The idea of an MPV being exciting is one which very few believe is actually possible. With the new C4 Picasso, Citroen hopes to change that. Dynamic styling, a 12-inch HD screen and an extremely bright interior with 5.3 metres square of glass, all put forward a fairly convincing argument.
So can the new C4 Picasso still stay exciting, even when you have a bunch of screaming kids in the back? Or is this just yet another MPV destined to be as boring as the school run? Read on to find out
From the front, the C4 is a rather pretty thing. It has a set of LED lights just above its headlights, with a chrome strip running along the front of the bonnet. It connects the whole front of the car together and gives it a much more interesting look than the usual "just stick some lights there" approach of MPVs.
We also like how short and flat the bonnet is, with a big front end grille that gives the car much more road presence. While the car looks big, it is actually 4cm lower and 4cm shorter than its predecessor. Inside, the excellent driving position does well to hide the C4's size.
Specific dimensions are 4.43 metres x 1.83 metres x 1.61 metres, which isn't huge given it holds up to five people with ample leg room. The car also shaves off 140Kg on its predecessor, which should make for more fuel efficiency and result in better driving dynamics.
The back of the car has a set of infinity lights not unlike that on the back of the DS3, or the Audi R8 for that matter. It's the fussiest part of the vehicle, with a separate secondary rear window separated by a chrome accented strut. Given the amount of glass already in the C4, it does feel like designers got a bit carried away here.
From the side, the small spoiler and slightly lowered road stance actually make the C4 look genuinely exciting. It certainly looks miles more modern than any of the family-friendly competition, which is a big plus.
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The really strong point of the C4 Picasso is in its interior. Citroen has used a pair of screens in order to minimise button clutter. Admittedly the HD, 12-inch, customisable speedo that sits in the centre at the front is an option, but it's a box we would definitely tick, as it's really specially. Just below it is a much smaller 7-inch touchscreen display that you can use to control all other functions of the car, from music to the satnav.
Irritatingly, these screens often end up mirroring each other. Say you want to see the satnav in part of the 12-inch display, then this will also show in the smaller touchscreen directly below. You can't turn off the touchscreen or the HD display will stop showing navigation, which means you're stuck with a confusing repeated image.
The amount of light and space inside the C4 is also very good. All that glass makes for a really airy cabin with great clearance even for the especially tall. The front windscreen is huge and sweeps right back above the driver's head. This can be irritating at times, because it allows the sun to shine directly into your eyes. Luckily Citroen has designed adjustable sun blinds that can sweep forward to cover up the top of the vast windscreen.
The electric parking brake button is fitted just below the touchscreen centre console. While we don't usually like electric parking brakes, positioning it easily within reach does make it much more functional, and if you lend it to your son or daughter, they won't be able to pull a handbrake turn in it.
Aside from that, the vent positioning is very good. We like how Citroen has placed a set of air conditioning vents on the side struts behind the front passenger, as they can be used to blow cool air directly onto the face of slightly overheated little ones.
The C4's steering wheel can be slightly fussy, as it is used to control the big HD display and not the touchscreen. At first it felt counter intuitive swapping between the pair, but after a while we just stuck with the big 12-inch screen and used the wheel to control everything.
Materials used are of a decent quality, even on base models, with plastics never feeling cheap and a build that, although we haven't tested this, could likely stand the test of years worth of unruly kids.
Usually you wouldn't think to include a specific section on the driving experience of a big people carrier, as they are more focussed on moving families and little else. The C4 however is actually rather good.
You sit low, the steering wheel is in a good position and the seats, which are exceptionally comfortable, can be set up to give good neck and back support for long journeys. It feels like a car that you would be happy doing a lot of miles in but that has enough visibility and ease of use to ensure that city driving isn't a problem either.
The steering is light and offers basically no feedback from the road whatsoever, but that's a concession you make with an MPV. The ride however is very good, provided you don't go for the optional 18-inch wheels, which appear to unsettle things slightly. Otherwise the C4 will keep little ones asleep over even the bumpiest of cobbled streets.
On the motorway, the extremely light steering does need a touch more weight to it, simply because you can overdo it slightly when changing lanes. What is irritating when motorway driving is this silly belt tugging system designed to alert you when changing lanes. It isn't intelligent enough to distinguish between a deliberate or accidental direction change, meaning they are always going on or off whenever you turn the wheel but don't signal.
Both the 115bhp diesel and 155bhp petrol are more than pokey enough for an MPV. Obviously fuel consumption is a lot better in the diesel, and for us, it's the unit to go for. Neither are loud and both are fairly refined. The clutch, brake and accelerator are all set up nicely, but the gearbox isn't. It changes with such a clunk that it feels as if the gearstick might fall off.
Ease of use
There are some ingenious little tweaks to the C4's interior that make it one of the best MPVs you can chose to live with day to day. The smaller glovebox mounted in the centre console has a pair of USB slots and a proper 220V socket so you can keep things like laptops and DVD players charged.
Then there is a massive array of cubby holes just about everywhere; adjustable seats that mean you can set the car up quickly for people of just about every size and shape.
The boot, which has an optional electric opening system, has a step about halfway up in the bodywork. It means you can keep bigger suitcases at the bottom, while still having space up top. It's big as well, at 537 litres. Optional driving aids like intelligent cruise control, which can adjust speed to match the car in front, are handy when you are cruising long distance. There is also a self-parking option, which from our testing worked exceptionally well, even when we asked it to do difficult bay parking.
The C4 has an extensive list of technology which you can option on to the car, all of which will make the driving experience easier. Ultimately though, it's to size and shape, coupled with all the cubby holes and seat adjustments, that make it a very functional MPV.
The 12-inch screen, which deserves special mention, is extremely bright and clear. You can change it between an elliptical shaped setup or one with three boxes. On top of the speedo, it can be adjusted to show GPS, music or even personal photographs. It's a nice twist which is a great driving aid as well as being a bit of fun.
The C4 Picasso might be one of the first properly fun MPVs ever made. It looks good from the outside, is functional on the inside and has enough gadgets to keep it exciting compared to the competition for the coming years.
Fuel economy on the diesel is very good, managing 50mpg when we tested the car on the motorway. We also love the driving position. The only thing stopping us from suggesting it as a definite investment is that a 7-seater version of the car will be on sale later in the year. For most, this is the optimum number of seats for families. The 7-seater will also come with the option to add an Audi-style 360-degree parking sensor that shows a live view of the exterior.
Citroen has played it as safe as it needs to with the C4, while still creating a car that is fun to look at and fun for passenger and driver. For the growing family or those who just want more space to move things about, it's a solid investment. Prices for the new C4 start at £17,500, with the car going on sale this Summer.