Like every other Francophile, I’m loving that French cars are enjoying a renaissance right now. The revival of ride quality and some fine new engines have done wonders for the model line-ups of Renault and Peugeot, but what about Citroen, for such a long time the weirdest and most wonderful of them all?
While this decade’s DS-badged models were a start – particularly the great-handling Citroen DS3 DSport – it has taken until last year’s new-gen Grand C4 Picasso to show what today’s Citroen is truly capable of. So I thought I’d volunteer to run the five-seat version long-term, even though I hadn’t actually driven one.
Talk about a leap of faith. I’ve gone from a bad-arse-black BMW M4 manual to a “mumsy” aqua-blue C4 Picasso Exclusive with a column-shift auto. Not that I think the five-seat Picasso is a pregnancy chariot, but my arty, non-car-loving friends described it as a “mumsy thing to carry kids around in”, not the chic and glassy piece of French weirdness I thought they might appreciate.
Granted, the seven-seat version is arguably the better looker, with a sleeker window-line and detail styling, and a less puffy bottom. But I love it when form and function meld so neatly into one the way the C4 Picasso does.
Starting at $40,990, the five-seater is $4K cheaper than the seven-seater, though given it’s a petrol, not a turbo-diesel drivetrain that traditionally commands a premium, the price should definitely start with a ‘3’. But my pretty blue one is a fair way beyond that.
Premium ‘Bleu Teles’ paint ($900), an electric tailgate ($1000) and black/beige Nappa leather trim ($5000) take CVD-44G’s sticker to $47,890. And while $5K could buy a bloody nice leather lounge suite, at least the C4’s optional upholstery throws in heated/massaging front seats, an electric ‘ottoman’ for the front passenger, and ‘butterfly’ headrests for all five buckets that are meant to act like neck pillows.
Instead of getting Citroen to truck the Citroen C4 Picasso up from Melbourne, I decided to settle into it over deadline week and deliver it to Sydney myself later on. Which, given its expansive vision and likeable ride quality, sounded almost pleasant.
Surprisingly, so does its engine. PSA’s re-engineered 1.6-litre turbo four, now with 121kW and a chubby 240Nm from just 1400rpm, has lost the intrusive coarseness that it suffered at high rpm in its previous tune, though it still lacks the charm of the brilliant 1.2-litre turbo triple – and, after seeing a cabin pic of the Euro version, a neat six-speed manual shifter riding atop the centre console.
Citroen’s six-speed auto is a good one, though, despite the weird gear selector ‘wand’ atop the steering column, which requires acclimatisation if you’re performing a quick three-point turn. I whacked the wipers on full instead of grabbing reverse a number of times before getting it together. That said, the Picasso’s wonderfully tight turning circle is more than compensation.
So first impressions are good, if not flawless. A high-mounted brake pedal and over-sensitive braking response made my first steer a rather pitchy affair, though you get used to it. The engine’s idle-stop system isn’t the most seamless, either, and rewards prompt acceleration, not dithering off the line. And Bluetooth reception is scratchy unless my iPhone is out of my pocket.
Having spent a lot of time in Peugeot 308s of late, I wish the C4 Picasso was a little more agile like the lighter Pug, but the Citroen is certainly no numpty in the handling department.
What I’m loving, though, is the excellence of the Picasso’s heater, the toasty warmth of its three-setting seat heaters and the ease of keyless entry and auto-folding mirrors when you lock it. Living in a very narrow street, having a car tuck itself in at night makes you want to give it an extra hug.
Our leggy long-term Citroen C4 Picasso takes to its interstate challenge
It was three in the afternoon before I could finally escape last month’s seven-seat SUV comparo and head north, from the hills outside Yackandandah in Victoria.
The Picasso had been fuelled in Bright earlier that morning, yet a strafe up icy Mount Buffalo and back again had already put a dent in its digital bar-graph fuel gauge. And checking its tyre pressures before being loaded with luggage and camera gear revealed that the luscious urban ride I fell in love with on first acquaintance was largely due to its 205/55R17 Continentals being under-inflated. Pity.
Black ice quelled any enthusiasm in the tighter stuff towards Mount Buffalo’s peak, but faster corners in the foothills revealed that the Citroen C4 Picasso retains much of the Peugeot 308’s dynamic DNA, albeit watered down. Perhaps it’s the higher seating position or raised centre of gravity, but the heavier Citroen doesn’t quite seem to have the rear-end adjustability or inherent poise of the smaller, sportier Pug. Not without digging deep to find it, anyway.
Optional leather includes an electric leg rest for the front passenger, but there are better ways to spend $5K.
But I enjoyed flogging the C4 Picasso to join the Hume at Albury, then progressively into darkness for another 550km. Being a lifelong glare-o-phobe (my perpetual sunnies aren’t just for looks!), I usually leave the Citroen’s ‘Zenith’ slidey rooflining thingy all the way forward, but at night, having unlimited glass from cowl to hairline crown gave a stunning view of the stars in the sky. Yes, I was bored, but not by the C4’s wealth of interesting display screens or its sturdy stereo.
Charging along at an indicated 125km/h (while still being overtaken on the final leg from Bowral to Sydney), the C4 Picasso proved it relishes a big-distance challenge. With a supple highway ride, ample turbo-boosted torque, acres of vision, excellent high-beam and a supportive, ache-free driver’s pew with built-in adjustable armrest, my French MPV-of-sorts turned an arduous journey into an effortless one.
The satellite navigation originally predicted an 8.19pm arrival and, while a food and coffee stop (at the excellent new Oliver’s joint at the Dog on the Tucker Box outside Gundagai) and a toilet visit added a decent chunk to that estimate, I managed to claw my way back to almost nail the original ETA.
Typically, the Picasso’s trip computer claimed a slick 7.7L/100km for the tank, including the mountainous stuff early on, but the reality was 8.1L/100km – still pretty good given the enthusiastic throttle use. Byron’s 308 auto (sharing the same platform) is around 200kg lighter, with a superior engine, a smaller frontal area and a thirst somewhere in the sixes, so I reckon the puffy C4’s low-eight ain’t too bad at all.
The Citroen C4 Picasso is mild-manner at first glance, but once out of the city, it doesn’t mind a little slap and throttle tickle
People will call me various four-letter words for saying this, but I need true friends to prove themselves. Respect and decent manners might get your foot in the door, but grit, humour and the ability to indulge in shameless debauchery is what seals the deal.
I kind of feel that way about the Citroen C4 Picasso, too. On the surface, it’s a tertiary-educated young mum in a Camilla Franks kaftan, but underneath its inoffensively expressive exterior lies the ability to have a surprisingly good time.
It was an enthusiastic strafe up to the oldies’ place in lower Newcastle and back that did it. Instead of surfing the 1.6 turbo’s torque and wafting along on the EAT6 auto’s smoothly intuitive gear changes, I caned it.
When it’s not clogged, Sydney’s Pacific Highway has always been a fun urban road – a 60km/h, mostly four-lane arterial that snakes its way up from North Sydney to the M1 Motorway at Wahroonga – yet no one ever really sticks to the speed limit. Even today, you can comfortably get away with doing 75-80km/h for much of it, and it’s one of the genuine aces Sydney has up its sleeve over nanny-state Melbourne.
With its pointy steering, poised chassis, marvellous vision and gap-filling grunt, the Picasso lifted its skirt and revelled in the challenge. Then, on the M1 Motorway, I grew a soft spot for its engine as well.
While the revamped ‘Prince’ 1.6 turbo lacks the inherent charm of PSA’s much newer turbo three-pot, it corrals all 121kW together in admirable fashion, and even sounds like it’s enjoying the ride.
As each slower vehicle ceded to the Citroen’s sparkly LED running lights and cleared the right lane, I floored it.
Cue the mum bus surging into the distance, 1.6 turbo rasping at its top end like a warm hatchback’s. Even with the frustration of dithering Saturday morning traffic, I actually had fun.
Following a sidewall puncture two months ago, and a stripped lock nut by the local car tyre retailer, the Picasso now wears a fresh pair of Michelin treads (not Continentals as previously stated, my bad!), which prepares it perfectly for its next stage in life. That is, as the family chariot for the Corby clan.
Much as I love the Citroen’s manoeuvrability, clever practicality and individuality, it would be selfish to deny its all-round utility to someone with an actual family. Corby reckons his kids are gonna love it. We shall see.
Sometimes there’s just no understanding women, as Stephen Corby discovers when he brings the Citroen C4 Picasso home to his wife
People will tell you that marriage is a blissful union and that it’s all about sharing life’s best moments with someone, but really it’s not; it’s about the arguments.
Without the frequent fights and ding-dong disputes, marriage would feel even longer than it does, and your choice of car is as good a reason as any to go at it.
I chose this quirkily expensive and basically unjustifiable Citroen C4 Picasso partly because I have an almost inexplicable love for it (although I prefer the diesel-engined and more practical Grand Picasso), though I fully intended to hide this slightly embarrassing admission behind the coverall excuse that a lot of men no doubt use: “I got it for the wife.”
I was utterly convinced she would love everything about it and would laud my wisdom to all her friends, and even my mother-in-law. She would coo over the comfortable leather seats, which have heating and massage functions and even a little divan for the passenger’s legs. A great lover of visibility, she would openly weep over the genius of its glassiness and the fact you can slide the sunvisors right back to create a bigger windscreen and a lighter, bigger-feeling cabin. Like me, she would mildly geek-out over the two big colour screens, with their calming pictures of grass and giant maps. And finally she would rejoice at the adjustable, tumble-down row of rear seating with its little desks for our children, and its ability to haul small pianos, ponies and so on when the seats are folded away.
Sadly, none of that appealed to her in the slightest and, instead of praise, I was given two earfuls on how much she hates the Picasso and, seriously, how long are we stuck with this thing for?
After some invigorating shouting, I deduced that she hates the idle-stop system most of all – the way it lurches back into life, the way it lets the car roll back – and the way the wheels spin when she plants her foot (never happened to me), and yet contradictorily the fact that nothing happens at all when she floors it, because it feels like “an oversized lawn mower”.
Oh, and it’s also impossible to get a feel for how wide it is, probably because the visibility is no good. This is not the first time, sadly, that I’ve completely misread how my beloved might feel about something, nor will it be the last, but it’s up there with the most genuinely shocking. I love the Picasso, and after a couple of weeks with it I like it even more (although the idle-stop system is annoying, and too difficult to disable, and I still think the diesel is a far more useful engine). And I love it for a number of what I would call girly reasons, so I really thought it would be a home run at home, but I was wrong.
About the only thing we agree on is that we’d never, ever buy one for the $47,890 asking price – but even then we argue about why not.
Battle lines are drawn as French scuffle becomes weighty issue with our long-term Citroen C4 Picasso long term vehicle
“Ooh, Daddy, is this the blue car that Mummy hates! Why do you still have it?”
My daughter moons up at me from the back of the Citroen C4 Picasso Marriage Wrecker, looking at me like she can’t understand how I’ve never noticed what her mother’s wrath is like.
It’s fair to say things have not improved in that department, but I’m almost refusing to be swayed and I am still shouting loudly in favour of the cool-looking Citroen’s versatility and amenity.
It spent the start of its tenure with Mr Ponchard, who is about as likely to be found in a second-hand Ssangyong Stavic as he is to be seen ferrying children around. He’s so Sydney-cool he’s going to need to have a hipness replacement when he gets older.
Ponch loved the Picasso, surprisingly, but I like it for very different reasons, like the fact that it can return a solid fuel number (unfortunately it’s still expensive to run, because it takes a minimum of 95 RON) despite carrying around so much crap.
Any car used by a family is up against it when it comes to matching claimed fuel figures, frankly, because young children in particular are seemingly incapable of leaving the house without at least three of their favourite toys, a drink bottle and two interesting sticks they found between the front door and the car.
They are also infuriatingly incapable of being able to remove most of these things from the vehicle when they get home. The inevitable result, unless you have servants, is that your car becomes cluttered to the point of being weight-handicapped by various crap (I’ll take responsibility for the 50 copies of Vanity Fair in the boot, and I’ll claim that they were there for rear downforce).
I realised just how bad this problem is when shooter Wielecki and I went out to snap some Picasso-like pictures and he could barely fit his camera gear, and his surfboard, in the usually vault-like interior.
I could easily be carrying around an extra human’s worth of unnecessary crap (including at least two bags of clothes that my wife likes to keep in the back of every car we’ve had, possibly on their way to a Smith Family bin, or possibly just there until the end of eternity).
It’s possible the Picasso might save more fuel if I left the idle-stop system on, but I must admit it’s starting to get to me with its eagerness to turn off and reluctance to re-engage. Being left with dead steering as you’re about to make a right-hand intersection dash is no fun, either.
So I’m not sure that’s to blame for this month’s less pleasant 12.2L/100km figure. I think an angry right foot might be to blame.
PUSH MY BUTTONS
What leaves the bitter taste of defeat in my mouth this month is the fact that you have to press no fewer than three buttons to turn off the confounded idle-stop system, which is too eager to engage and then lets the car roll back before it fires up again. Worse still, you have to turn the damn thing off every time you drive, which is, as someone in my house may have mentioned, extremely annoying.
Not even a clever party trick could endear the Citroen C4 Picasso to Mrs Corby
Those of us who take pride in our driving are, quite frankly, mildly offended by the idea of autonomous-parking systems (and even more so by Google cars), because we’re pretty bloody fantastic at reverse parking already, thanks very much.
As such, I had no intention of testing the Park Assist system on the Citroen C4 Picasso until a colleague, who is equally befuddled by my wife’s hatred of this cool Citroen as I am, suggested it might be the final, and best, roll of the dice to win her over.
Just to make sure that it wasn’t going to let me down, and send her on another mouth-frothing rant (she’s even started to hate the actual Picasso’s art works, just on principle), I decided to test it out privately, and it was then that something strange happened.
It shouldn’t have surprised me that a car designed to cope with the parking spaces of Paris, which are generally smaller than even a clown’s car, should be able to park itself with ingenious alacrity. And yet still I was blown away by the cleverness of the system, and how it’s able to pull off reverse parks that I would never have bothered to attempt myself. Spaces so small you had to use the Park Assist again to get you out (yes, it does that too – tres clever!).
Almost as impressed were my children, who thought the hands-free “robot parking” was something akin to witchcraft, or better yet, Star Wars-tech.
Speaking of which, my son was beside himself this month when we found some under-floor storage bins just in front of the rear seats that we’d never seen before. He spent most of the next day trying to smuggle himself in them, Millennium Falcon-style. I fear he might be a simpleton, but at least he has good taste in films.
After finding myself using the autonomous parking with an almost disturbing regularity, I felt it was finally time to blow Mrs Corby away with a demonstration of Citroen technologique and found a suitably squeezy spot in Bronte Beach, where finding a space can add months to your life, or take years off your marriage.
The Picasso performed brilliantly, but did bump the kerb lightly at one stage on the way in, without at all scratching the wheel, and yet this small failure was all she could focus on, before spewing forth words like “pointless”, “hate” and “this (expletive) car”, as usual.
So I give up. While I thought this would be the perfect car for a harried mum who’s obsessed with “visuals”, the only time Citroen’s MPV-of-sorts actually impressed her was when we laid the seats flat to pile the back with Christmas bicycles.
I, on the other hand, loved its styling, its screens, its utility, seats, suspension and, goddamn it, clever self-parking tech.
Sadly, the sticking point for me would be the idle-stop system, which is clunky, jerky, poorly designed and, eventually, annoyed me pretty much every day, particularly because it takes an unnecessary three-button screen dance to turn it off.
That quirk, alongside the price and my wife’s intransigence, would put me off buying one, but I would still advise other people with small families to seriously consider the Picasso. Did I mention it can park itself?