Have you ever been to Christiana? Probably not, and you’ve probably never heard of it. It’s a quaint little town that sits on the border of the Northern Cape, Free State, and North-West provinces – a small little hole with a single Spar and no major business, 450 odd kilometres away from the bustling chaos that we know as Johannesburg. What better way to test out my ‘holiday vehicle’ then, than to spend some time driving out to Christiana and back again?
Truth be told, I couldn’t have been happier to have had the Citroen C4 Picasso for the drive. It was a drive I’d already done a few weeks prior to receiving the Citroen, in a new Jeep Cherokee 3.2, and it was one I knew to be an arduous one. Not only does one have to contend with long, straight, narrow roads, but one needs to concentrate extra hard as there are constant dangers lurking at the roadside in the form of animals, children, and other tired drivers. Then of course there’s the weather, fickle as it comes; especially once past the half-way mark where storms arrive out of nowhere and reduce visibility to next to nothing.
But before I explain how the C4 Picasso, a current Wesbank COTY finalist, managed on the drive, I’ll have to explain the Citroen in a bit of detail. So here goes…
The Citroen C4 Picasso has its roots loosely linked to the Xsara Picasso of about a decade ago. But where the Xsara made no attempt to disguise its complete ‘mommishness’ as an MPV, the C4 Picasso has come a long way in actually being a rather good looking vehicle.
The side profile bears a strong resemblance to that of the Xsara, with a similar amoebic design forming the outline – but Citroen have cleverly added a chromed profile line around the windows that, particularly on the darker colours such as my Shark Grey Metallic unit, gave the illusion of a far more compact vehicle, shorn of its extra visual blubber. In combination with the blacked out B, C, E and partially blacked out D pillars which give the impression of a floating roof, the C4 Picasso the profile view of the MPV was a rather decent one – not necessarily a supermodel of the car world, but enough to make you look twice in admiration of something with its own unique prettiness about it.
The front view, slightly more alien with its separate LED DRL’s, was also relatively pretty though, disguising its flaws beneath a mask of clever design. The Citroen double-chevron logo is cleverly combined with double chrome bars on the grill, which blend into the daytime running lamps, hiding the practical aspects within stylish details that could only be French. The panoramic windscreen disguises the height of the MPV with its transparency.
The rear follows suit, although noticeably cleaner in its design. The floating roof element gives a squatter impression of the overall height, whilst the tail lights feature 3-dimensional holographic rounded square details that, when illuminated, appear to shift about depending on the angle their viewed from.
17-inch Anaconda alloys added a final touch to the C4 Picasso; stylishly designed but possibly a bit ‘busy’ in their appearance. Nonetheless they capped an overall clever design off with a bit of glitz and glam.
Inside the C4 Picasso, practicality and spaciousness are the order of the day. But trust the French to prove that practicality need not be bland. A two-tone textured dashboard is mimicked by 2-tone leather seats in Champagne and Black Nappa leather. The elegantly designed dash features a large central display, which features the speedometer, trip computer, and an assortment of selectable items from navigation info to media info, and even a slideshow of images. The display is also customisable with 3 different display themes to suit every driver, or every mood, although changes to the themes require a system reboot – a timeous affair that should be avoided unless you’re not pressed for time. Below this sits the infotainment system, operated via a 7-inch touch screen, which controls everything from vehicle settings, to climate control, media and then some.
The 5-seater MPV (a 7-seater is available in Europe) features 5 individual seats, doing away with a rear bench in favour of 3 adjustable seats. For parents this makes life easier should you have a child seat equipped, as the central seat can be moved forward and a child attended to from the comfort of the front passenger seat. The front seats however are the place to be, particularly as a passenger. The passenger seat features a reclining ‘lazy-boy’ function complete with a footrest that folds out electronically. Further adding to the luxury is the massage seat function and heated seats – equipped on both front seats although the driver’s seat does without the lazy-boy functionality, obviously. Folding armrests accompany both front seats, making for an overall package that feels more like you’re driving a large armchair than a mommy-wagon.
Completing the lavish interior appeal, a glass roof and panoramic windscreen create an airy appeal to the cabin, complimenting the almost entirely glass surround with a large front windscreen and large windows.
In addition to the lounge-style interior and its wonderfully comfortable electronic seats, the C4 Picasso also features a myriad of features. The top-spec. model I had boasts a ton of safety features, including blind-spot assist, lane-keep assist (which tugs on the driver’s seat-belt if you stray across the lines), adaptive cruise control, a full suite of airbags, and reverse camera. Also included with the reverse camera is a 360° camera, which can be used to navigate all parking lot scenarios blindfolded; however, should you decide even that is too complicated, park assist also makes a showing – capable of both parallel and alley-docking, and pulling out of parallel spots – an eerie experience but one that quickly became a gleeful gimmick that made life a breeze whilst I performed my Christmas shopping.
Tyre pressure monitoring, Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming, navigation, dual-zone climate control, automatic xenon headlamps with high beam assist and cornering function, automatic windscreen wipers, auto-dimming rear view mirror, and keyless entry and start were all features included on the C4 Picasso, yet despite the lavish spec. list, the entire package is a rather impressively priced machine, costing only R430 320.
The C4 Picasso is a complete package, feature-wise, and combined with a striking design, the whole car feels rather like a spaceship from the driver’s seat. It’s the mothership, and not only because it’s a mommy-wagon.
The Picasso is locally available with only one engine option, a 1.6-litre 4-cylinder turbo-diesel engine plating up 85kW and 270Nm. The 4-pot drives the front wheels via a 6-speed manual gearbox. Healthy outputs are matched with healthy fuel consumptions of only 5.6l/100km, a fair bit higher than Citroen’s claimed 4l/100km, but nevertheless easy on the wallet.
The diesel engine itself was a rather noisy unit though; gruff and typically clattery. Thankfully its power delivery is far smoother than the noise it makes, although there is a noticeable amount of lag, and the torque doesn’t seem to kick in as early as the claimed 1750rpm would suggest. The gearbox is a strange one; although geared perfectly for city driving and open roads; the shift action is heavy and requires a fair bit of muscle to row the gears. It’s clunky too, lacking the slickness I look for in a touring-type vehicle, and really becoming exhausting when stuck in long highway commutes at rush hour.
Frankly, the drivetrain is the weakest point of the C4 Picasso, and in such a car an automatic gearbox wouldn’t have gone amiss, and would’ve been made even better if it were paired to s stronger, smoother engine, such as the 2-litre diesel mill from the Peugeot 3008.
The drive and overall package:
The whole is often said to be more than the mere sum of its parts. The Citroen C4 Picasso bears testament to this adage more so than many other examples would. In my extended test period of a month with the Picasso, I spent short drives, long drives, and every other drive in between in the driver’s seat. Nimble and seemingly light on its feet, the Picasso was a simple run-around with plenty of space for everything from shopping to moving a friend to the middle of nowhere. Quick trips were enjoyable and even enticing.
Longer trips, however, were even better. Setting the massage seats on full, with the arm rest in place and active cruise control engaged meant that hundreds of kilometres could be consumed in utmost comfort and relaxation. Proof of the Picasso’s comfort came one Sunday morning, the day after the Foo Fighters’ Johannesburg concert. Not only had I been out until 2 the previous night, but I had to wake early to drive to Christiana and back in a one day long haul trip. I know from experience that in lesser cars this trip is exhausting – yet the Picasso made it comfortable. Despite the luxury, it was a drive that didn’t bore me to sleep, and behind the wheel for so long I was still able to remain awake and alert. Few cars are suited to long drives the way the C4 Picasso was, and had I driven the trip in any other car I fear I may have lost my mind.
The long drive dealt with all sorts of road conditions, from highway construction to small town lanes, open road cruising through rain and sunshine, potholed streets and smooth tarmac – yet the Picasso never flinched. The suspension absorbed small bumps with aplomb, and dealt with larger imperfections in a composed manner. I was never divorced from the surface beneath me through lack of feel, yet it was never intrusive, and even road- and wind-noise were kept to a minimum. Over long stretches of poor tarmac, the suspension found a steady rhythm to conquer it all.
At no point does the steering ever waiver, with a steady, peaceful way in which it does things. There’s no play around the centre, and it responds keenly to inputs. It isn’t exactly the most communicative system, but it yields flawless responses and ample feedback – and even on poor surfaces it never feels jittery or uncontrolled. It corners deftly too, with minimal body roll and maintaining a smooth momentum – using the diesel torque to power out confidently.
In the 31 days the C4 Picasso was in my possession I covered over 4000km – going to concerts and small South African towns along the way. It ferried me to my first ever bungee jumping experience in Soweto too – and despite all my travelling I never encountered a single one on the road besides mine. It’s a great shame really because with all the space, comfort, and long-distance cruising ability that the Picasso holds, I can’t see why anyone would ever need an SUV for on-road use.
Not only is the Picasso more spacious, comfortable, well equipped, and affordable than any comparable SUV, but it does it all in style and class that no SUV could dream of matching. The drivetrain is flawed, and the C4 Picasso can not escape that fact; but it’s an easily forgivable mistake when the rest of the MPV is as good, as great, as it is. It’s a minimally flawed package – but it excels in all it is asked to do – and for the life of me I can’t think of a greater long-distance machine to ferry a family of 5 from city to coast or wherever the wind blows you.
The Citroen C4 Picasso is the complete package, and if you can get past the mommy-van styling and having to strong-arm the gear shift, there are few cars that can compete with it – whether you’re commuting to the shops or touring the country.
|No. of Cylinders:||
85kW @ 3600RPM
270Nm @ 1750RPM
|Fuel Tank Capacity:||
Front Wheel Drive (FF)
|Price (as tested):||