TEST DRIVE: Citroen C4 Picasso

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Steve Sharpe drives Citroen’s new-look C4 Picasso

The C4 Picasso is the latest model in Citroen’s MPV range to carry the celebrated Spanish artist’s name.

Citroen C4 Picasso

Citroen C4 Picasso

The first Xsara Picasso MPV was launched in 1999, and the company has subsequently brought out C3 and C4 models.

This new version of the C4 Picasso is based on an all-new platform and has had a considerable amount of weight shaved off – this model weighs in as the same as the C3 Picasso.

With big-selling models like Ford’s C-Max, the VW Touran and Renault Scenic in its sights, Citroen reckon that the C4 Picasso is a real step up in class as regards to quality and refinement.

MPVs are by definition aimed fairly and squarely at the family market, but this C4 Picasso could have been called the Citroen Family, in the Family Trim, with a special Family edition.

From the three distinctly individual seats in the rear, to the huge boot, the useful cubbyholes and the miniature mirror, positioned underneath the rear view mirror, which spies on the back seat occupants, this is built for family life.

But Citroen have made strides to improve this MPV’s appearance. And they’ve certainly succeeded.

It’s a far cry from the boring MPV jelly moulds of old.

The impression is of a chunkier, more muscular variation on a theme, with definite nods to the DS models , with the rear quarterlights darkened to give the floating roof illusion.

The much-improved front end features new look chevrons which extend out to attractive hi-tech lights.

Slim LED daytime- running lights, positioned just above the headlamps, flank the radiator grille and the look is finished off with fog lamps complete.

The rear end also features new LED lights, while the electronically-operated tailgate wraps around the sides of the chassis, adding a futuristic look.

Climb inside the cabin and it’s instantly apparent that if this was built with the family in mind, it’s a very 21st century family.

The two-tier dashboard features two screens, one a standard 7” sat nav in the centre and the second, a whopping 12” HD screen which features digital readouts of the speed gauges and much more besides, including the facility to upload your own pictures for a graphic display.

Citroen have succeeded in upping the ante as far as fit and finish is concerned.

The top-spec Exclusive Airdream version I drove boasted quality, soft-touch plastics, tastefully designed in a two-tone colour scheme.

The materials seem suitably hardwearing, too, which is a must for a family car. It’s quite intimidating.

Like the Picassos of old, there is acres of room inside.

The roof towers above your head, and there is plenty of room for legs to stretch out in the front and rear.

The rear row, split into three separate seats, also enjoy a load of room, and the flat rear floor makes fighting to avoid the middle position a thing of the past.

MPVs are usually spacious and light vehicles but this C4 Picasso is absolutely flooded with light – through the ample amounts of windows, the huge panoramic sun-roof which occupies much of the roof space, and the large windscreen, which features sun-visor sections which retract to create a panoramic windscreen that begins over the top of your head.

There’s also a large boot anyway, but the three rear seats can be slid back and forth, reclined or folded flat independently for even more storage space.

The C4 Picasso is powered by a 1.6-litre engine in various forms – I drove the ultra-economic diesel version, which comes in under the emissions threshhold, cutting out the requirement for road tax.

Despite these green credentials, and official 0-60 figures of more than 12 seconds, the diesel engine proved to be willing and flexible, especially on the town run.

It packs decent power for an MPV and when the pedal is floored it reacts well.

I found things a little hampered by the six-speed auto gearbox – it was hesitant when selecting a higher gear, and the pronounced pause, jerk and then surge took some getting used to.

For some reason, Citroen have elected to place the automatic gear select lever, a thin, metallic lever much like an indicator lever, slightly above the actual indicator lever on the steering column.

This resulted in a degree of confusion on my part, generally culminating in the windscreen wipers going on instead of the car pulling away.

The Picasso is suited to both urban chores and log-range travels.

It has truly impressive levels of refinement. The engine is extremely quiet and road noise is almost nil, with just a bit of wind noise whipping though the side windows.

The C4 is a tall car and this is reflected by some body lean when cornering, but you’re unlikely to want to throw it around sharp bends anyway.

The steering is well weighted and responsive, and the suspension is set up to absorb most of the obstacles thrown its way.

It comes together to make for a supremely refined, family vehicle.

Prices range from £17,500 to £24,500, depending on which trim you go for from the four available – VTR, VTR+, Exclusive and Exclusive+.

Base-level trim gets alloy wheels, Bluetooth and a six-speaker stereo with a USB socket.

You need to move up a trim for a digital radio and if you go for the top-spec models you get everything from adaptive cruise control to a front passenger’s seat that reclines like a business-class chair, with leg rests as well. It will also give you a massage. Really.

My top-spec Airdream version was packed to the rafters with technology, which almost worked against it.

Pulling off entailed selecting “drive” from the steering column mounted stick, which was fiddly to start with.

When the C4 pulls away, the seatbelts tighten firmly electronically around you and the front seat passenger, which is irritating after a while.

A white-line detection device, meant to wake you up if you fall asleep and drift across the road, is also enthusiastic and tugs on your seatbelt four or five times when you cross the line.

This happens a lot, and gets a bit tiresome.

The Stop-Start system cuts the engine off when you brake to a halt, which means that in slow-moving queues you’re constantly stopping and starting. While I’m aware that is the point it becomes a bit repetitive.

And while the two-tier dash is extremely high-tech and futuristic, there are so many controls and buttons mounted on the steering wheel and on the dash and screen, it’s very hard to work out what’s going on where and how.

But techno gripes aside, the C4 is an ultra-comfortable family car, supremely practical and good-looking to boot.

With impressive levels of refinement and build quality, Citroen have drastically updated the MPVs of old, and with 70mpg and exemption from road tax, it makes economic sense as well.

But if you’ve got a bigger than average family, you’ll have to wait until early next year for the Grand Picasso, the seven seat version.

Fact file

Citroen C4 Picasso

Engine: 1.6litre diesel.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic.

0-62: 12.3 seconds

Top Speed: 117mph.

Economy: Avg 70.6mpg

Price: £24,455