Citroen's new people-carrier is a massive step forward from the Xsara Picasso, and a fine-riding stylish newcomer. This first taste of a pre-production car bodes well.

What’s new?

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.

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Citroen is well aware of the usual criticisms of these 'boxes and has worked “night and day” to eliminate them.

Should I buy one?

Final versions of the C4 Picasso are nearly ready, and the indications are very promising. The car seems to answer every criticism of its smaller predecessor and offers buyers — in exchange for prices £2000 to £3000 stronger – a considerably more upmarket alternative. Think of this as a Mazda 5 rival, expect to pay £16,500 for a mid-spec example, and you’ll be right on the money.

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

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