Car reviews - Citroen - C4 Picasso - range
Handsome sub-sized family rig, impressive expensive tech inclusions thrown in, six-year warranty an industry leader
Room for improvement
Appears expensive at first blush, unique positioning will see it sail with eagles – or sink like a stone
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10 Feb 2015
CITROEN has always prided itself on its unique take on the modern automobile.
Indeed, few, if any, other brands can lay claim to such a long history of defying the trends when it comes to building cars to suit the area. The 2CV and the DS are two of the most iconic automotive products of the last century, while its more recent DS4s and C3s have presented intriguing alternatives to more mainstream fare.
In one of the most competitive retail markets in the world, however, Citroen Australia has its work cut out. Selling barely 1500 cars a year in a total market of 1.1 million, it cannot hide behind the ‘quirky French’ tag forever, as the recent resurgence of arch-rival Renault has shown.
With a catalogue of nine cars that covers everything from small passenger to people-movers and light commercials, Citroen struggles because of a lack of a solid single seller, a car that can underpin the rest of the brand’s lofty ideals. It’s hoping that the soon-to-be-released C4 Cactus will help here.
And while it waits for the kooky, bubble-sided crossover, Citroen has decided – only after some prodding from dealers, it seems – to take a punt on a vehicle that will hopefully attract buyers not just from its own pool, but from entry level premium European aspirants.
The C4 Picasso is a small people-mover that does a fair job of mimicking a large hatchback. Available here as just a single, highly-optioned proposition, Citroen has thrown down le gauntlet to BMW’s 2 Series Active Tourer and Mercedes-Benz’s B-Class, while providing an interesting alternative to cars like Volkswagen’s Golf Wagon and the Skoda Octavia range.
The Picasso is a handsome vehicle, with a heavily raked windscreen and airy glasshouse meshing well with a classical hatchback rear form. The split front lights look overly fussy when compared with the rest of the front fascia, but the rear is smooth and low key (if a little previous-gen Golf-esque in the tail-lights). The 17-inch alloys are shod with Michelins, and strongly tinted rear glass adds contrast.
Large doors open wide to reveal a five-seat layout, with the rear three split into individual units that can slide, tilt and fold independently of each other. The front seats are mounted high and face a huge, deep, soft-touch dash inset with not one, but two TFT screens.
The larger 12-inch top screen doubles as a dashboard, with no instruments mounted in the driver’s line of sight. The smaller seven-inch screen acts as a touchscreen command centre for most of the Picasso’s functions.
The driver’s position is high, but not as high as a typical large SUV. The steering wheel is thick and shapely, and visibility through the huge side windows and screen is exceptional. The cabin shows numerous signs of Citroen’s quirky approach – the gear shift lever, for example, is a thin wand atop of the steering pinnacle, with no obvious display to indicate which gear had been selected.
As well, many functions that are usually controlled by buttons on the centre console have been moved into the touchscreen menu, which can confound at first.
The nav system isn’t especially intuitive, but phone connection is a breeze.
The level of specification in the $40,990 (plus on-road costs) Picasso is incredibly high, even with no option boxes ticked. The panoramic glass roof, the 360-degree camera with parking assist and high-spec infotainment system will help the Picasso offer a value equation that its most logical German rivals, the BMW 218i Series Active Tourer ($44,400) and the Mercedes-Benz B180 ($40,900), will struggle to meet.
It’s not hard, however, to push the Picasso’s base price towards fifty grand by simply opting for metallic paint ($900), full leather ($5000) and the $2000 Driver Assist package.
Once under way, the 1300kg Picasso is a surprisingly brisk performer. The 121kW, 240Nm 1.6-litre petrol engine is spritely and smooth, and the new six-speed auto is a great performer in traffic and out on the open road.
The suspension isn’t as cosseting and relaxed as other Citroens we’ve tried, but its firmer tune held the larger body in check well. It’s not quite as hatch-like as Citroen would have you think, but it’s certainly better to steer than a typical people-mover.
Opt for the $2000 Driver Assist Pack, and a suite of passive and active safety systems – including seat belts that vibrate when the car runs over a centre or edge line on the road – puts the Picasso in front in the safety stakes.
The variable-ratio steering lacks feel and precision on-centre, though it’s handily light at low speeds.
Our time with the Picasso was limited, but it was long enough to realise that Citroen’s quirkiness can sometimes work against it adjusting the rear seats wasn’t a straightforward proposition, which surprised us.
We’re told that the handover of this vehicle to customers is expected to take twice as long than other cars in the range, which gives an idea of just how unusual the Picasso is when compared to a more traditional brand’s car.
Citroen has worked to keep the five-seat Picasso away in price and philosophy from its seven-seat Grand Picasso. At first blush, the Picasso’s plus-$40 grand sticker may push potential customers towards the lure of a prestige badge, rather than a good-value proposition offering from a brand with a unique and refreshing sense of individuality.
Only time will tell if the C4 Picasso will be seen, as Citroen hopes, as a little bit of something for everyone.
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