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First drive review: Citroën C4 Picasso (2013)

Hey, bébé, we can be hip too

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This jazzed-up MPV has a digital mantelpiece for snaps of loved ones, a ‘connectivity’ package for tweeting and enough light in the loft for Pablo to overcome his blue period

There are reasonable grounds to think of Citroën these days as effectively two companies. There’s the side of the business that produces the boutique, designer-label DS range — all shark’s fin pillars, “floating” roofs, fruit-juicer alloys and headache colour-schemes. Citroën has sold 300,000 of the DS range in the teeth of the worst economic period since the Dust Bowl, making the DS branch as big a concern now as Alfa Romeo.

And then there’s the side that produces the C-branded models on which those DS cars are based — specialising in such areas as practical boot-spaces, pragmatic “whole-life” cost assessments and versatile, family-oriented seat solutions, available quite often in dull red.


Search for and buy a used Citroën C4 Picasso on driving.co.uk


It’s tempting to imagine that this stark division is now fully reflected in the culture of the company’s French offices, with  the people on the DS projects swanking around in T-shirts and leather jerkins, drinking endless cappuccinos and calling each other bébé a lot, and with the C branch labourers still coming to work in suits with packed lunches and a Thermos and feeling a bit mournful most of the time.

But wait up, because here comes the new C4 Picasso MPV, with its hunkered-down roof, its glossy clamshell boot, its 3D brake clusters and its daringly stand-alone running lights. Clearly the fightback has begun. This is a car that’s not content any more to be merely a biscuit tin in the larger scheme of things — no longer prepared to be the slightly boring piece of preliminary chamber music you get before someone from the DS department comes in and blows a jazz solo all over it. It’s saying that those C-grade people can get a bit funky and a bit “luxury feel” too, when needs must. No more playing the straight man. No more being the Ernie Wise to the DS’s Bob Geldof.

Indeed, Citroën seems keen that we should regard the car as “the Technospace”. This is largely in tribute to the presence of not just one but two digital screens on the open plastic prairie of the C4’s double-banked dashboard. The lower of these screens offers touch-sensitive access to the air-conditioning, the radio and so on, while the upper screen . . . well, I never did really work out what the upper screen was for.

It seems you can throw “additional driving information” up there (complete and unsparing details of your cruise-control settings, for example). Perhaps more importantly, though, you can use a data stick to bring to the screen — which is fully 12in in diameter — pictures of your loved ones, so maybe we should think of it as the 21st-century equivalent of the mantelpiece or piano top.

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Of course, the fact that cars are only now getting round to allowing you to personalise their screen backgrounds with uploaded photography — and have, essentially, just invented the mantelpiece — only shows you how far behind the rest of the world the motor industry must necessarily lag in the whole Technospace area.

It takes so long to bring a car into production that not just styles of music but entire musical formats can come and go between design and launch — which is why it’s only relatively recently that Volvo stopped fitting its cars with cassette players.

So even while one shares Citroën’s excitement at being able to offer email and Twitter among a small cluster of apps in a “connectivity” package, there’s no getting round the fact that the lower of those two screens feels like a prototype tablet computer from 2007 and offers about a millionth of the capacity and flexibility that most drivers already casually expect from their mobile phone.

It’s possible, then, that this Technospace idea is ultimately unhelpful, and perhaps even a hostage to fortune.

Certainly, what the C4 will have over tablets for quite some while yet, one suspects, is its ability to take you and your family on holiday, among other places, so maybe Citroën should be concentrating on that aspect, rather than on the fact that you can be updating your Facebook status from your C4 in one . . . no, two . . . hang on . . . make that three . . . no, dammit, dammit, start again . . . pushes of a button.

It is lighter than the outgoing model, has a lower centre of gravity and revised suspension settings, and, with further smoothness added to the electric steering, is now easy and almost entirely uninteresting to drive. What seems more important, in the context, is that the boot has been enlarged and that the three rear seats are separate and equally sized, to reduce (although, obviously, not eliminate) inter-sibling squabbling fests.

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It seems Britain bought getting on for three times as many Grand C4 Picassos as it did plain C4 Picassos last time out, which suggests that quite a few people will be hanging back until the seven-seater version arrives later in the year.

Citroën refers to the cabin design as “loft-style” — by which, presumably, it means New York apartments rather than that place where the Christmas decorations go. What with the cathedral-scale windscreen and the all-over sunroof, there’s certainly a startling amount of glass on board. Indeed, from the driving seat, you can begin to wonder whether any
metal has been involved in the construction of this car or whether you are inside a front-wheel-drive greenhouse. Because the windscreen ends somewhere back near the boot, the rear-view mirror has to be dangled in front of you from a long, ugly plastic arm.

But that’s the only downside. The C4 is light enough to paint in, so, from that point of view, even Picasso himself might have found some use for it. When he wasn’t tweeting, obviously.

 

Verdict ★★★★☆

The C division goes in for a hip replacement

Factfile

Citroën C4 Picasso THP 155 Exclusive

Engine:
1598cc, 4 cylinders
Power:
154bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque:
177 lb ft @ 1400rpm
Transmission:
6-speed manual
Acceleration:
0-62mph: 9.0sec
Top speed:
130mph
Fuel:
47mpg (combined)
CO2:
139/km
Road tax band:
E

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