The Space Toaster.
Not the title of a David Bowie album or a MacGuffin in the next Guardians of the Galaxy film, but our nickname for the 2016 Citroen Grand C4 Picasso.
We’d argue that our name is less silly than the real one, and we’d also argue that this is one of the best cars, that no one is buying.
We used to joke that you would see more Grand C4’s on one episode of the Biggest Loser (due to the vehicle sponsorship) than you ever would on the road. Sadly it wasn’t that funny a joke, as it was true. What was actually funny was finding a fork stashed under the seat in our test car… but that’s another story.
Aside from that product placement, there hasn’t been a lot of high-value marketing to support the big C4, but every time we spend time in the ol' Space Toaster, we wonder why more people don’t see the appeal.
As far as MPVs go, the Citroen is a bit out-there. In a traditional slab-sided, van-with-seats segment, the Grand C4 looks like a prop from Total Recall (the good one with Arnie).
With its tri-layer lights at the front, through the enormous swept windscreen to the very specific rear-lights, if the seven-seat Picasso is a vision of the future, that future is pretty funky.
We love the way the double-chevron badge and chrome grill links the LED running lamps. We love the 17-inch Boa alloy wheel design (the $1500 optional 18-inch Python wheels are even better), and we love the way the roof rails merge into the D-pillar and around onto the rear flank. We even love the Bleu Teles metallic paint ($800 option – one of seven choices) and can’t honestly remember seeing a Grand Picasso in any other colour!
There’s beauty, symmetry, simplicity and personality in the design.
If it were a concept car, you’d never expect it to go into production.
Sit up front, and the giant windscreen makes it feel like you are flying a helicopter. The sun visor blinds extend down to help deal with any excess glare, but the forward vision is excellent. The split A-pillar helps too, when negotiating tight laneways and car parks, allowing you an extra field of vision.
Paired with this, is a pair of rear view mirrors. One standard for exterior vision, and one wide-angle to see what is going on inside.
Put simply, you can see everything.
Like an '80s motor show concept, the steering wheel is considered the control device for basically everything, and the inclusion of 18-buttons does seem overly complex. You can manage your telephony, audio, cruise control and driving information in a manner which is an obvious evolution of the ‘Lunule’ ergonomic design first seen on the Citroen CX.
There are also stalks for indicators and wipers, and just in case there wasn’t enough to do, the transmission is a column-shift style that sits behind the steering wheel.
Its movement isn’t supremely intuitive and it was more than a few times where the car was put in Manual rather than Drive, and Park instead of Reverse. There are no lights or other indicators of what gear you are in on the shifter, other than its vague physical position.
Plus, the lever itself feels quite fragile and I do wonder how many have broken in the term of their service.
If you do want the car in a manual shift mode, there are paddles on the wheel but I’m sure no one would miss them if they were gone.
The dashboard with its 12-inch high-resolution LCD information display and 7-inch touchscreen infotainment display further enhance the feeling of ‘futureness’.
The top screen allows configurable driving information delivered like LCARS on Star Trek. You can change to view current audio or even a slideshow of images. Pointless but kind of cool. It sits beneath a shade too, so isn’t affected by glare.
The lower screen deals with music, navigation and the heating/cooling controls. The pairing really works though, in a ‘this is what a car from the future must look like’ kind of way.
Touch panels, lights, beeps, all very cool… but again not an example of process-perfect user-interface design. The infotainment system is the same as found in many Peugeot/Citroen vehicles and we’ve had constant battles with the menu structure as well as the occasional lock-up.
The seats are quite basic (power and leather is a $5000 option), but they are comfortable and even have folding captain’s chair arm rests. These get in the way of the seatbelt when lowered, and you tend to fall out of your seat when they are up – so get used to moving them regularly.
Cabin materials and trim elements are all ‘specific’ in that typical Citroen way. Textures, design elements, different approaches due to different mindset, as well as different approaches due to just being a bit bonkers.
Opening the sun blind requires the twist of a dial, just to be different.
And what is that strange credit card holder down low on the dash – somewhere I put car park tickets, but I imagine in Europe it is a handy place to store your tollway pass.
It’s not all silliness either. There are some sensible elements to the Grand C4’s interior. Take the enormous centre console and the ‘media cubby’ which houses the USB points, audio inputs and even space to keep your phone. There’s a dedicated phone holder on the console too.
From a usability standpoint the Picasso is a tremendously practical car. There are so many little things that are simply designed for this to be used as a family car.
It’s just a pity that practicality doesn’t translate to a dynamic driving experience.
With a 110kW/370Nm 2.0-litre turbo diesel powering the front wheels, the Citroen isn’t the sportiest bus on the school run, but it isn’t really setting out to be.
Peak torque is available from 2000rpm but peak power doesn’t come in until 4000rpm, meaning that you’ll rev the little four-cylinder a bit more than you would economically like to when zipping along through traffic.
It’s not particularly sluggish in any way, nor is it a hurried car. If you are a calm, relaxed driver then the Picasso will suit.
Citroen claim a combined fuel consumption cycle of 4.5L/100km but we saw just under 7L/100km for our week in the car.
The gearbox doesn’t really help keep things running smoothly and seems to be relatively fussy about its selection from the six-ratios available. You get some low-speed shudders and it can be slow to react when you are in a bit of a hurry.
Braking also isn’t the Citroen’s strongpoint, the pedal often feeling soft and spongy, particularly in traffic. That said, the steering is a bit soft and spongy and so is the ride. It’s a soft and spongy kind of a car.
Touring though, is where the C4 shines and the car will settle into sixth-gear at 100km/h on a miserly 4L/100km. That soft ride now translates to comfort and compliance and you find the Picasso just eating up miles with a relaxed, French demeanour.
The Space Toaster is clever too. There’s a lane departure and adaptive cruise control function (as part of a $2000 driver assistance package). Like I’m sure the Enterprise does, the big Star Trek screen shows you the gap-distance to the car in front, measured in seconds.
This isn’t a sporty car. This isn’t a sharp car. It isn’t the luxury Americruiser the Kia Carnival has become, and despite the huge sense of space, it actually has a reasonably small footprint (4600mm long x 1826mm wide compared to 5115mm x 1985mm of the Kia).
The Grand C4 is just a bit of ambivalent French style, doing what it does, when it does it, in a carefree, futurist statement way.
It’s that particular Citroen skill, offering a floating sensation along with a sense of surety and connection with the road. You can feel the wind, you can feel wet roads, but you’re not ever made to feel uneasy.
Citroen has only one specification of the Grand C4 in Australia, the Exclusive, so the six-speed auto and column shift are there whether you like it or not. Get used to that gearbox though, and living with the Picasso is a breeze.
Ditch the kids at grandma’s house and the C4 can convert into a van with 2181-litres of space available should you need to dash out and collect 2181 cartons of pamplemousse juice to stock the fridge.
The middle row can have each of its three seats folded separately, but the process to do so isn’t immediately apparent, and quite frankly, it would be disappointingly un-Citroen if it was.
There are levers to pull and cords to tug, all very mechanical, but once you are there, room is pretty impressive even for adults. The cloth seats are supportive and comfortable without being overly bolstered. All three have back-angle adjustment and ISOFIX support.
You can slide each chair back and forth, and the outer seats can both access the flip-down tray tables – with an unnaturally grippy surface – on the back of the front two seats. These even have elastic strips to hold pencils or iPad cases for entertainment on longer trips.
Materials are again nice, but of the hard-wearing variety. The windows have integrated sun-blinds and there are LED reading lights on the roof, plus vents in the B-pillars and a 12-volt socket on the back of the centre console.
It feels airy too, thanks to the standard, giant, panoramic glass roof. The only downside is the middle seat has an awkward roof-mounted seat belt which can be a bit of a pain for shorter/younger arms to reach.
With just the middle row up, the Grand Picasso offers between 632 and 793-litres of storage space, depending on how far forward the second row is positioned.
Setting up the third row is a bit of a process of flipping tab A and folding into slot B, but once there you just have 165-litres of space under the load cover. There’s even a light which doubles as a torch.
Here the room is tight for adults, so best kept for little ones. They are well accommodated with roof-mounted vents and reading lights, but strangely just a single cup holder and storage tray.
While there is excellent flexibility in the seating, there are lots of rails, clips and other mechanical apparatus which will no doubt snag clothes, sequester foodstuffs and jam at least one finger (probably yours) during your life with the car.
Plus, and this is a big one, the curtain airbags don’t extend to the third row. Citroen claims the seats sit inboard enough to ensure safety in a side-on collision, but it is something worth considering if the third-row is going to see regular use.
We will confirm though, the Grand C4 scores a five-star ANCAP rating, and EuroNCAP rated child-occupant safety at 88 per cent.
The boot itself has an optional powered function ($1000) and the load-bay is nice and low to help with getting things in and out. Another minor bugbear is the tiny rear-window wiper that barely sweeps a protractor sized arc across the rear glass.
And how’s this for #classiccitroen? You can open the boot from the soft-touch handle, or from the keyfob… but not from within the car itself.
At times, the C4 makes no sense, and yet it makes perfect sense at the same time. It’s a great car, a real family car, and what is certainly one of the most underrated cars on sale in Australia today.
It’s a niche vehicle that performs a popular role, and for that I can’t see why it isn’t more successful.
I wonder if it’s just the chevron badge that turns people away, and that if you shoved a Toyota logo on the front it would be more popular?
It has everything buyers want; front and rear ultrasonic parking sensors, a surround-view camera, automatic parking function, awesome swivelling HID headlights ($2000 option), a six-year warranty and a six-year capped price service schedule.
Citroen are bundling the $5000 technology pack (driver assistance, power boot, xenon headlights) with the car at the moment, for a $48,990 drive away deal. Simply showing up at a Citroen dealer should net you an even sharper deal too, so it's safe to assume you can be piloting your own Space Toaster for well under $50k.
Personally, I’d love to see a DS-branded version and let Citroen let its bonkers sense of style go completely off the reservation. What would the ‘DS7’ do? I’m seeing gull-wing doors and configurable galaxy maps projected onto the roof that enable the occupants to enter a hibernation style sleeping mode while on the move. Think Asimov novel cover art, with wheels.
We’ll see a minor update to the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso next year, which incorporates some minor design tweaks, added personalisation and some technical upgrades. This will improve an already excellent car, but in all likelihood still wont make the Grand C4 a household name.
It’s a great pity as the Space Toaster is a real slice of different in a world of same. The 2016 Citroen Grand C4 Picasso continues to be one of our favourites, boldly going where no car has gone before.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.