First drive: Citroen C4 Picasso

First drive: Citroen C4 Picasso

Not wanting to follow the crowd into the burgeoning crossover market, Citroen is sticking to its guns with this, its fifth compact MPV to wear the Picasso badge. The French marque has shifted its focus for this latest model, aiming to offer more than what it calls a 'mobile cocoon', with avant-garde styling and impressive levels of technology. AOL Cars nipped over to Lisbon to find out what it's like.

What is it?

The 'Technospace' according to Citroen. In laymen's terms that means a striking new design language, which will eventually filter through to the rest of the Citroen range. The C4 Picasso is penned to appeal to more than just parents, with stacks of equipment and an airy interior that features lounge style seats and a 'loft architecture' design theme with vast expanses of glazing.

It is the first car to sit on the company's new EMP2 platform, making it both shorter and a whopping 140kg lighter than the outgoing model, despite offering greater rigidity and cabin space.
What's under the bonnet?

The C4 Picasso will initially be offered with a choice of two petrol and three diesel engines. All units are 1.6 litres in capacity with the petrols available in 120bhp and 156bhp guises, and the diesels in 92bhp and 115bhp states of tune.

A larger 150bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine will also eventually be offered, though we found the 115bhp unit to be more than sufficient, never feeling breathless no matter what the situation. A six-speed manual gearbox is offered across the range as standard, with a six-speed automated manual available as an option on more powerful models.

Under testing, the 115bhp diesel model returned perfectly acceptable fuel economy of 54mpg over a mix of roads. Unsurprisingly, this couldn't be matched by the 156bhp petrol, which managed a distinctly average 32mpg under similar conditions.

What's the spec like?

Citroen is yet to confirm final UK specification, though the Picasso will be offered in four trim levels: VTR, VTR+, Exclusive and Exclusive+. All models are equipped with a dual-screen dashboard configuration, comprising a seven-inch touchscreen in the lower fascia, and a high-definition 12-inch screen higher up.

Of sufficient size and quality to rival even the most expensive luxury saloon, the screen drives much of the onboard tech, and is a standout feature that others will struggle to compete with.

Models higher up the range get a rear-view camera, all-round parking sensors, chrome exterior detailing and Citroen's new lounge seating, which incorporates elaborate headrests and an electric footrest for the passenger. A nice touch, but one that is of limited use for taller folk.

Optional extras include a panoramic sunroof that makes the already light and airy cabin feel even more spacious, and Citroen Connected Services, which for an annual subscription, gives drivers access to local information ranging from speed camera warnings and petrol station locations, to directions to the nearest Michelin star restaurant.

Citroen C4 Picasso
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First drive: Citroen C4 Picasso

Any rivals?

Key competition in the UK includes the Ford C-Max and Renault Scenic. The Ford offers a good driving experience, and is likely to be cheaper (Citroen has yet to confirm list prices) with an equivalent diesel engine. Ford has also announced it is to ship the C-Max with its 1.0-litre Ecoboost wonder-engine, which could be an economical alternative for those who prefer petrol power. In 1.5-litre dCi diesel form the Renault Scenic will return similar economy, though with a softer, more roly-poly driving experience. The Toyota Verso is worth a look too, with its superb build quality and clever third row of folding seats. It cant' quite match the Citroen on cleanliness and style, however, and is expensive, like for like.

What's it like to drive?

Equipped with the 156bhp turbocharged petrol engine, you really have to work the Picasso to get the best from it. Low down, there is little torque to get it off the line in any great hurry, and whereas with the diesel you can be lazy and just leave it in third gear for most of the time, the petrol requires constantly working to ensure efficient forward momentum.

All models, however, ride superbly, soaking up even the worst bumps with the sponginess you'd expect from a big French car. It's so good in-fact, that it makes the supposedly premium Citroen DS5 people carrier feel positively uncomfortable. Despite this, the C4 Picasso exhibits little in the way of body roll when tipped into a bend. This, combined with the linear response from the electric power steering system provides for an entertaining drive.

The AOL Cars verdict

We're struggling to find the catch with the C4 Picasso. Effortless and relaxing to drive, comfortable over long distances and with a sense of style both inside and out that makes it truly desirable; it's a worthy addition to the compact MPV sector. Buyers will be rightly seduced by the sheer elegance and uniqueness of the Citroen, which happily hasn't come at the expense of everyday practicality. Parents rejoice, for this one family friendly car you'll be happy to show off to your friends.

The knowledge

Model: Citroen C4 Picasso e-HDI 115 Intensive 6-spd manual
Price: £21,500 (TBC)
Engine: 1.6-litre, four cylinder, diesel
Power: 115bhp 285NM
Max speed: 117mph
0-62mph: 12.5 seconds
MPG: 70.6mpg
Emissions: 105g/km CO2
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