Citroen's C3 Picasso has a more involving take on the small MPV theme. June Neary reports.
Will It Suit Me?
If there's one class of car with the potential to send me to sleep, it's the MPV. I don't mean that they're big enough to stretch out in the back of when you feel like forty winks. It's more the lack of anything exciting or emotionally involving to latch on to with them. Some are obviously better than others in this regard but the MPV is basically the answer to a boring question. How can family life be made a bit easier? Many MPVs do the practicality thing exceptionally well but good grief, aren't they dull while they're doing it? As you might imagine, my hopes weren't high for the Citroen C3 Picasso. Not only is it an MPV, it's a supermini-based one which, I thought, means it's too small to be really practical. Not for the first time, my expectations were confounded. The C3 Picasso turned out to be a bold attempt by Citroen to inject some interest in to what is essentially a vehicle of function. The designers have accomplished that and them some. Its styling has real attitude, by supermini MPV standards, with its robust curves and attractive detailing. Life with the Picasso immediately looked a more inviting prospect than it does with most of the also-rans in this sector.
This isn't a big car but as a supermini MPV, it can't be all about style over substance: that practicality needs to be present too. The interior reflects the lines and curves of the outside, giving the car a cohesive feel from a design perspective, but it also has lots of space. There's more headroom than you could want and loads of space in the rear. The back seats split 60:40 on our test car and are easy to fold down with one gentle tug of a lever. The boot can hold an impressive 500 litres with the seats up and features an adjustable floor. This can be set in two positions to either create a flat load floor with a cubby beneath or one larger loading space. The plastics in the interior are disappointing in places, particularly the grained stuff on the dash top, but it's hard to fault the layout. The controls are simple to fathom and there are plenty of neat touches that make the C3 Picasso out of the ordinary. The glovebox is very small but there are good-sized door pockets and a number of other cubbies for smaller items.
Behind the Wheel
If anything, the ride and handling of this Citroen is even more of a standout feature than its design. The suspension is supple over surface imperfections but taut enough to maintain its composure through humps and dips. The car changes direction smartly with responsive steering that's light around town but grows heavier as speeds increase to inspire confidence. It corners neatly too with none of the body roll that has afflicted so many of Citroen's past MPV efforts. The gearbox action is a little loose and long throw and the sharp brake pedal feels at-odds with the long travel of throttle and clutch but otherwise, the C3 Picasso is a minor revelation to drive. Both of the C3 Picasso's diesel engines can come close to returning 60mpg on the combined cycle. And emissions are pegged at 107g/km for the 90bhp model and 119g/km for the HDi 115. It means that despite its size and carrying capacity, this car should prove reassuringly inexpensive to run.
Value For Money
There are three trim levels, VT, VTR+ and Exclusive. The basic VT model has remote central locking, a trip computer, electric door mirrors, electric front windows and a CD stereo. Only the front seat occupants get airbags at this level, however, and many buyers will feel like upgrading to get side and curtain airbags in what is a family vehicle. ESP stability control is a cost option and then only with the range-topping Exclusive models which also get more luxurious trim materials. The key rivals for the C3 Picasso are the Ford B-MAX, the Toyota Verso-S, the Hyundai ix20, and the Vauxhall Meriva. Citroen would appear to be well placed in this company and has been tightening its grip on the European MPV market with this model.
Could I Live With One?
Good things are happening the smallest part of the MPV market and the Citroen C3 Picasso is in the vanguard. This little car shows emphatically that small practical vehicles don't have to be as dull as an accountancy convention. It has a little style, a little flare and a little fun built in but it remains a very functional and user-friendly small car. Other MPV makes should take note.