What is it?
Citroën has treated its once dominant C4 Picasso to a mid-life facelift in the hope of keeping the stylish five-seater competitive in a market that is currently undergoing something of a crisis.
Only a few years ago, buyers who wanted a family car put two things above all else: affordability and practicality. However, these days, with the introduction of competitive PCP deals and the fact that consumers have become increasingly image conscious, MPVs are being consistently shunned for luxury SUVs and upmarket crossovers.
So what changes has Citroën made to the C4 Picasso to ensure that it remains competitive in this new market landscape? Well, since its launch in 2013, the Picasso’s biggest selling point – aside from its impressive ergonomics – has been its distinctly un-MPV-like aesthetics. As a result, the C4’s styling remains relatively untouched for 2016, with a wider front air intake, chrome foglight surrounds and '3D-effect' rear lights simply enhancing what was already there.
The cabin also looks suspiciously similar to last year’s model, but that is no bad thing. We’ve always been fond of the Picasso’s light and airy interior. Instead, Citroën has dedicated most of its time to perfecting its frustrating infotainment system. Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink are two major additions that should prove popular with buyers and Citroën Connect Navigation now finally offers 3D maps, touch operation and real-time updates.
What's it like?
Aside from a new automatic gearbox option on the 1.2-litre petrol Puretech, the 2016 Picasso is more or less mechanically identical to the model it replaces. As a result, the big Citroën still isn’t as engaging as the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer or Volkswagen Golf SV, but that’s not to say that the Picasso is without dynamic merit.
Granted, there’s little doubt that Citroën has aimed for supple rather than sporty here, but the Picasso’s suspension is impressively adept at coping with multiple inputs. Big compressions are soaked up with aplomb, and although the soft damper settings allow for some body float over crests, there’s never a point where the chassis feels unstable or loose.
However, it’s at lower speeds where the Picasso disappoints. Over patchy and uneven surfaces, the usually supple Citroën often feels unsettled, so regular day-to-day driving isn’t as comfortable as it could be. The smaller 16in wheels that come as standard on entry-level Touch trim certainly help to improve the ride, but they don’t completely rectify the problem.
As for engines, we suspect that the mid-range 118bhp 1.6-litre diesel will continue to be the most popular with buyers thanks to its impressive fuel economy and low running costs. However, it’s well worth considering the 1.2-litre Puretech petrol if you’re a private buyer who drives mainly in town.
That’s because one of our biggest complaints with the diesel motor is that it delivers its power in one big dollop as the turbo kicks in, so you have to change gear fairly often to keep the engine in its sweet spot. There’s no such problem with the turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine. With maximum torque achieved at 1750rpm, the motor pulls strongly from low revs and, unlike the diesel, it keeps performing well until it reaches peak power at 5500rpm. Compared with the 1.6-litre HDi diesel engine, it feels impressively flexible and refined.
Unfortunately, you'd never call Citroën’s new EAT6 gearbox refined. It’s certainly an improvement on the old semi-automatic unit, but it's also hesitant and dim-witted. On tight and twisting B-roads, the ’box is slow to respond, holding on to gears for too long and down changing mid-corner. Shifting manually with the column-mounted paddles results in smoother progress, which indicates that the problem comes down to software rather than hardware.
Inside, the Picasso still gives the impression of being the most spacious car in the class, thanks to its extended windscreen and low-set dashboard. Storage spaces dotted around the cabin are perfect for family clutter, and multi-textured surfaces made from soft-touch materials give a real sense of quality.
The revised infotainment system, which is controlled through a 7.0in touchscreen, is certainly an improvement on the previous unit and the ability to pinch and swipe will be a welcome addition for anyone who is used to operating a smartphone. However, the touch-sensitive buttons around the edges of the screen are still slow and often unresponsive and the system can lag when changing between applications.
Ergonomically, though, the Picasso is still the well-packaged design that we’ve come to know and love. It'll seat four in reasonable comfort and there’s cabin flexibility courtesy of individually tilting and sliding rear seats.
Should I buy one?
There’s no question that, objectively, the C4 still ticks almost every box for the majority of family car buyers.
It’s spacious, versatile and cheap to run and, with the addition of driver assist systems such as traffic sign recognition, lane departure assist and driver condition monitoring, it’s safe, too.
2016 Citroën C4 Picasso Puretech 130 Flair EAT6 auto
Location Buckinghamshire; On sale now; Price £25,245; Engine 3 cyls, 1199cc, turbo, petrol; Power 128bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 170lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox 6-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1482kg; 0-62mph 10.1sec; Top speed 128mph; Economy 55.4mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 115g/km, 23%