The revised Citroen Grand C4 Picasso proves that owning a large MPV needn't mean forgoing a certain element of style. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Citroen Grand C4 Picasso offers sharp styling that does a good job in disguising the fact that, like all seven-seat MPVs, you're basically buying a big box. With economical BlueHDi engines, great safety provision and lots of glass, the Grand C4 Picasso feels several notches above the class average, especially since the introduction of this updated version that features smarter stylng, extra technology and some efficient new petrol powerplants.
Buying a seven-seat MPV is usually an exercise in sacrifice. You accept the fact that in return for three seating rows, you'll get something boxy, boring and bland. Or will you? With this improved second generation Grand C4 Picasso model, Citroen beg to differ on that score. The Picasso name has been synonymous with Citroen People Carriers since the turn of the century and with 7-seat MPVs since the first generation Grand C4 Picasso model was launched in 2006. That car tapped into the major growth area in this segment amongst buyers who really only needed five seats but wanted the occasional versatility of a couple of extra fold-out chairs in the boot. This one makes that arrangement more usable, thanks to extra interior space released without the extra vehicle length buyers in this sector don't want. This comes courtesy of the class-leadingly long wheelbase conferred upon this car by a clever, multi-patented EMP2 platform that's also claimed to sharpen up the previously rather stodgy handling. It all sounds very promising, particularly as in this improved guise, the car gets more technology with greater media connectivity and some frugal new petrol engine options for the few potential buyers who don't want the efficient BlueHDi diesel. In prospect then, what we have here is a very clever People Carrier indeed, with a glassy, futuristic combination of hi-tech style and efficient practicality that ought to set new standards in this segment. Does it? Let's find out.
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 silver coloured roof bar option. 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, you get up to 793-litres of bootspace when the third row of seats is pushed into the floor, a total that can rise as high as 2,181-litres with the middle row also folded. Those middle row seats 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 - and the rearmost pews are really only suitable for kids. 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 Grand 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 £22,000 and the BlueHDi 100 diesel setting you back from just under £22,500: that's a fraction above what you'd pay for a comparable Ford Grand 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 Grand 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 Grand 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
It's virtually impossible to compete in this sector without some standout economy and emissions figures and the Grand C4 Picasso steps up to the plate in this regard. Although some of the power outputs at first look a little underwhelming for such a big vehicle, the diesels develop such torque that you won't need to thrash the engines to make respectable progress. Even the entry-level BlueHDi 100PS unit pulls its weight, emitting just 99g/km with a combined fuel consumption of under 75mpg. Step up to the BlueHDi 120 model and the CO2 number is 105g/km, with a combined fuel economy return of over 70mpg. The BlueHDi 150 manual unit gets 102g/km of CO2 emissions, rising to 112g/km for the 6-speed auto model. 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.
So, if you want a compact seven-seat MPV, look at the bigger Pic. Is it that simple? Well it depends upon your priorities I suppose. There may be some buyers in this segment for whom ultimate driving dynamics dictate the choice of a Ford or a Vauxhall in this segment. I can only imagine these people to be in the minority though. Most in search of a modern People Carrier prioritise practicality, running costs and clever design. If, as here, they can have all of this with class-leading style and technology thrown in, then so much the better. This Grand C4 Picasso offers perfect proof, if you ever doubted it, that an MPV can do more than just provide comfortable, efficient transport. It can be.. well, what Citroens once were: clever, futuristic, expressively designed. Cars you'd be genuinely proud to own.