Family-sized MPVs often don't get much of a look-in when it comes to style and design, but not so at Citroen. The futuristic appearance of the new C4 Picasso might divide opinion, but it is under that skin where the real quality lies.
In the Metal:
Appearing almost identical to the futuristic Technospace Concept that was shown earlier this year at the Geneva Motor Show, the new C4 Picasso has a style that is more like what we are used to seeing in the French manufacturer's DS range. That double chevron chromed badge extends out across the bonnet line and around into the wings, allowing the sleek LED daytime running lights to emerge from underneath.
The side profile does give the Picasso an almost sporty stance (for a people carrier) helped in part by the sloping rear window and curved C-pillar that kinks back to meet the car's shoulder-line. This is far more prominent on the highest 'Exclusive' model thanks to a chromed finish (this is colour-matched to the bodywork on VTR and VTR+ trim levels).
As is now becoming a trademark, the glazed area in this newest Citroen MPV is as expansive as it is impressive. The panoramic windscreen is matched with an almost full-length glass roof that should help keep the younger rear passengers amused. Other nice design touches include those three-dimensional rear lights - similar to what are seen on the DS3 Cabrio - and a clam shell boot lid that gives very easy access when loading bigger objects.
If anything the interior is even more remarkable than the exterior thanks to a mixture of different materials and textures on a number of surfaces, while it is only when in the driver's seat does the full impact of the panoramic windscreen hit home. The A-pillars are bisected by glass inserts that virtually eradicate any blind spots.
Taking pride of place in the centre of the dashboard is a sharp looking 12-inch display that can be configured into a number of different appearances and profiles. For the most part it shows the speedometer and rev counter, but can also display satellite navigation details (standard on the 'Exclusive' model), as well as a background image of your choosing. Also standard across all models is a secondary, seven-inch touchscreen that is used for controlling air conditioning, audio as well as additional features such as internet and email, which are available with an optional 3G dongle that plugs in under the dash.
As for the rest of the cabin, the headline news is of course the three individual rear seats, all of which can take an ISOFIX child chair - enough to give any parents of new-born triplets reason to rejoice. Each seat, including the front passenger's, can be folded flat, allowing for even greater versatility inside. Buyers can also avail of a Lounge Pack that includes massage functions as well as giving the front seat passenger the option of an extendable calf rest.
The C4 Picasso is built on the firm's latest 'EMP2' platform, which has been co-developed with Peugeot and will form the basis of up to 20 future vehicles. Greater use of lightweight materials like aluminium means the new model is 140kg lighter than its predecessor. Citroen has also gone to great lengths to increase sound insulation and reduce both engine and road noise, all of which has returned excellent results.
The latest eHDi 115 engine is far quieter than previous diesel offerings in this car's predecessor, while emissions of just 103 grams per kilometre mean it falls into tax band A3, which costs €190 per year. Fuel economy is also claimed to have been improved with a combined cycle value now quoted as 70.6mpg (4.0 litres/100km). On-road handling around towns at slow speeds is easier and offers greater manoeuvrability now that the wheels are pushed further out into the corners, although the sloped bonnet does make it a little more difficult to gauge the front corners when edging out of tighter spaces. There is of course the choice to go for the Park Assist option, which will use cameras around the car to find a space that will suit and then, via a steering wheel control, take up task of the steering whilst prompting the driver to control the acceleration, braking and gear changes.
Out on the open road the steering is numb and never really gives any direct feedback to the driver, while, despite the reduction of overall vehicle weight, the car still wallows around in faster bends, which soon discourages driving of a sporty nature. On the other hand, the suspension does feel well damped on the motorway and the combination of reduced noise levels and a sixth gear with the larger diesel engine makes for pleasant long journeys.
What you get for your Money:
Although official pricing wasn't confirmed at the time of this test drive, a spokesperson for Citroen said that there should be very little difference in price between the new C4 Picasso and its outgoing model. Which is good news considering the levels of standard equipment on even the entry-level VTR trim line.
As this car will, for most, be used to transport the most prized possessions, it's good to know that Citroen has developed a number of advanced safety. A blind spot monitoring system uses sensors located at each corner of the car to detect anything from cars to bicycles on either side, and alerts the driver by illuminating an orange LED in the door mirror corresponding with the side concerned.
Another system monitors the car's position in the driving lane and should it find that the car is beginning to drift out of lane without indicating immediately alerts the driver by vibrating the seat belt.
Citroen has really done an impressive job in refining the new C4 Picasso, and from an aesthetics point of view it now resembles a car far closer to what we would expect to see in the DS line rather than the mainstream range. It also offers excellent packaging options and practical features along with better engines that perfectly demonstrate that it's not just image-conscious city dwellers that get to have cool looking cars.