New C4 Picasso review – e-HDi 115 Airdream edition

2 August 2013

New Citroen C4 Picasso

Citroen C4 Picasso Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Good: eye-catching, airy, refined, economical and spacious
Bad: numb brake pedal and limp steering
Price: from from £17,500
People-carriers are generally about as easy on the eye as a sharpened stick. Given that they must be tall and practical and capable of coping with leaking children, one can only imagine the designer’s dilemma. No matter how many images of muscular panthers or high-tech running shoes they might pin to their inspirational mood boards, they might as well simply paste up pictures of a shipping crate and an egg. Because their work is going to fall somewhere between the two.

Or that’s what I thought until I clapped eyes on the latest Citroen C4 Picasso. It somehow manages to look elegant, strong and distinctive. Not words I would aim at its immediate predecessor, which looked as if the designer had nodded off (or possibly expired) while still halfway through sketching the windows.

This new MPV does look odd from one angle, though – the back, because it seems to be wearing the wrong badge. The tailgate seems to have been borrowed from an Audi. And even from other angles the badge doesn’t seem quite right. The strong crease across the flanks, the infinity-effect LED tail lamps, the idiosyncratic approach to chrome and even the button-festooned steering wheel all nod firmly towards Citroen’s DS collection rather than its C-label range.

New Citroen C4 Picasso rear view

Those are hardly complaints, however. Whatever it’s called, this is a good-looking car.

The compact dimensions help. The new body is 4cm shorter and 4cm lower than before, but has 6cm more length between the wheels. These small adjustments flatter the proportions while also yielding more space for people and their stuff.

The new people carrier is also about 140kg lighter than the outgoing model, thanks to stronger steels, an aluminium bonnet and a composite plastic tailgate, among other weight-saving measures. To put things in perspective, the C4 Picasso now weighs roughly the same as the smaller C3 Picasso – at least until that model goes on its own imminent diet.

Swinging open a big, practical door doesn’t immediately puncture the impression created at the kerbside. The C4’s interior looks neatly styled and admirably free of clutter.

New Citroen C4 Picasso front interior

Citroen has chosen to fit asymmetrical front seats – a decision I’m not entirely convinced by. The two chairs resemble the separated halves of a sofa, which looks inviting to the eye but provides a slightly odd feel under the thighs and shoulder-blades.

Four trim levels will be offered to UK customers, called VTR, VTR+, Exclusive and Exclusive+. All come pretty well equipped, and there are half a dozen engines to choose among plus manual or automated-manual gearboxes.

CO2 outputs range from a strikingly low 98g/km up to a reasonable 145g/km. The cleanest of the cars provides an e-HDi 90 diesel engine and ETG6 automatic gearbox, is available only in VTR+ trim, and costs from £20,155.

The least efficient combination mates the VTi 120 petrol engine with a five-speed manual box, but does have the virtue of cheapness, starting at £17,500. The best-selling new C4 Picasso, meanwhile, is expected to be the e-HDi 115 Airdream diesel car with six manual gears, in VTR+ trim, starting at £20,255.

My particular car wound up slightly above average, therefore, with the most popular engine and transmission but in semi-posh Exclusive trim. It starts at £21,555 but has had another £520 spent on metallic paint. Leather upholstery is also an option at £700, but hasn’t been fitted, and various other upgrades including a panoramic sunroof, bigger wheels and electronic driver aids have also gone unticked.

The 1.6-litre turbodiesel provides 114bhp and 270Nm of torque, with a 105g/km CO2 rating and a combined-cycle score of 70.6mpg. The gallop to 62mph takes 11.8 seconds.

New Citroen C4 Picasso front view

The engine feels both willing and well mannered, with no grumbles or shudders intruding into the cabin. At cruising speed on a good road, a modest volume of wind noise dominates, with little annoyance from tyres, engine or exhaust. The manual gearbox slots cleanly and easily, and the instruments provide sensible shift reminders that are easy to see above the digital speedometer but not annoyingly insistent.

The cabin feels tall, spacious and bright, courtesy of generous glazing that includes a windscreen that wanders well up into the roof on all models. The sun visors can be yanked down from above your head when needed, while split screen pillars provide superb vision at junctions, without sacrificing strength. Euro NCAP has thoroughly squashed the new car and given it a five-star rating.

Citroen says the chassis has been set up with comfort uppermost, but that the car will still handle well due to its low centre of gravity. It doesn’t actually fare too badly in the corners for a big, tall car, but the brakes lack bite and the steering feels soft and slow-witted. It’s not exactly a walrus on dry land, but it’s no gazelle either. Given its job description, though, the C4 Picasso feels perfectly pitched.

New Citroen C4 Picasso dashboard

With me at the helm the car delivered a little over 56mpg, running on roads that varied from muddy farm tracks to the M25, with a few acceleration tests thrown in. I’d imagine figures in the 60s would be achievable with a modest amount of care, though a fully laden car obviously won’t sip quite so daintily at the fuel. The trip computer can be called upon to provide plenty of information on consumption.

I don’t tend to like centrally mounted instrument panels, preferring to have important information closer to my line of sight while driving, but I’ll make an exception for the C4 Picasso. At the Exclusive trim level, Citroen fits an oblong digital screen about a foot wide in the middle of the car, with various display options called up using buttons and little rollers on the steering wheel.

New Citroen C4 Picasso instrument panel

This high-definition widescreen is bright and clear and the graphic design ranks among the best I’ve seen in any car, successfully combining clarity with character – which is not an easy combination to pull off.

Lower down, there’s another digital screen, this one a nicely sensitive 7-inch touchscreen, fitted as standard across the range. It governs the car’s various functions including the stereo and ventilation system, supplemented touch-sensitive buttons around the screen for calling up major menus, plus two dedicated touch-points for clearing the front and rear screens.

A brief hunt for the electronic handbrake turns up a tiny sliver of a thing, easily missed below the centre screen. Below its hidden home is a big, soft-lined and illuminated compartment for stowing music players or phones, offering up a pair of USB ports, an aux-in socket and a 12V power source. You won’t be able to open this cubby if there are drinks sitting in the central cupholders, mind you.

New Citroen C4 Picasso rear seats

There do seem to be enough places to store stuff in the C4 to lose every brick from a pile of Jenga. The boot looks huge and swallows 537 litres, up from the 500 of the outgoing car, and there’s room underneath the floor unless you’ve sensibly paid £75 for a spare wheel. VTR+ cars and above get a pair of neat tray tables for the back seats, as well as drawers under the front seats and under-floor storage in the back.

The three rear seats can be slid to and fro or flopped forward independently to help squash big suitcases aboard. And even the front seat can be folded for carrying planks, stepladders, grandfather clocks and other comedic props.

All in all, there’s plenty to like and not much to criticise about this new big Citroen. If you need a properly versatile car to carry five in comfort, along with all their clobber, the new C4 Picasso offers a very good bet.

New Citroen C4 Picasso tail lamps

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