Citroen’s C4 Picasso proves to be more than a fancy example of modern automotive art.
Pros: Spacious interior, flexible seating, strong and sensible specification, smart styling.
Cons: Steering wheel button cluster complex, engine lacks initial low-end zest.
Compact five-seater sports multi-purpose vehicles are an emphatically European breed that, here in New Zealand, are perhaps the ultimate ebb and flow vehicles: Strong then weak; here, gone, back again.
What is it exactly? Good question. Small MPV, large hatchback. Either fits. The distributor cites it, rather hopefully ,as something else again; a crossover on basis that it ‘crosses over’ several market segments. I’d suggest it’s more of a bridge between a hatch and an MPV or, alternately, a mega-hatch with small wagon potential.
Design and engineering:
Away from the semantics you find a car that presents a smaller roadside picture to the seven-seater ‘Grand Picasso’ that you might have seen loitering in the school zone or outside of patesseries. Both share the snazzy new EMP2 modular platform and styling seems familiar, though only the frontal cues and front glass are shared with the bigger sibling the regular Picasso being 172mm shorter, with 55mm less in the wheelbase and 24mm less height.
The look is radical, with just a hint of the egg-shaped past, but also has a pleasing futuristic elegance, hammering home the maker’s firm opinion that utilitarian family cars needn’t dress dowdily.
The interior is equally artfully done, with lots of flair, again as befits the iconic Spanish artist, but not to the point where it loses the plot: There’s a parent-pleasing reason why those plastics and velours have an inherent wipe-clean robustness to them.
The initial confusion for those trying this car for the first time is sorting out that the ‘key’, a plastic block, has to slot into the dash and that the delicate wand poking out behind and to the right of the steering wheel is not to operate wipers or indicators. This is the gear selector.
Powertrain and performance:
You think French then invariably you also think diesel. The engine conspires to deceive, in that it entertains oiler-like mid-range urge (and chatter at start-up from cold). The torque shove is result of the turbocharging, which explains the reasonable maximums of 121kW and 240Nm.
All well and good … to a point. While the muscularity is supposed to uncoil fully from just 1400rpm right up to 4000rpm, in reality it feels a little flat from initial takeoff, requiring a moment before finding some sense of stride. Likewise, with power optimising at 6000rpm, it has to be worked to release full potency.
All in all it’s not a bad engine – co-development with BMW certainly does no harm with one likeable trait being mechanical smoothness – but it isn’t quite as convincing as I’d hoped, bearing in mind that our impressions were formed when driving with just two adults aboard. Will it be all the more taxed with three more bodies aboard? Or will it free up once a few thousand klicks are on the board?
Citroen’s brand image has doubtless been lifted by its World Rally Championship involvement, but obviously with a car so patently designed with family life in mind, any Loeb-like genetic fallout is well diluted.
Yet even though it’s also very likely buyers for this kind of car also won’t prioritise driving dynamics, it’s not by any means a dud drive.
Citroen is cheeky – and chic – enough to provide paddle shifters, and a fully manual mode, for the six-speed automatic. Using the shifters probably doesn’t really hurry it up much, though the claimed 0-100kmh time of 9.3 seconds does seem a touch under-cooked. You’ll have to drive with great consideration – and perhaps on billiard table-like surfaces - to achieve Citroen’s claimed fuel burn optimum of 5.3 litres per 100km, but in touring mode it’s easy to settle into the mid to high sixes, which hardly shames it.
Ride, refinement and quality:
Oui, the suspension is clearly tuned to prioritise a smooth, relaxing ride – though it can feel a touch brittle at low pace nonetheless - yet that doesn’t come at the expense of reasonable driving flair. The electrically-assisted steering has good feel and is direct with three turns lock-to-lock. The car feels sure-footed and road noise is very well damped. Just don’t try to throw it into corners, the results will be lots of body roll and some wallow, enough to ultimately trigger a junior barf-fest. Overall it feels much more like a large hatchback than a small bus.
Practicality and packaging:
Big, wide opening doors, huge fishbowl windows – the biggest being the windscreen arching up into the roof - a low sill line. It’s all very artful, yet beyond the panache are a great view, airy cabin and an eminently user-friendly environment.
The main attractions are a pair of central screens; the large 12 inch one that acts as a speedo and rev counter and, below that, a 7-inch infotainment screen that controls most of the in-cabin electronic features.
NZ solely sees a 1.6-litre petrol Seduction for $38,990. This isn’t the plushest trim level Citroen rolls out, but it’s nonetheless very well provisioned for a model placed strategically below the key sub-$40k waterline. A reversing camera and sat-nav are great features, especially with a screen of such brilliant clarity. Since dual-zone air conditioning, cruise control with speed limiter, automatic wipers and lights, front fog lights with cornering function, heated side mirrors, Bluetooth, USB, audio streaming, MP3 stereo with 8gb 'juke box,' six airbags and a full suite of electronic chassis aids also all feature, it’ll take some effort to bother with the optional glass sunroof ($1500) or the $2500 front seat upgrade delivering half leather, power lumbar support, special headrests, and front seat extensions. Double that and heated power-driven front chairs also come.
Despite being lower and shorter than its predecessor, this model has more rear legroom and a bigger boot. The rear seats can slide forwards to increase the standard 537 litre capacity to 630 litres or can be folded flat (as can the front passenger seatback) to treble that allocation. The rear chairs of our near-new car weren’t the easiest to tumble flat, only releasing after some awkward and very firm tugging at the webbing pull straps.
Beyond the cup holders and cubbies comes an impressive array of holes, slots and underfloor storage bunkers. Some are on the small side – those drink holders are tight for two full-sized disposable coffee cups, you won’t get so much as one adult-sized shoe in the rear floor compartments and the fuse box affects glovebox usefulness. But the overall innovation of a car that can offer a total of 16 separate storage locations is pretty good.
People-carrying is the primary role and it does this with aplomb. Fore sure, that central rear seat is so narrow it’ll be the one that the smallest child will be relegated to, but the chairs up front are very comfortable.
How it compares:
Few people buy into cars like this any more so that reflects in the modest choice of alternates: Honda’s Odyssey is potentially the one closest out of Japan and it’s not as well provisioned nor as smart-looking. The C4 Picasso is quirky, but that’s part of the appeal. It’s the one that stands out in a small crowd.