By: Karl Peskett
When you buy a people mover, it’s usually out of necessity. Hauling about the kids and their associated gear is the intended role. But rather than settling for a box on wheels, families are opting for seven-seat 4WDs. The reason? In general, they look better than people movers and, owners will tell you, they have the option of going off road.
The great round-Oz trip beckons. But how many actually do it ? Meanwhile there’s the fuel consumption, parking woes, interior packaging, and of course the dirty looks from those who attribute global warming solely to you and your 4WD.
To cash in on the enviro-friendly move away from 4WDs, Citroen has launched its new people-mover, the C4 Picasso. It’s been deliberately styled to distance itself from the traditional box-style seven-seater and, in the metal at least, it’s a looker. Certain elements of the C4 hatch have been carried through, to give it a clear family link.
The chromed double chevron grille sits in line with the rest of the Citroen range, and its side profile is inoffensive, even stylish. Fibre-optic brake lights are a highlight, as are the integrated vertical lip-spoilers in the brake light assembly, which give extra directional stability. On the launch drive this was put to good use at speed, where cross-winds presented no challenge.
The C4 Picasso’s dynamics are a mixed bag. It will hang on to the road on smooth asphalt, with no significant understeer, but is caught out on extra rough patches of the road with a skittish rear end. Potholes crash through the cabin, with stuttering suspension travel. On some undulating sections of the roads around Ku-Ring-Gai Chase in Sydney the Picasso showed up its most significant downfall – poor body control.
The Picasso bounced up and down to the point of almost inducing motion-sickness. The drive route was completed one-up and possibly more weight over the rear axle would help with the back end being too light. But the planned pneumatic rear suspension won’t take away the fact that the C4 Picasso feels underdamped.
On the road, the electric steering is light but feel-deprived, and the brakes start out spongy, but progressively bite harder when pushed. Pedal travel is worryingly long, though and the positioning is curious with the pedals feeling like they’re almost underneath you.
The footrest is also quite close, with your left leg seemingly propped up instead of being rested. Some people will appreciate the higher driving position though, and it was helpful to be able to see ahead and follow the other cars on the launch drive.
The steering houses controls for all sorts of functions, and in general it’s intuitive, the only problem coming when you turn the wheel quickly. Because the radio controls sit on the fixed hub, you can inadvertently change the station as your hand brushes against the small scrolling wheel.
Also, the rim of the wheel and your hand block the view to the demisting buttons, mounted with the climate control on the right side of the car. Audio controls mounted lower or behind the wheel would have been better too.
Amazingly, for the sporty types (don’t laugh now) Citroen have seen fit to mount gear-change paddles behind the wheel. Not sure why, because the Aisin auto is good enough to not warrant it.
Packaging is a highlight, with every conceivable nook and cranny being utilised for storage. There’s underfloor lockers, dashtop gloveboxes, fold-out door bins, aircraft-style seat-back tray tables, etc. Even the boot is useable when the third row is unpacked.
Safety is also commendable with a five-star Euro NCAP rating. Inside, every seatbelt has its own monitor, so you can tell if young Johnny has unclipped himself, and there’s a kiddie-watch mirror for settling familial arguments.
Visibility is probably the standout feature of this car, and justly so – it was designed that way. It is fantastic, with a very light and airy feel, due to the colossal glasshouse. The “variospace” windscreen is better than being in a convertible, as the header rail is so far back. The frontal view is probably among the best of any car I’ve driven.
A metallic reflective film is laminated to the glass to prevent sunburn, but you can also slide the sunvisor forward and down to minimise glare. Cleverly designed thin A-pillars also contribute to ease of driving, without blocking any pedestrians or traffic from your view.
Where the C4 Picasso is going to dominate, is in the price. It is simply loaded with kit. The petrol 2.0-litre starts at $39,990 and with 2 models to choose from, (the petrol, and ubiquitous 2.0 diesel at $44,900) the only options are sunroof ($1750), metallic paint ($700) and a $6500 Premium Equipment Pack, which includes full leather, an ambient LED lighting package, and slightly different trim.
Rear parking sensors, auto-wipers, auto-headlights, speed limiter/cruise-control, puddle lights, sunblinds, sliding and folding seats, air quality monitor, colour-changing dash, drinks cooler – all come as standard. In a first for this price bracket, the Picasso comes with four zone climate control.
You also get a boot light which doubles as a rechargable torch (nice touch, that), air freshener with different fragrances, fixed hub steering wheel allowing a larger airbag, electric park brake and tie-down points all over the place. In the value-for-money stakes it presents a good argument.
According to Ateco, Citroen’s Australian importer and distributor, the soon-to-be-added pneumatic suspension is probably going to add around $2000 to the base price, but based on the damping-rates with the fixed steel arrangement, it will have to transform the car to be worth it.
Citroen’s marketing strategy will be interesting to watch. The petrol and the diesel cars are line-ball in performance. Citroen are heavily pushing diesel too. At the launch, Citroen openly told us that the sticker price for the petrol will bring people in the door. We’re told that once they drive the diesel, and recognise the benefits that it brings, they’ll happily fork out the extra $5K premium. We’ll wait and see.
Citroen Oz will says its Picasso is the new lifestyle vehicle. It’s intended to pull buyers away from seven-seat 4WDs and other people movers. If you’re after a seven-seater that at a price (almost) has it all, and you’re willing to overlook its suspension flaws, then the C4 Picasso might just do that.