It’s odd how the classic family wagon is out of favour these days, displaced by the usually less-practical compact SUV, which could make the latest Citroen C4 Picasso seem like a more interesting proposition for those in search of space and style.
The C4 Picasso is a shorter five-seat version of the Grand C4 Picasso seven-seater that launched in Australia earlier this year.
On our recent trip to France to take part in the Citroen Racing Experience, we spent some time behind the wheel of C4 Picasso, a model that is expected to reach our shores in 2015.
The favour starts with the futuristic design, which manages to be both stylish and functional. The glasshouse is huge, from the large windscreen that wraps up over the roof, to the extra windows at the front and rear corners that improve visibility.
The profile lines are simpler than the Grand C4 Picasso, flowing into a cleaner rear end incorporating LED tail lamps and a small spoiler above the rear window.
Stepping inside, the time travel continues, with all of the dials and much of the switchgear replaced with two high-resolution displays. A massive 12.0-inch display sits atop the middle of the dash in our Exclusive grade C4 Picasso, with a smaller 7.0-inch touchscreen display below it.
The cabin has a quality feel, with soft plastics on the dash and front doors, and contrasting inserts that lift the cabin ambience compared to the usual sea of black.
The larger of the two screens has customisable themes and information panels, and is controlled by buttons and scroll wheels on the steering wheel. On the left you’ve got options for an up-to-date digital display, or more classic skeuomorphic analog readouts. On the right you can choose from navigation, trip computer or even display photographs. Just when you thought deciding on a wallpaper for your smartphone was difficult enough, your car can now have one too.
The smaller, lower-placed touch panel takes care of navigation, climate control, and vehicle settings.
While the idea behind this arrangement is good, the execution is slightly less successful. Where changing the temperature in most cars can be done simply by feel - with a touch of a button or the twist of a knob - the touchscreen requires you to tap the climate control option then press tactless onscreen buttons, a difficult feat if you prefer to keep your eyes on the road.
The other oddity is that the mapping display has to be showing on the bottom screen to have it show on the top one.
The rest of the interior, however, lives up to its promise of added functionality with flying colours.
The front seats are soft and comfortable, with fold down armrest and even a massage function in our test car.
There are plenty of bins and holders around the cabin, with a large central compartment between the front seats, a decent sized glovebox and pockets in the rear doors. The compartment below the touchscreen is the hub for cabled connectivity, with two USB ports, a 12-volt lighter socket, and even a standard 120W power outlet.
On the backs of the front seats are fold down tables with LED reading lights, much like you’d find on an aeroplane. Air vents in the B-pillars with individual fan controls do a great job of pumping cool air through to the rear passengers – especially useful if you’ve got small kids.
You can slide the rear seats fore and aft as well as recline all three independently of one other, making it easy for four passengers and a driver to get comfortable. Legroom and headroom for all is exceptional, making this a true five seater.
There’s an airy feel to the cabin too, thanks to the combination of the car's expansive glasshouse and panoramic sunroof, plus the fact there is truly a lot of space.
The boot is suitably large at 537 litres with the seats slid back, and 630L with them all the way forward. This far exceeds a traditional hatchback or even many compact SUVs, and can best some compact wagons like the Skoda Octavia (588L) and Volkswagen Golf (605L).
Loading is easy thanks to a low boot floor and an automated tailgate fitted to this model specification in France.
Its visibility may be good and parking was made even easier by an electronic assistance system. Automatic parallel and perpendicular parking can slip you in and out of a spot with just your feet on the pedals, while front and rear sensors and a reverse-view camera are also included if you prefer to DIY.
Out on the road the Citroen C4 Picasso is a very comfortable cruiser, just like the seven-seater.
Road noise was kept to a minimum, even cruising at the motorway limit of 130 kilometres per hour. The audio system may lack any fancy branding, but audio quality was clear and crisp streaming over USB or Bluetooth, making the journey even more enjoyable.
While they are fond of un-signposted speed cameras in France, the adaptive cruise control easily took care of our licences, gently braking on hills and slowing for traffic when needed.
While the C4 Picasso isn’t going to win any driver engagement awards, its light steering and body control is more than adequate for a vehicle of this type.
More importantly, the ride is very plush no matter the road surface.
Motorways in France are like billiard tables for the most part, but city centres and small towns offer up more then their fair share of cobblestones, manhole covers and speed bumps. The C4 Picasso’s suspension soaks them up without fuss.
The 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine in our car is mated to a six-speed manual with a clean and easy throw. It packs a healthy 110kW of power, but more crucially 370Nm of torque is on tap from low down in the rev range.
It’s not the fastest vehicle to get going, with some turbo lag down low if you punch it out of the blocks. However, on the move it's effortless, with nice mid-range pull that doesn’t leave you gasping for revs.
Travelling to and from an event 400km from Paris we clocked up a total of more than 1000km over the space of three days in the Citroen C4 Picasso, and became quite smitten with it. Citroen claims a fuel use figure of 4.3L/100km for this engine variant, and during out time in the car we saw average fuel use of about 5.5L/100km.
A large airy cabin filled with quality materials, comfy seats and some nifty gadgets make it a nice place to sit, while its on-road manners are perfectly sound for a compact MPV.
The C4 Picasso had previously been confirmed to arrive locally in 2014, but at this point in time there are no firm dates for its local launch here in Australia nor what engines and specifications will be seen in the MPV. However, with Citroen Australia’s six-year unlimited kilometre warranty, you can add piece of mind on top of this great package.