Citroen takes the MPV fight to the Mercedes-Benz B-Class and BMW 2-Series Active Tourer with the new C4 Picasso.
The Citroen C4 Picasso is taking a road few in Australia have dared to travel.
Though popular in Europe, the multi-purpose vehicle (or MPV) has never really caught on here, with new car shoppers overwhelmingly favouring five-door hatchbacks and chunkier crossovers and SUVs.
The C4 Picasso enters the market in the middle of an MPV uprising, however, arriving less than three months after the polarising new BMW 2 Series Active Tourer and just weeks ahead of the updated Mercedes-Benz B-Class.
You may think Citroen doesn’t belong in the same sentence as that German duo, but the local division thinks otherwise.
The Citroen C4 Picasso’s $40,990 plus on-road costs price tag actually makes it $90 more expensive than Benz’s entry-level (pre-facelift) B180, and just $3410 less than Beemer’s base 218i Active Tourer.
The natural reaction to the pricing is: ‘Oooh, too much! Why would I buy a Citroen when I could have a Mercedes or a BMW for the same price?’
Knowing this, the French brand has gone hard on the value-for-money front, aiming to counter the Germans with a more powerful engine, a host of exclusive features, and a more comprehensive aftersales program.
The last of those is a key USP for Citroen, and a crucial one as aims to convince Australians that the days of unreliable French cars are over.
The C4 Picasso is covered by a six-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and matching roadside assistance, and capped-price servicing for six years/90,000km – a package only bettered in Australia by Kia.
The Citroen is also impressively equipped, in some cases humbling its German rivals.
Unique to the sole C4 Picasso Exclusive trim level is a 360-degree view camera system that allows the driver to see in all directions around the car at low speeds.
The camera displays on a 7.0-inch touchscreen instrument display, which is large by most standards but diminutive compared with the massive 12.0-inch display that sits in the centre of the Picasso’s dashboard.
For the 99 per cent of drivers who are used to looking through the steering wheel to see the speedometer and other readouts, the instrument cluster’s positioning will take some getting used to. Its clear, colourful presentation means relevant information is easy to see, however, once you do become accustomed to glancing to the left.
Other notable standard features that help the Citroen sit comfortably alongside the BMW and Mercedes include auto headlights and wipers, LED daytime running lights, blind-spot monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, semi-automated parking, keyless entry and push-button start, panoramic glass sunroof, dual-zone climate control, satellite navigation, and the soft-touch plastic that lines almost every major cabin surface.
The C4 Picasso also has the B180 and the 218i Active Tourer beaten – on paper, at least – under the bonnet.
It’s powered by a newly updated version of PSA’s 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, which produces 121kW at 6000rpm and 240Nm between 1400-4000rpm – outgunning the 90kW/200Nm of the Merc’s 1.6-litre four-pot and the 100kW/220Nm of the BMW’s 1.5-litre triple.
Combined cycle fuel consumption is also rated at a miserly 5.6 litres per 100 kilometres, though we consistently saw figures in the 8s and above on the launch drive.
On the road, however, the C4 Picasso doesn’t punt along as freely as you’d hope, feeling slow particularly when heading up hills and when pushed to overtake on the highway. Blame its sizeable kerb weight, which is rated at 1740kg. Bet on that performance heading further south with the occupant count increased from two as on our launch drive to four or five plus luggage, as is an MPV’s M.O.
It’s quiet and refined at all engine speeds, however, contributing to a mostly peaceful cabin, though one that’s afflicted with moderate road noise.
It did leave us longing for the 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine offered in the Grand C4 Picasso seven-seater though, which delivers an extra 130Nm and feels much more effortless. Unfortunately, Citroen has no plans to offer the diesel engine in the five-seater at this stage.
Nevertheless, the petrol engine is well supported by the six-speed automatic transmission, and Citroen Australia does deserve a pat on the back for waiting for this gearbox rather than rushing the Picasso here with the automated manual ’box that was available earlier in the production cycle.
The auto grabs lower gears intuitively and holds them appropriately, though one vehicle we tested at the launch had a bad habit of lurching into low gears when decelerating to low speeds.
The C4 Picasso’s dynamic highlight is its ride quality, which puts many luxury cars twice its price to shame. The suspension irons out surface imperfections, flattens undulations and takes the edge off big bumps. It’s less impressive dealing with sharper hits such as surface joins, however, over which it tends to frump as a consequence of its firmer compression and softer rebound actions.
The steering runs a close second in the dynamics stakes, being direct, predictable, and effortlessly light. Detracting from the experience is the wheel itself, which feels odd to grip due to its thick spokes and a flat face.
With pedigree such as the Grand C4 Picasso and the Peugeot 308 (which share the same EMP2 platform), there’s no surprise it’s a competent handler too, feeling balanced and stable through corners and resisting serious roll.
Sensational forward and side visibility thanks to the C4 Picasso’s split A-pillars and large windows aids in everything from tackling those twistier roads to keeping safe at intersections and in car parks.
Those windows, the far-reaching windscreen and the expansive sunroof contribute to the C4 Picasso’s airy ambience and feeling of spaciousness.
The second row is tighter than expected, however. Sitting behind my driving position, my 180cm frame lacked head room and toe room, while knee room is acceptable and comfort – as in the front – is high.
Other positives include the air vents in the B-pillars, sun blinds on the windows, illuminated tray tables that are part of the $2500 Lounge Pack, and the three individual rear seats, which mean that the comfort of the middle occupant isn’t an afterthought as is normally the case.
Those rear seats amp up the versatility too, being capable of sliding forward and back and folding down to expand the load space. Boot capacity ranges from a generous 537 to 630 litres with the seats in place and grows to 1851L with all three pushed over.
As many of you have expressed in the comments section of our earlier pricing story, the Citroen C4 Picasso’s $40,990 sticker feels high for an overinflated hatchback.
But the quirky French MPV delivers a number of other more pleasant surprises, including its long list of standard features, elegant interior, plush ride and sweet steering, and strong aftersales suite.
Citroen Australia’s greatest challenge, therefore, lies in getting prospective buyers into showrooms for a test drive to experience all it has to offer, because the C4 Picasso is an appealing package that puts the B-Class and the 2 Series Active Tourer on notice – and we’ll see exactly how they stack up when we assess the trio in a comparison test next month…