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The Citroen Grand C4 Picasso is a stylish, spacious and well-priced compact MPV with seven seats. Auto 'box is not good and residuals poor

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The seven-seat version of the Citroën C4 Picasso is the car that the French manufacturer hopes will jolt mid-sized MPV buyers out of the stupor that leads to them queuing up to buy amorphous blobs with all the visual excitement of wet cement.

The C4 Picasso – which first appeared in 2007 – certainly brings a sense of French flair to the segment. The Picasso's glass-house alone, with quarter-lights like sails and a windscreen that wouldn’t look out of place on a helicopter, instantly distinguishes it from anything else on the road.

The Grand C4 Picasso's vast glass-house distinguishes it from anything else

But the C4 Picasso has a hard act to follow. The old Xsara-based Picasso was the best-selling MPV on the market for a long time, despite neither looking distinctive nor driving with distinction.

But since then the market has figured out what most of us knew all along: a five-seat MPV is no more a ‘people-mover’ than a five-seat hatch or saloon.

And now it’s been proven that a third row seats can be fitted without compromising practicality, luggage space or comfort, that’s the way the market has headed.

So Citroën has extended the wheelbase of the C4 on which the new Picasso is based and installed a third row of seats. Thus equipped, it can take on a new breed of compact people-carrier such as the Vauxhall Zafira and Mazda 5.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Citroën Grand C4 Picasso badging

If all you ever did was sit in the showroom and fiddle with it, you’d emerge thinking the Citroën Grand C4 Picasso was worth every penny.

Citroën makes much of how hard it has consulted typical compact MPV buyers, even hiding cameras in them to watch exactly how they’re used in the real world and, unlike some manufacturers which appear to canvass customer opinion only to then ignore it, Citroën seems to have listened.

The windscreen offers a panoramic view of the road and sky

It is a really surprising car that's far better looking than either the Citroen C8 or Xsara Picasso, with design themes that recall the rakish Ford S-Max. The grille, wheels, lights and window styles all show a refreshing new emphasis on originality – for which the best Citroëns were always known.

The Grand C4 Picasso stands 4.59m long, 1.83m wide and 1.66m high. Climb aboard and it’s more like stepping aboard the London Eye than anything you might recognise as a car cabin. There’s glass everywhere, even without the optional full-length glass roof, while the split A-pillar has been slimmed to skeletal proportions.

It is the windscreen that stretches up and almost over the head of shorter drivers that really grabs the attention, affording a panoramic view of the road ahead and sky above.

INTERIOR

Citroën Grand C4 Picasso interior

There’s space aplenty up front, excellent headroom everywhere, but only reasonable legroom in the middle row. Kneeroom is compromised, too, due to the tray tables in the back of the front seats. The rear seats are only really suitable for pre-teen kids.

When not needed, the third row falls into the floor at the pull of a single strap and requires no more effort to raise, either. The only slight bother is some cosmetic matting that needs unfolding if you want that truly flat floor look.

The third row of seats falls into the floor at the pull of a strap

The middle row, meanwhile, does everything short of making you afternoon tea. It folds, slides, reclines and tumbles with the minimum of effort. The boot is quite large and exceptionally well-shaped, being almost square. The boot light is also, brilliantly, a removable torch.

Citroën has tried equally hard up front, but with not quite so much success. We applaud quirkiness and originality in a Citroën – it’s what the brand is all about, after all, but not when it comes at the expense of function which, at times, it does. The steering wheel with its fixed centre boss is a nice touch, but the myriad buttons that surround it and look after, among others, the cruise control, ventilation recirculation and stereo are difficult to interpret and not intuitive to use.

Likewise, the centre instrument panel which, if you’re prepared to pay for the option, can present its information in five different colours. Call us old-fashioned, but one colour that can actually be easily read would seem preferable to us. At least the driving position is good – though high – and benefits from a rake and reach adjustable steering column.

There are, of course, storage bins everywhere. There are lidded cubby holes on top of both sides of the dash, an air-conditioned central cubby with a hidden cup-holder, two more cup-holders between the seats, a decent-sized glovebox and generous door-bins. And if that isn’t enough to store your family’s detritus, it’s not a new car you need but a new family.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Citroën Grand C4 Picasso engine

The Citroen C4 Picasso is available with 1.6-litre or 2.0-litre diesel engines or two 1.6-litre petrols, one turbocharged (THP 155) and the other direct injection. The latter is the entry-level model in terms of cost, whereas the 1.6 THP produces 154bhp.

We tested a 1.6 HDi in mid-level VTR+ spec with the semi-automatic gearbox, which is optional on the 1.6-litre cars but fitted as standard to the 2.0-litres.

The entry-level model is the 1.6 VTi VTR petrol

The cabin creates such an all-round sense of luxury that you start to worry if money has been saved in other areas to pay for it. So you crank the 107bhp engine, pull the funny little gear stalk back into manual mode, pull the right-hand gear paddle and set off.

The first thing that hits you is how refined this 1.6 diesel is and, seconds after that, how staggeringly slowly it drags the Picasso from place to place. There’s extra weight compared to the old Picasso. We took 13.4sec to get it from rest to 60mph, while Citroën says the old Picasso would hit 62mph in 11.9sec. Top speed is 107mph.

Citroën offers five- or six-speed manual gearboxes, a six-speed auto or six-speed paddle-shift automated manual.

The six-speeder’s compact column-mounted controls — combined with the steering boss switches pioneered on the Citroen C4 — mean there’s no need for a centre console. But if you have a choice, avoid it. Seamless shifting is possible, but needlessly difficult. It’s also uncomfortably jerky in automatic mode.

RIDE & HANDLING

Citroën Grand C4 Picasso cornering

The Grand C4 Picasso’s steering appears related only by chance to the front wheels. There’s very little damping control on undulating roads and nothing whatever to appeal to the enthusiast driver.

On the road, the car feels quite a bit bigger and heavier its Citroen C4 hatchback namesake.

Self-levelling suspension is only standard on the Exclusive trim level

But the Grand C4 Picasso rides beautifully most of the time, which most buyers may regard as a more than fair trade for the lack of a dynamic driving experience. After all, comfort and not outright poise is likely to be the main priority of a potential owner.

Beware, though, although it soaks up bumps very well, if you combine soft suspension with a full load and a country road, levels of roll, pitch and heave can become sufficiently uncomfortable to make you slow further.

Self-levelling suspension may be part of the answer. Combined with the long wheelbase it gives the car a very relaxed gait, and the same unimpeachable straight-line stability as bigger Citroëns.

Bear in mind, however, that said suspension is only standard on the most expensive Exclusive trim level.

The brakes of Grand C4 Picasso are beyond serious criticism.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Citroën Grand C4 Picasso

Three trim levels are currently offered: VTR, VTR+ and Exclusive. The cheapest petrol on the market is the 1.6 VTi 120 VTR and the entry-level diesel is the 1.6 HDi 110 VTR.

The 1.6 VTi 120 VTR comes in under £20k, but once you start ticking the boxes on the options list it is quite easy to push the price of the Citroën Grand C4 Picasso far north of that figure.

Once you start ticking the options boxes, the price can rise dramatically

The 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre oilburning engines were re-homologated in 2010 to improve fuel efficiency, which also helped to reduce the benefit-in-kind tax rates and first year’s VED.

As an example, a Grand C4 Picasso equipped with the 1.6 HDi 110 powerplant and manual transmission will return a claimed 53.3mpg on the combined cycle, equating to CO2 emissions of 139g/km.

Two e-HDI 110 variants put even more of an emphasis on frugality and come equipped with 'micro-hybrid' tech such as stop-start; a reversible alternator that recovers energy during braking; an e-booster function that re-starts the engine with 0.4sec). In VTR+ trim, this Grand C4 Picasso can return a claimed 57.6mpg, and 129g/km of CO2.

In terms of economy, there isn't much to choose between the 1.6 VTi and more powerful (and expensive) 1.6i THP petrol engines, with the former offering a claimed 40.9mpg and the latter 40.4mpg.

VERDICT

3.5 star Citroën Grand C4 Picasso

The static qualities of the Citroën Grand C4 Picasso set the standard for the class thanks to its clever and versatile cabin. You'd need to buy a convertible to get better all-round visibility than the Grand C4 Picasso.

On the outside, that feeling of originality and quality design continues; the grille, wheels, lights and window styles all show a refreshing emphasis on originality – for which the best Citroëns were always known.

The bulk of buyers will not care about the lack of a rewarding driving experience

Although there are occasions when the design over-reaches – the steering wheel buttons and coloured instrument panel options, for example, where style triumphs over substance – there is no arguing with the quality feel inside the car or the practicality offered by the seven-seat layout.

But on the road it offers little beyond ride and refinement to impress the driver. Should a decent driving road present itself, the suspension is too soft and uncontrolled, and the steering is devoid of feel. There's no fun to be had in hustling the Grand C4 Picasso, especially when it is laden with a full load of passengers, when the generally soothing ride starts to feel choppier.

Yet the bulk of buyers will care a lot about what it does well and very little about what it does badly. It is not Citroën’s fault that we can’t count ourselves among them.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Citroen Grand C4 Picasso 2007-2013 First drives