Citroen has backed several winners this past few years, but the big jackpot has been the Xsara Picasso compact MPV, a no-frills family five-seater which successfully countered the superior sophistication of Renault’s Scenic and Vauxhall’s Zafira with space, low prices and an easy nature.
What the original Picasso doesn’t have, however, are the Zafira’s seven seats. And market researchers across the industry are united in reckoning there will be a rising demand for compact seven-seater MPVs.
Demand for all compacts has swollen from zero to 1.3 million vehicles in a decade. But last year seven-seater demand was 35 per cent of the total, and rising fast.
Using the generously sized components of the C4, Citroen’s designers have added enhancements owners in this class owners don’t necessarily expect, like great styling and innovative standard equipment: an electric parking bake, hill-hold and an innovative dashboard design.
Most surprising of all, there is pneumatic rear suspension on most models. It improves the ride, gives the same characteristics whether laden or unladen and means the car can be can be raised or lowered by the driver.
What’s it like?
result is a really surprising car that's far better looking than either the C8 or Xsara Picasso, with design themes that recall Ford’s rakish Max.
The grille, wheels, lights and window styles all show a refreshing new emphasis on originality - for which the best Citroens were always known.
The windscreen extends right into the roof (doubling the usual 35-degree vertical viewing angle). And instead of having a single tree-trunk windscreen pillar each side like so many cars today, the C4 Picasso has two thinner ones.
Inside, there’s an airy cabin, massive in the class, with a seat retraction system that works for both the middle (three-seat) and rear (two-seat) rows to leave a flat floor.
The engines are familiar PSA products: two HDi turbodiesels (the 110bhp 1.6 litre and 136bhp 2.0 litre) and two normally aspirated petrol units (the 127bhp 1.8 litre and 143bhp 2.0 litre). Citroen offers three transmissions: five-speed manual, four-speed auto or six-speed paddle-shift automated manual.
The intention is to make the new six-speeder the default, since its compact column-mounted controls — combined with the steering boss switches pioneered in other C4s — mean there’s no need for a centre console.
On the road, the car feels refined and soft-riding, but quite a bit bigger and heavier its namesake. Even so, the engines feel quite eager, especially the larger diesel.
The self-levelling suspension and long wheelbase give the car a very relaxed gait, and the same unimpeachable straight-line stability as bigger Citroens.
There was a pleasant freedom from wind noise in the late prototypes we were allowed to drive and the paddle-shift gearbox seemed smoother and easier to use than earlier editions in rival cars.