The Citroen C4 Picasso was always one of the better looking MPVs. The latest improved model demonstrates that style and practicality aren't mutually exclusive concepts. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The second generation Citroen C4 Picasso brought a much needed injection of style to the compact five-seater MPV market. The French brand has treated this versatile five-seat People Carrying contender to an update, with smarter stylng, extra technology and some efficient new petrol engines. Plus of course, it's still as practical as ever.
Picasso. The name that launched both a generation of art and a several generations of small Citroen people carrier. The great Spaniard's family fell out with each other over the decision to grant this French car maker use of Senor Pablo's famous name, but it's certainly been worth the legal wrangling for Citroen, with over three million Picasso model sales since the original Xsara Picasso model was launched in 1999. In 2007, that model was replaced by a far more modern successor, the C4 Picasso, a car that in 2013 was re-launched in this futuristic second generation guise we're going to look at here. There's a seven-seat 'Grand' version of this model, but our focus here will be on the standard five-seat version, which competes against Ford's C-MAX and Renault's Scenic. With both those two rivals significantly improved, Citroen has moved to improve the C4's style and technology, while revised the petrol engine line-up.
The major change when this second generation model was first launched in 2013 was the adoption of a more modern EMP2 chassis that made the car lighter and stiffer. The engine choice is naturally weighted towards diesels because that's what Citroen does very well and it's also what British customers expect to buy. The 1.6-litre BlueHDi 120 will continue to be the big seller, but the economical BlueHDi 100 powerplant is sure to claim more than a few sales. There's also a pokier BlueHDi 150 diesel option too. Petrol customers get a freshly-added PureTech 110 entry-level unit with manual transmission; or there's a pokier PureTech 130 powerplant, mated with the brand's smoother EAT6 auto transmission. Stick with the diesel and you'll find that the 120PS unit offers reasonable acceleration, the engine note is muted and it shares the same improved body control and sharper steering that's engineered into all of the latest C4 Picasso models. Citroen also claim that the suspension has been tuned to work with a variety of wheel sizes, so you won't be punished with an unduly harsh ride if you opt for a bigger set of alloys. On the move, don't be put off by initial unfamiliarities of design and drive. After all, you probably wouldn't be looking at this Citroen in the first place if you didn't want something just that little bit different from the usual character-free compact people carrying experience. Just enjoy this car for what it is as you float over road imperfections, marvel at the unusually hushed levels of refinement and enjoy the benefits of a commanding driving position that's a huge help at roundabouts or when parking and, with the standard panoramic screen, makes it seem like you're suddenly viewing the world in high definition.
Design and Build
The revised models keep the previous version's three-tiered light signature at the front, which is synonymous with Citroen's contemporary design language. The grille though, which is separated into two parts by the body-coloured bumper, has been updated and now sports a glossy black registration plate mount and a second air intake. Plus there are smarter 3D-effect rear lights, classier 17-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels and the option of a black two-tone roof. Otherwise, it's much as before, with clever interior packaging that designer Frederic Soubirou is clearly proud of. We like the optional lounge-style front passenger seat that features an extendable footrest and massage function. On a more practical note, there's a 537-litre boot that's 60-litres bigger than that of a Ford C-MAX. Slide the rear bench forward and you get up to 630-litres. We'll deal with the long wheelbase C4 Grand Picasso separately, but the standard length car features three rear seats that can be slid back and forth, reclined or folded flat independently of one another. What's more, the floor is devoid of a raised tunnel, aiding utility still further. The side windows do angle in fairly sharply which can make taller rear seat passengers feel a little pinched but other than that it's hard to find fault. Materials quality in the cabin is smart, with classy metal finishes and simple yet effective ergonomics, something we have rarely been able to say of previous Citroens.
Market and Model
The C4 Picasso has marched surreptitiously upmarket but perhaps that's no bad thing. The prices are still reasonable, with an entry-level model costing from around £20,000 and the BlueHDi 100 diesel setting you back from just under £21,000: that's a fraction above what you'd pay for a comparable Ford C-MAX. It's fairly easy to see why customers would pay a small premium for the C4 Picasso though. It's the reason why buyers will pay more for an Apple versus a Dell - slicker design values. New media developments include a Citroen Connect radio that includes Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink smartphone connectivity. And a 'Citroen Connect Nav' system with connected services that can tell you everything from weather forecasts to local parking and fuel station info. These functions, like many others in the cabin, are marshalled by the big touch screen display. We know some of you prefer the tactility of a switch or button and there are occasions when the C4 Picasso's screen demands your attention for longer than is ideal, such as when adjusting the cabin temperature settings, which will require you to navigate away from, say, the sat nav or stereo functions and find the ventilation screen. Yes, it helps clean up the fascia but at some cost to actual everyday utility. Even entry-level C4 Picassos are fitted as standard with alloy wheels, Bluetooth and a six-speaker stereo with a USB socket. Range-topping models get features such as adaptive cruise control and the rather lovely lounge-style front passenger seats. It's just like being in a TGV. Except slower and without French school kids constantly running past.
Cost of Ownership
Citroen has worked hard to improve the efficiency of its engine range in recent years and it can now stand toe to toe with the very best. The 1.6-litre BlueHDi unit in 100 or 120PS guises remains the default choice if you're looking to keep a lid on day-to-day running costs. In both forms, it returns 74.3mpg on the combined cycle and 99g/km of CO2. Even the pokier BlueHDi 150 unit can manage 65.7mpg and 111g/km. Citroen is also keen that we should talk about the petrol engines added to the line-up. The PureTech 130 EAT auto variant manages 55.4mpg and 115g/km. What else? Well maintenance costs will be aided by the option of an affordable three year servicing plan. Plus there are reasonable insurance groupings rand the usual three year / 60,000 mile warranty.
Not every family needs seven seats in an MPV and for those that don't, this improved C4 Picasso offers a smartly-styled, hi-tech equipped and very practical alternative. Though not especially enjoyable to push hard, that's because it's aimed exactly where it should be targeted - at mums and dads rather than at driving enthusiasts, with impressive long distance comfort you'll also appreciate on the school run day-in and day-out. It's an MPV that really seems to have been created with a bit of love. From the panoramic windscreen to the lounge-style massaging passenger seat, from the widescreen HD instrument display to the fact that you can sit and Facebook your friends on the touch screen, it's a car that's a joy to operate. And for me, a joy to look at, as different and refreshing in design as it will be to own. It's good that the Citroen we used to know is back. The manufacturer that took risks, created magic and brought us cars that sat apart from the ordinary norm. Cars exactly like this one.