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Citroën C4 Picasso: The art of the crossover

Citroën C4 Picasso: The art of the crossover

In a function- and value-driven motoring world, aesthetic design is often overshadowed by function. By the time space utilisation, aerodynamics and cost efficiencies have been taken into account, there’s precious little room for aesthetic manoeuvring. But the new Citroën C4 Picasso is proof that utility can be stylish, too. By DEON SCHOEMAN.

Citroën has a reputation for creating quirky, characterful cars – and I mean that in the best possible way. However, that individuality has often limited the brand’s appeal in a generally conservative market dominated by conventional cars.

Enter the Citroen C4 Picasso – a compact people carrier that mixes style and practicality in an attractive package.

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The French marque has never been scared of creating cars that are different, both in terms of mechanical innovation and upstart design. The ugly-duckling 2CV, or ‘Deux Cheveaux’ is still hailed as an icon of automotive engineering and design, while the comfort and style of the DS20, with its hydro-pneumatic suspension, is the stuff of legends.

However, it’s also true that Citroën’s upstream approach has not always earned it commercial success. The brand is still considered left of centre, which may attract admiration, but doesn’t always sit well with more conservative motoring audiences.

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That’s especially true of the South African market, which remains suspicious of anything that strays to far from the conventional. When you’re spending a considerable slice of your disposable income on mobility, that’s probably understandable.

The C4 Picasso is nominally a compact multi-purpose vehicle – in other words, a car that’s meant to combine the utility and practicality of what we used to call station wagons with the compact footprint, dynamic agility and ease of use more usually associated with C-segment hatchbacks.

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It was Renault, another French brand, that pioneered the compact MPV with the Renault Scénic, and since then, many marques have followed – among them the Mercedes-Benz B-class and Peugeot’s 3008.

In their quest for maximum interior space from a relatively small footprint, designers of compact MPVs often end up with little more than a box on wheels. But the C4 Picasso is different: it links streamlined style to generous glass areas, while short overhangs and a low-slung stance add sporty appeal.

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It’s a look that turns heads, and for all the right reasons. And no, there’s nothing quirky here, just a shape that appeals from every angle. For once, the proportions are just right, while the attention to design detail adds believable aesthetic distinction.

The slim grille, capped at either end by slim daytime running light strips, identifies the C4 Picasso as a Citroën without belabouring the point, while the C-shaped brightwork embracing the side windows adds a distinctive touch. Subtle contours, a sloping roofline and a huge, raked windscreen are further visual highlights.

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Most of all, this is an MPV that underplays its practical capabilities, and focuses instead on clean, attractive design that expresses both brand identity and dynamic intent.

If the exterior design of the C4 Picasso is smart, then the interior configuration is downright revolutionary. A widescreen high-res display replaces conventional instruments with a configurable layout that can be customised to suit personal taste.

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You get to choose between analogue or digital configurations for speed and rev count, as well as different colours and layouts, while you can also opt to use some of the display’s real estate for a photo album, navigation map display or vehicle status information.

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A touchscreen in the centre console provides an intuitive, menu-driven interface for all key controls and systems, substantially reducing the button count. You access the climate control, navigation, audio and Bluetooth telephony systems using the screen, while clean, clear graphics make even fairly complex configuration tasks easy enough not to have to resort to the manual.

The only buttons are on the multifunction steering wheel, which allows fingertip control of the cruise control, audio system and Bluetooth-driven telephony without having to take your hands off the wheel.

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The result is a clean, uncluttered fascia that sweeps across the base of that huge windscreen, emphasising the sense of space and minimalist elegance that is a core attraction of the C4 Picasso’s cabin.

Thoughtful touches include a front passenger seat with a retractable footrest for LazyBoy-style reclining comfort on long journeys, as well as massage and heating for both front seats. Rear passengers get spacious, comfortable accommodation with illuminated fold-down trays.

An understated aura of luxury is created by the two-tone leather upholstery (a R25,290 option) and the textured finishes of the fascia and the door handles, although the combination of cream and brown may not be to everyone’s taste. Besides, the lighter portions soon look grubby.

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That said, the C4 Picasso doesn’t lose sight of its compact MPV functionality. The rear bench seat is split into three individual seats, each of which offers backrest rake adjustment, and can be folded flat. The result is an almost infinite choice of seating versus cargo configurations.

Even with the rear seats in their upright position, there’s up to 630 litres of loading space under the parcel shelf. With all seats folded flat, the cargo volume is a massive 1,851 litres – huge by compact MPV standards.

Safety and technology go hand in hand in the C4 Picasso. Our test unit was the flagship Intensive model, which offers front and rear park distance control, as well as a ABS brakes, multiple airbags and electronic stability control.

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For R12,999 extra, you can add the Park Assist system that automatically parks the MPV in parallel and longitudinal bays, with the driver only controlling accelerator and brakes. The system also includes one 360-degree camera, and blind spot monitoring.

The Driver Assist pack is a R10,990 extra, embracing lane departure warning (which vibrates the driver’s seat belt when the car strays from its lane), a speed limiter, active cruise control, which measures the distance between the C4 Picasso and the car ahead, and reduces speed to maintain a preset following distance, as well as auto-dimming Xenon headlights.

The C4 Picasso is powered by a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine, which seems a little humble for a 1,300 kg compact MPV. But as it turns out, the combination of 85kW and 270Nm delivers surprisingly willing dynamics, with good low-down urge and competent cruising capability. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard.

Admittedly, there’s a bit of initial lag at the bottom end of the rev range, but you soon learn to balance clutch action and engine revs for clean, unencumbered pull-aways. Also, you’ll need to gear down on steep uphills, or when heavily laden, to keep the engine in the power band’s sweet spot.

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The claimed zero to 100 km/h acceleration figure of 11,8 seconds confirms that this Frenchie won’t win any drag races, but the C4 Picasso cruises effortlessly at the legal limit and beyond. Of course, loading the vehicle to the hilt will blunt its dynamic sparkle.

Fuel consumption is good, if not quite as thrifty as the factory figures suggest. Officially, the C4 Picasso should achieve a combined-cycle consumption figure of 4.5 litres/100km, dropping to 3.8 litres/100km on the open road. However, a 700km trip to Mpumalanga, using the cruise control and travelling two up with luggage at around 120km/h, saw the Citroën return a consumption figure of 6.3 litres/100km, which is well off the official claim, but still pretty frugal. Given the 55 litre fuel tank, the theoretical range is close to 900km.

Unsurprisingly, the suspension’s focus is on comfort rather than pin-sharp responses, and the electrically assisted steering wins no prizes for heft or feedback. But the car feels confident when pressing on, and retains that composure when hurried through curves and sweeps.

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Most MPVs and crossovers focus on function rather than aesthetics. But the Citroen C4 Picasso proves that sharp design, innovative ergonomics, generous accommodation and swift performance can go hand in hand. It’s sexy enough to lure lifestyle buyers, but also practical enough for families.

However, some of the nicer features cost too much extra: the base price of the C4 Picasso Intensive is a competitive R345,900, but the extra safety and convenience items fitted to our test car added almost R50,000 to that bill, which comprises the vehicle’s value proposition.

We can only hope that the close focus on service excellence and customer care implemented by Citroën (and sister brand Peugeot) locally starts paying dividends, because a car as good as the C4 Picasso deserves a sales and service experience of equal quality. DM

 

 

Citroën C4 Picasso 1.6 HDi Intensive

Engine

In-line four-cylinder, 1,560 cc, turbodiesel

Gearbox

Six-speed manual

Power

85kW @ 3,600rpm

Torque

275Nm @ 1,750rpm

0-100 km/h

11.8 sec

Top speed

189km/h

Fuel consumption

6.3 litres/100 km (tested)

CO2 emissions

105 g/km

Retail price

R345,900

Gallery

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