In 1958, 22-year-old Mexican journalist Manuel Mejido – accompanied by three friends – is interviewing renowned Spanish artist Pablo Picasso at the artist’s estate in La Californie, Antibes in the south of France. The interview is progressing, when Picasso excuses himself and disappears for a couple of hours.
When he returns to the interview, Picasso invites Mejido and his friends to come and see his latest creation, The Garlands of Peace, painted on Mejido’s borrowed Citroen DS. The quick-thinking journalist is impressed but tells Picasso his work of art is nothing without the Spanish great’s signature, so Picasso duly signs his name above the DS’s wheel arch, marking probably the first time Picasso’s signature has appeared on a Citroen.
It certainly wasn’t the last time.
Picasso’s signature has been licensed by the French carmaker since the mid-1990s and has appeared on a range of Citroen cars, including the one we have on test today, the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso.
Citroen’s seven-seat people mover is almost a throwback to another time – a time when SUVs didn’t rule the roost, and if you needed a family hauler that could seat more than five people, you bought a people mover.
Okay, you probably bought a Toyota Tarago, the ubiquitous van-shaped brick on wheels that littered Aussie roads in the 1980s and ’90s.
Today, of course, seven-seat SUVs are everywhere, meaning large families are spoilt for choice when it comes to hauling around their broods of snotty brats. That’s left the once-ubiquitous people mover on the outer.
Let’s look at some numbers. Last year, just 13,551 people movers found new homes. That represents a minuscule 1.1 per cent of the new car market. Compare that with the 39.2 per cent market share SUVs enjoy (okay, not all are seven-seaters) and a picture is emerging of where buyers’ tastes lie in the 21st century.
But is a well-sorted people mover a viable, even attractive, alternative to a flotilla of cookie-cutter large SUVs?
On test we have Citroen’s range-topping Grand C4 Picasso diesel that rolls out of the showroom for $45,400 plus the usual on-road costs. Our test car came with optional Lazuli Blue metallic paint ($800) and a rather sumptuous black and beige Nappa leather interior ($5000) bringing the as-tested price to $51,200 (plus on-roads). For budget-conscious families, there is a cheaper and new-for-2018 1.6-litre petrol variant available that starts at $38,490.
But our focus is on the grandest of Grand C4 Picassos, and in terms of features it doesn’t disappoint. Standard inclusions abound at every level. On the safety front, the Citroen crams in the Active Driver Assist Pack – adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, and driver attention alert that sends audible warnings when the car detects the driver is becoming drowsy.
There are six airbags that cover the occupants of the first two rows but no protection for the third row – a bit of a letdown. That hasn’t impacted on its safety rating, however, with the Grand C4 Picasso sporting a five-star ANCAP rating (tested in 2014).
There’s a 360-degree camera, and front and rear sensors, helping with those tricky parking manoeuvres should you choose not to use the standard Park Assist that does the job for you.
Infotainment comes courtesy of a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen featuring a rather excellent proprietary 3D sat-nav system, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. There’s dual-zone climate control with vents in the second and third rows, although second- and third-row passengers had better juice up their devices before a long road trip since there are no charge points in either, with 12V, auxiliary and USB points reserved exclusively for front seat occupants.
There’s no questioning Citroen’s “Be Different. Feel Good!” philosophy is at play with the Grand C4 Picasso. Or with any Citroen for that matter. The French carmaker has a history of doing things its own way, certainly when it comes to styling. From the outside, the Grand C4 Picasso looks like standard people mover fare, albeit a little less boxy than some others on the market.
Once inside, though, is where Citroen’s predilection for 'Be Different' comes to the fore. It is, appropriately enough, almost a work of art, a melding of light and functionality that just makes you, well, 'Feel Good'.
Being inside the Grand C4 Picasso is like being inside an airliner, complete with class distinction. The front seats are like being in First Class, spacious, comfortable and with all the creature comforts within easy reach – and even more so for the front passenger who scores a reclining seat along with an extendable footrest. It’s not quite lie-flat, but it’s bloody close. Second-row occupants are treated to three distinct seats (as opposed to a bench), and while they retain the look and feel of the front pews, are less spacious, think Premium Economy, while third-row occupants have to make do with the jump seats usually reserved for flight attendants. Great for short stints, not so much for long-haul travelling.
The interior is a light and airy space, thanks largely to the panoramic roof and the glass A-pillars. Lights oozes into every corner, and thanks to the optional Nappa leather trim finished in predominantly beige (okay, off-white), the cabin feels breezy and fresh. It is, in short, a lovely place to be.
Ergonomically, the Citroen has its quirks, because of course it does. Everything is there, but nothing is where it should be. It’s as if the old Spanish master himself had designed the interior.
Sit in the driver’s seat and look straight ahead for your instrument binnacle and you won’t find it. Instead, the Citroen’s instrumentation is a digital affair located within the rather voluminous 12.0-inch centrally mounted screen. It’s unnerving at first, but you do get used to it.
Locating the gear selector first time, too, is challenging. It’s a little stalk on the right side of the steering wheel, one that looks suspiciously like an indicator stalk. Again, an eccentricity that once you’re used to it, works just fine.
The seats are supremely comfortable too, and feature a massage function as well as heating. But again, the unseen hand of Picasso is at play, with the controls mounted down low on the seat base.
The second row doesn’t quite match the luxurious feel of the front row, although Citroen’s ‘modular’ seats vibe special. In keeping with the airliner feel, there are drop-down tables in the backrests of the front pews with a handy strap for holding iPads and the like. And to keep pesky sun glare off those devices, the second row also features window blinds in addition to tinted windows. The individual seats slide fore and aft too, while the seatbacks recline. If you have no third-row passengers, getting comfy in the second row isn’t a problem.
Like most seven-seaters, the third row is best reserved for short trips or for little ones, with leg and knee room compromised. Still, they will be chill with the third row scoring its own air vents. Of course, using the third row for passengers severely impacts on boot space, with just a paltry 165 litres available with all three rows in play. That expands to 632/793 litres with the second row in play, depending on how far forward or back the seats are. But, using the Picasso as a load lugger opens up a pretty impressive 2181 litres of boot space, more than adequate for the average Carrefour or Maisons du Monde run.
On the road, the C4 performs admirably, thanks in part to its four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbo diesel that puts out 110kW of power and a respectable 370Nm of torque at a very usable 2000rpm. Moving off the line is a cinch, and while it won’t break any land speed records, it’s not sluggish either. Citroen claims a 0–100km/h sprint time of 10.2sec, but really, at this end of the motoring spectrum, who cares?
Around town, the ride is excellent, as you would expect from a Citroen. The Grand C4 Picasso handles the usual city impediments such as potholes and speed humps with aplomb, settling quickly and with minimal fuss. Riding on 17-inch alloys shod with Michelins, road noise is nicely muted while the diesel engine actually does a pretty good job of not sounding like a diesel at all. It equates to an overarching feeling of calm inside the cabin, a serene motoring experience.
That serenity is not shattered on the highway, the Citroen an effortless cruiser. Sitting at 110km/h, with adaptive cruise control in play, you can sit back, relax and listen to some tunes on the excellent standard-fit six-speaker sound system. And your choice of tunes isn’t limited with Bluetooth audio streaming, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and DAB+ radio all standard.
Overtaking is a breeze too, with that generous dollop of torque helping to make light work in the fast lane. The six-speed auto does a reasonable job of being in the right gear at the right time, kicking down nicely when a burst of acceleration is needed.
You can, if you want, control your own destiny by flicking the gear selector into Manual mode and changing ratios via the steering wheel mounted paddle-shifters, but it has no noticeable affect on performance. Instead, all manual mode accomplishes is in breaking the serenity in the cabin as the C4 revs out in search of peak power at 4000rpm. User tip: just leave the Grand C4 Picasso in auto mode.
Citroen claims a very misery 4.5L/100km fuel consumption, a number we couldn't match during our week with the car. We returned a combined figure of 7.2L/100km, but to be fair, a lot of our time was spent in Sydney's stop-start traffic, not exactly the friendliest place to be if you're watching your litres. On a weekend getaway, which included a 300km stretch of highway motoring, the Grand C4 Picasso hovered around the mid-4s, against the company's claim of 4.2L/100km, which is more than respectable.
Overall, this unfashionable-among-buyers people mover is a decent and very solid alternative to a slew of cookie-cutter SUVs. It’s almost a crying shame more buyers in the market for a seven-seater aren’t placing the Grand C4 Picasso on their shopping lists.
Ownership surety is provided via a three-year/100,000km warranty, while servicing intervals are at a healthy 12 months/20,000km with Citroen offering capped-price servicing – although, at $3321 for the first five years, it is a touch on the exxy side.
There’s no question, though, the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso makes a stylish statement and delivers on the French manufacturer’s core tenet of "Be Different. Feel Good!”. In an automotive sea where almost 40 per cent of cars on our roads are SUVs, people movers are a rare sight, rarer still in the shape of this Citroen. And that’s a bit of a shame, as the Grand C4 Picasso offers a premium motoring experience for seven people (okay, five regular people and two little ones) in a manner and style that is at once becalming and effortless. If you like your motoring in a sea of serenity and you need to haul a larger than average family, the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso should be on your consideration list.
And as for the original Citroen bearing Picasso’s signature? Having realised the value of what he had in his possession, Mejido paid $1000 for the borrowed DS bearing Picasso's original painting. Some years later, broke and down on his luck, he sold the car to a French gallery for the relatively paltry sum of $6000. It hasn’t been seen since.
Today, with original Picasso paintings regularly selling for tens of millions of dollars – and sometimes in excess of $100million – that first painted and signed Citroen DS is surely the ultimate barn find waiting to happen.
Click on the Gallery tab for more photos by Sam Venn.