Citroen's improved Grand C4 Picasso could well be just what modern families are looking for, even if they don't have hoards of kids. June Neary reports.
Will It Suit Me?
Manufacturers of small MPVs whose interiors can only seat five people often tell me that this is all that many buyers really want. And until I tried Citroen's improved Grand C4 Picasso recently, I must admit, I tended to agree. After all, I don't have four children or hoards of elderly relatives. But I do need seven seats as it turns out. Living with a car like this opens up all kinds of possibilities. You find yourself offering lifts to people: agreeing to be the non-drinking party-goer. Suggesting the kids invite their friends around for sleep-overs. The fact that this flexibility is possible in a car without van-like styling and with a relatively affordable price-tag is good news for me.
There's no doubt that the Grand C4 Picasso utilises its available space very well. That wheel at each corner stance doesn't just look good, it also maximises space for the all important passenger cell. There are always going to be compromises involved in packaging three rows of seats into a car that's still relatively compact but this Citroen minimises them pretty effectively, with clever interior packaging that designer Frederic Soubirou is clearly proud of. I liked the optional lounge-style front passenger seat that features an extendable footrest and massage function. On a more practical note, you get up to 793-litres of bootspace when the third row of seats is pushed into the floor, a total that can rise as high as 2,181-litres with the middle row also folded.
Those middle row seats can be slid back and forth, reclined or folded flat independently of one another. What's more, the floor is devoid of a raised tunnel, aiding utility still further. The side windows do angle in fairly sharply which can make taller rear seat passengers feel a little pinched - and the rearmost pews are really only suitable for kids. Other than that it's hard to find fault. Materials quality in the cabin is smart, with classy metal finishes and simple yet effective ergonomics, something we have rarely been able to say of previous Citroens.
Many customers will be swayed by a showroom demonstration of how easy or otherwise the seats are to fold and the Grand C4 Picasso scores in this department too. The second and third rows of chairs can be folded away under the floor without the need to remove the headrests: the result is a flat surface that's ideal for loading. The whole design is a good deal more intuitive than the system used on the Vauxhall Zafira Tourer. Access to the back seats is good as well. Press a control on the edge of the outer middle seat and the seat cushion flips up to the seat back, the seat then slides against the back of the one in front. No more clambering with muddy feet over the middle row of seats or tearing the pockets off your trousers trying to lever yourself through a minuscule gap.
Behind the Wheel
Although the Grand C4 Picasso's athletic stance is the first thing to catch your eye, the second is the wide-angle panoramic windscreen that rises up and over the front seat occupants, doubling vertical visibility in the front to seventy degrees compared to 35 degrees in a standard MPV. The effect is just stunning, the sheer acreage of glass in front of the driver being at first a little unnerving. One of my colleagues described the feeling behind the wheel as like being in the cockpit of a jet fighter.
Citroen's designers have slimmed down the windscreen pillars and through this, the effect of airiness and front visibility has been increased still further. It's not just a styling affect either, the added field of view making it easier to spot motorbikes, cycles and pedestrians coming while preventing the usual craned neck when negotiating small roundabouts.
The engine choice is naturally weighted towards diesels because that's what Citroen does very well and it's also what British customers expect to buy. The 1.6-litre BlueHDi 120 will continue to be the big seller, but the economical BlueHDi 100 powerplant is sure to claim more than a few sales. There's also a pokier BlueHDi 150 diesel option too. Petrol customers get a freshly-added PureTech 110 entry-level unit with manual transmission; or there's a pokier PureTech 130 powerplant, mated with the brand's smoother EAT6 auto transmission.
Value For Money
Prices of course, mimic those of obvious Renault Grand Scenic-class mini-MPV 7-seat rivals - expect to pay from around £21,000, with the figure beyond that depending on your choice of engine or trim level. Even entry-level Grand C4 Picassos are fitted as standard with alloy wheels, Bluetooth and a six-speaker stereo with a USB socket. Range-topping models get features such as adaptive cruise control and the rather lovely lounge-style front passenger seats. It's just like being in a TGV. Except slower and without French school kids constantly running past.
New media developments include a Citroen Connect radio that includes Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink smartphone connectivity. And a 'Citroen Connect Nav' system with connected services that can tell you everything from weather forecasts to local parking and fuel station info. These functions, like many others in the cabin, are marshalled by the big touch screen display. We know some of you prefer the tactility of a switch or button and there are occasions when the Grand C4 Picasso's screen demands your attention for longer than is ideal, such as when adjusting the cabin temperature settings, which will require you to navigate away from, say, the sat nav or stereo functions and find the ventilation screen. Yes, it helps clean up the fascia but at some cost to actual everyday utility.
Could I Live With One?
As I've already said, the seven-seat practicality allied to striking design and affordable pricing sold this Citroen to me. Were I looking to buy in this sector, I'd feel that I couldn't afford to ignore it.