C4 Picasso delivers more than artistic flair

Citroen’s people carrier excels when it comes to the interior: high-tech and slick

Make: Citroen

Model: Picasso C4

Year: 2013

Fuel: Diesel

Date Reviewed: December 3, 2013

Wed, Dec 11, 2013, 01:00

   

All hail the winner of the Irish car of the year. This futuristic-styled people carrier is apparently the best new car on sale in Ireland this year, if you are to judge by the secret ballot of a group of Irish motoring writers.

As the voting is private and the jury doesn’t have to explain its reasoning behind the decision, you will have to join me in guessing the reasons behind the decision. In the accompanying panel my colleague Ian Beatty, who does participate, outlines his votes, but as he didn’t reward the C4 Picasso with his top spot we’re still none the wiser.

Perhaps it was the looks. There’s no doubting that Citroen as a car firm is a star performer when it comes to styling. The French brand has travelled a bumpy road over the last five years but the one area where it still sets the benchmark is design. Speaking to several young designers with rival firms – both premium and mainstream – they all name Citroen (and BMW during the Bangle regime) as being at the cutting edge of car design. Anyone who remembers the 1990s Saxo and its dreary siblings can only marvel at how far the brand has come.

The new C4 Picasso’s short stubby nose is set off with neat light line that looks remarkably like a set of eyebrows above the main light clusters. The bulbous shape for the rest of the car is pretty standard fare in this segment, but it’s smartly presented overall.

Given that the interior is the raison d’etre for cars like this, this is where the C4 Picasso really excels. Inside the plastics are better than we’ve come across in a mainstream people carrier for some time. The dash, for example, has touches that are similar to what features in the new BMW electric i3. In keeping on the electric theme, the C4 certainly aspires to be in tune with the touchscreen generation. The problem, of course, is that France – despite its best efforts – is not exactly regarded as the European epicentre for new tech.

The end result is a bit cluttered in parts while the switchgear is hard to find intuitively without staring at the dash. The menus are overcomplicated and too much of the regular functionality – including control of the eco stop-start system is housed in the system. A little bit of common sense would not have gone amiss in formulating what goes into the touchscreen and what remains as a button on the dash.


Impressive and modern
The seating position throughout is quite high and direct, while the sweeping, and enormous, windscreen stretching over the heads of the front seat occupants set it off as an impressive modern-day charabanc.

From the seating to the dash and even the boot, there’s a quality air that hasn’t wafted around a new Citroen model for several years. Styling has always been razor sharp, but the end result has never quite excelled, particularly on the road. This model does deliver.

One bugbear that grew more annoying by the day was the weight of the boot door. It’s a niggling issue but the boot is far too heavy for flustered and cluttered family use. Lugging it open was too much of a chore as was closing it. For all that there’s ample room for five adults to travel in relative comfort in this Citroen.

In terms of engines, the range revolves around a 105bhp 1.6-litre diesel engine that packs enough punch for a five-seater. The brand is also bringing in a new engine variant that caters for a reduction in diesel particulate, something that we seem to ignore in our fixate on with carbon dioxide emissions. There is also a 90bhp entry-level version on offer but the more powerful variant is just as efficient and worth the extra spend. On the road the ride quality is not award-winning, something that seems counter to what Citroen has long been about. For years Citroens were a little wallowing but always comfortable. Ride quality was always impressive, even if it came at a cost to handling.


Better handling
Recently, with the DS5 in particular, they’ve sought to improve handling but at a very heavy price to ride quality. The DS5 is too firm on Irish roads but this car copes much better, even if it can’t boast the magic carpet ride of older Citroens.

As for handling, the car does lurch in tight corners, while the steering is a touch too light for an engaging drive.

The six-speed manual gearbox is relatively smooth, though the gates are still too long, but it’s a much better option than the semi-automatic, which we have tested. It is still overly devoted to economy, resulting in slow and jerky gearchanges. It’s best avoided.

Citroen has been working hard of late to stabilise its residual values and the firm claims that with the C4 Picasso there is research to back up claims that it will be a strong performer. The days of big discounts on a Citroen forecourt are over apparently. The brand has been performing well in independent customer satisfaction surveys.

There is a lot of competition in this segment of the market and while the Citroen is new, there are several established rivals that would tempt us before the new C4 Picasso. There is the Ford range of C-Max and S-Max (a rival to the seven-seat Grand Picasso) models and the recently revamped Toyota Verso that have equally sharp styling, practicality and arguably better driving dynamics.

The C4 makes a serious play to be the best mid-sized people carrier on the market at present and it would certainly make our shortlist in this segment. Whether it’s the best new car to enter the Irish market in 2013 is another matter and one that I find hard to concur with the great and good of the Irish motoring media.