

Verdict

Citroen C4 Picasso (© Image © Citroen)

Okay, the Picasso is not quite the best thing in this class to drive, but it’s nevertheless characterful and does enough to set it apart from rivals. It’s in the design and ergonomics where it really wins, with enough originality to shame some of its competitors. We weren’t quite as roused after our drive as we were after the press conference, but still came away impressed. Oh, and if you’re wondering about the name, so too were we: old Picasso remains on sale until 2009, new Picasso joins it, meaning we must emphasis the ‘Xsara’ and ‘C4’ tags. Trust modern art to complicate things. But, nevertheless, this new MPV paints a pretty good picture.

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