► A year with Citroen's family MPV
► We test the seven-seat Grand Picasso
► Every flaw uncovered, every strength praised
Month 12 running a Citroen C4 Grand Picasso: the end of our year-long test
There’s an inexact science when it comes to deciding on what long-termers CAR staff have thrust upon them. The equation is something like age of driver + length of commute ÷ number of offspring. The figure is then forced through the complex Pulmonian algorithm, named after our former road test editor, which governs how frequently the recipient of the vehicle will want to get it sideways.
Which is why I’ve generally ended up running MPVs and soft-roaders for the past six years. Having driven the Grand Picasso for the best part of 12 months, I’ve had ample time to decide that, while it’s not a vehicle that causes anticipatory beads of sweat to develop and it doesn’t elicit second glances from the back row of school coaches, it’s up there with my favourite long-termers. I thought my Seat Alhambra of 2012 had the large MPV sector licked, but the Grand Picasso is every bit its equal… and doesn’t look like Postman Pat’s daily whip either.
For starters, the Grand Picasso’s elegant nose and razor-sharp running lights lend it an air of Evoque. That thoughtfulness of design continues inside and while I prefer the champagney amber interior I’ve seen it clad in to our slate grey, Citroën pulls every last lumen of light into the car. Slide the adjustable sun visors back and there’s virtually uninterrupted glass from stern of bonnet to rear of roof. If there’s a more airy cabin on the market then it’s a convertible.
Its minus points aren’t deal breakers. I’d happily do without Park Assist in a trade for wipeable, kid-proof full-leather seats (which are also the only option if you want a heated backside in the winter, unlike the cloth/hide mix of our vehicle). The steering lacks feedback – but that’s a common trait in this sector – while its ‘naked’ design purges the dashboard of most of its buttons, which isn’t helpful if your touchscreen is slow, clunky and distracting to negotiate while driving. Take hints from the Germans on the model revision please, Citroën. While you are at it, move the handbrake lever away from the central storage unit to avoid inadvertent braking at high speed.
Thankfully, the Grand Picasso does big ticket things well. Flexible seating arrangements and enough second row legroom to have kept Robert Wadlow happy meant long family trips involved chucking both bags and kids in and leaving them where they settled. And while Ben Whitworth felt ride and body control ‘loose and baggy’ (a description you’d never use about Ben himself), it was chiefly driven on motorways for much of its life with me so this seemed less of an issue. Considering its proportions, it handles rather tidily.
Having stepped into the Grand Picasso from the Lexus IS300h I took time adjusting my deployment of the throttle to suit the driving that Citroën’s 2.0-litre diesel demands, but the fuel price slide in late 2014 combined with mid-40s fuel economy meant that it was competitive on running costs. That said, if you’re a high-mileage user, put something aside to pay for visits to the dealership to replenish your diesel additive. A week before I was due to hand back the keys, the warnings began again, threatening carmageddon if ignored. Two occurrences within 10,000 miles seems rather too frequent.
Yet the odd foible aside doesn’t detract from a car that makes an effort to look different both inside and out and satisfies that holy trinity of being competent on the daily commute, versatile family transport and possessing the ability to morph into a van when drafted into garden/house-clearing duties. It’s a serious contender for best family car on the market.
By Stephen Worthy
Month 11 running a Citroen C4 Grand Picasso: is it family-proof?
When it comes to choosing family cars it’s the little things that count. Yes, the C4 Grand Picasso swallows luggage, pushchairs and children like a whale does plankton but chances are you’ll only fully use it once or twice a year. More importantly, it’s things like ample leg-kicking room in the rear seats and spotlight-bright LED comic-reading lights that sorts the Grand C4 Picassos out from the family SUV also-rans.
That said, as my time with it wanes, my thoughts have turned to how I might have respecced it in hindsight. For example, we’ve got an old leather sofa at home. It’s an awkward shape, looks naff where it was once cool and I’ve slept on more comfortable park benches. But it survives because with two little ones you’re fighting a losing battle with those cluster bombs of kiddie foodstuffs – broccoli, boiled egg and gallons of apple juice – and keeping it clean is easy. Just a splash of Dettol spray and a wipe and away you go.
Which is why the half fabric/half leather seat covers in the Picasso are frustratingly half-fit for purpose. Cadbury’s Flakes are chocolate kryptonite, invading every corner, needing intensive treatment. I wish I’d opted for the whole leathery hog in a trade for the finicky Park Assist function.
By Stephen Worthy
Citroen C4 Grand Picasso diary notes: distraction control
That futuristic dashboard is quite a thing to behold when you first climb into the Picasso. Those massive cinema multiplex screens, the almost total absence of buttons (until you realise they’re all on the steering wheel instead), that odd but stylish textured surface, like robotic rhino hide…
It’s one thing staring at it goggle-eyed during the car’s original launch, as I did, but the acid test is whether it can still look as striking against a backdrop of accumulated bric-a-brac from 10 months’ worth of long-term duties. And the good news is, it does – even offset against crumbs, crisp packets and parking receipts, it still looks like a step into the future.
Is it a step in the right direction, though? Fancy as the touchscreen looks, it’s a bit of a concentration test to operate. You need a really firm prod, and a steady hand, to hit the bit you’re after, and just adjusting the air-con temperature was enough to see me wandering over white lines while my eyes were off the road. Of course, the more time you spend in the car the easier it gets, but anything that could increase the demand on a driver’s attention in a car that’s likely to be full of passengers seems borderline immoral, however advanced it appears in the showroom.
By James Taylor
Month 10 running a Citroen C4 Grand Picasso: how did you rate your Picasso experience?
I’ve been getting so cosy with Robinsons, the Citroën dealership in Peterborough, that I’m now on their Christmas card list. Following my urea/AdBlue issues last month, the Grand C4 Picasso has just had its first service. Not bad for a vehicle just three-quarters of a year old. Slight advisory on the front tyres – I must be loading them up as I swing this slab-sided pantechnicon into yet another A1 roundabout – but nothing more worrying than that.
A decade or so ago then that would be that from the dealership for another 12 months/20,000 miles. Instead, it’s set in frenzied motion the service industry’s modern vogue for accruing customer feedback. It’s been conducted with a zeal you could describe at best overly keen, at worst rabid. I’ve had countless voicemail messages, phone calls, texts and email alerts pleading for me to say something – anything – about my experience. It’s a bit like the hovering rookie waiter at the Harvester, asking if you’re enjoying your meal… after every mouthful. I’ve filled in an online questionnaire now, saying how wonderful the experience was. The correspondence has stopped.
Worryingly, I may be back soon as something odd is happening when I plug my iPhone USB lead in to power it up. Listening to DAB radio, it slows broadcasts down. As a result, James Naughtie on the Today programme sounds like he’s had a couple of snifters-worth of Bruichladdich before coming on air or Gordon Brown after two packs of Gitanes. And I can’t tell you what it does to Sandi Toskvig…
By Stephen Worthy
Month 9 running a Citroen C4 Grand Picasso: taking the pee out of its AdBlue urea exhaust treatment
It’s a phrase I never thought I’d be using at my age, but I’ve had terrible urea problems lately. It’s so bad that I’ve had to go and see someone about it – Robinsons, the Citroën main dealer in Peterborough.
It’s not me suffering, you see, but the C4 Grand Picasso. It began with a legend on the display saying that I needed my urea topping up. A week later the warning turned red (always a bad sign), eventually counting me down to impending carmageddon with a threat that the car would not start in 500… 400… 300 miles time.
I got a D at Chemistry so I won’t get all Open University on you here, but a urea solution – given the more palatable sobriquet ‘AdBlue’ – is added to selected diesel engines in order to lower exhaust emissions. It rather outfoxed Robinsons, initially because they didn’t have any in stock when I dropped by and secondly because top-ups are usually required at 20,000 miles, whereas I’d only reached 16k. Apparently, high-milers burn the additive more quickly.
After my second visit inside two days, AdBlue levels are back to normal, although I’ll probably be back in six months. Frustratingly, AdBlue comes in 10-litre bottles whereas the tank holds 17 litres, so we weren’t brimmed.
And there’s me betting Ben Pulman that I wouldn’t use the line ‘Citroën takes the piss’. Looks like I owe him a fiver.
By Stephen Worthy
Month 8 running a Citroen C4 Picasso: don't buy the auto
Albert, the septuagenarian Liverpudlian who owns the Hotel Migjorn in Mallorca where we holidayed this summer, may be a former hippy who once ran a bar in Franco-era Palma, but he doesn’t half love his cars. He borrowed one of John Lennon’s Rollers for his wedding and showed me a pea-green E-type that a fellow ex-pat is having restored nearby.
So, one can only imagine Albert’s disappointment with the hire car that I drove through his hotel gates. Still, at least the C4 Picasso gave me a week-long opportunity to compare specs with the porkier Grand version I drive at home.
The headlines from my fag-packet notes decided that the panoramic sunroof (which our hire car lacked) is a must, as is the electric tailgate (burdened as I was, daily, with pushchairs, buckets & spades, parasols and sundry children) although it was the auto ’box (my Grand is manual) that received most of my ire. Its jerky gearchanges had me bunny-hopping like a teen on their first driving lesson, while the US-style column-mounted controls wound me up at a time when I was trying to wind down. Virtually every time I selected reverse, I activated the wipers.
As comely as its interior is, the Picasso still has the power to infuriate.
By Stephen Worthy
Month 7 running a Citroen C4 Grand Picasso: holiday time!
In a rare display of automotive professionalism, I feel well qualified to comment on the merits of today’s people carriers. We recently sold our Volvo V70 – bye-bye Blue Blancmange – and having scrutinised every MPV on the market, are about to become owners of a shiny new Seat Alhambra.
The Seat has a lot going for it, as we know, having run one a while back. It’s intelligently configured, spacious, exceptionally well equipped and very good value. But for me, the clincher over its rivals are its sliding rear doors. Today’s parking bays are so ridiculously narrow that conventionally hinged large rear doors are impossible to fully open, making entry and egress a difficult, expletive-inducing and paint-scraping event. But were it not for its doors, the Citroën would have edged out the Seat.
So the chance to swap my Caterham – not quite ideal for pan-European family travel – for Stephen Worthy’s C4 Grand Picasso for a fortnight was one I grabbed. It would not only swallow all we needed for our fortnight on Ile De Re, but would also sanity check my Seat-buying decision.
You see, I’ve never been a big Citroën fan. Yes, I know all about the Traction Avant, 2CV and DS. But when I started in this game, Citroën was churning out dross like the ZX, Xsara and the C3 Pluriel – possible the most ill-conceived car I’ve ever driven, BMW X6, Porsche Panamera and Dodge Nitro included. Fortunately someone at Saint-Ouen saw sense, and the recent crop of chevron-badged cars has certainly swung the design pendulum away from dull towards desirable.
And like the Cactus and DS5, our C4 certainly is an interesting thing to look at. It’s distinctively ‘new’ Citroën, this car – it strikes the perfect balance between engaging quirkiness and family-friendly practicality. It’s curvy, challenging and unorthodox. The very opposite of the Alhambra, then, which looks like a box on wheels from all angles. The cavernous cabin is equally innovative – stacked screen, button-free centre console, receding hairline windscreen and not a straight line in sight. It’s so Frenchly chic, it even has its own perfume…
To the C4 we bolted our Thule roofbox and our superb new Thule Euroclassic bike rack. Mounted on the car’s towbar, this ingenious bit of engineering holds four bicycles in a rock-solid grip and comes with its own number plate and lightboard. But its cleverest feature enables you to tilt back the entire rack for access to the boot with bikes in place.
Our trip got off to the best possible start – a relaxing cruise across a millpond Channel on Brittany Ferries’ 27,500 tonne Finnish-built ferry Normandie. They may be the briny equivalent of budget airliners, but the size and capacity of these ships always impresses. With 2000 people and 650 vehicles on board, the Normandie slipped us smoothly across to Caen in just over six hours.
Unsurprisingly, the C4 Picasso felt very much at home in France. Its languid and laid-back character was perfectly attuned to our what’s-the-rush holiday attitude. It wafted us down to the west coast in style and comfort, while we enjoyed the panoramic visibility offered by the large glasshouse, the chunky iPod-fed sound system, the squidgy back-rub chairs and the decent pace of the refined and hushed diesel engine.
But things weren’t all parfait from the driver’s seat. Body control was very relaxed, making the car feel pretty loose and baggy, while at the same time it constantly fidgeted and jittered over road imperfections. The steering is very light and devoid of feel, and the gearlever feels horribly disconnected from the actual physical process of moving and meshing cogs. I found having to repeatedly jab at the slow-witted touchscreen to change basic settings for the climate, audio and the like pretty frustrating. And I didn’t like the way it binged and bonged at me for the slightest driving infraction.
Rather oddly, the C4’s rather impressive overall economy, given its Thule-laden status, was significantly better driving back to France than it was leaving England – 37.0mpg on the way out versus 43.7mpg on the return leg. This despite following roughly the same route at similar speeds.
So, were just over 1000 miles enough to convince me that I’d opted for the better car? Oui. The big Picasso has plenty of character and is extraordinarily good to gaze at, but the flipside is that it’s very ordinary to drive.
By Ben Whitworth
Month 6 running a Citroen C4 Picasso: premium or not too premium, that is the question
‘You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone,’ sang Joni Mitchell. She’s right – I’m missing my big red family conveyance. While Ben Whitworth has been off with my C4 Picasso, avec bike rack, recreating the Tour de France – hopefully minus blood boosting and broken bones – I’ve been sampling a test-car pot pourri.
While the C4’s interior tilts at being premium, it doesn’t beat the real thing. I’ve found that out driving the CLS wagon for a couple of nights; the ivory and cream leather makes the C4 feel puritan. Conversely, I found that the low-slung Merc’s drive suffers from too much lateral agitation. The Citroën is cosseting in comparison.
I’ve also revisited my Lexus IS300h from a few months back; it’s reminded me that interior refinement isn’t the preserve of the Germans although, like the Citroën, it has an infuriating media interface. While the C4 is too minimal, the Lexus is ultra finicky.
Our Pic even played support car on a recent Lamborghini shoot for CAR magazine (see below). I think it's best we don't compare these three cars, though. Chalk and cheese, and that...
And then there was Ben Whitworth's Caterham Seven. Have two cars ever been further apart in spirit? Probably not - they're at opposite ends of the four-wheeled spectrum and it's impossible for the Pic to feel anything other than barge-like after a blast in the Seven. But then, every car on our fleet suffers the same fate after sampling the life-affirming sports car.
But what’s got me really pining for my seven-seat pantechnicon is its space and adaptability. We’ve suffered too many family trips in cramped conditions, and why did I choose now to embark on a slash and burn fest in the garden? For the family’s sanity, the Picasso can’t return soon enough.
By Stephen Worthy
Month 5 running a Citroen C4 Grand Picasso: practicality assessed on a Cornish holiday
As a swap of the Grand P for Ben Whitworth’s Seven looms larger, I’m beginning to twitch like Herbert Lom in the Pink Panther movies. As a recent run to Cornwall proved, you don’t have to do much thinking with a car packing this much interior space. Ach! I was going to do a car boot sale with my sister next weekend. Pfft! I’ve got to marmalise that laurel tree in the back garden and run it down the dump. Gah! We’ve got a cinema trip with our son and the Loom Band Weavers Society (Mill Hill under-fives branch), er, looming.
I even stored a tub of ice cream in one of those cool cubby holes beneath the passenger’s feet (do you know anyone else who’s done that?). I can fit a mug stand, a couple of twigs and one small person in the Caterham. Not all at once either.
Now that I’ve racked up 10,000 miles in the C4 it’s begun to loosen up, the 2.0-litre diesel responding to my gentler approach, while I’ve stopped worrying about French Fries being rammed where they shouldn’t.
I’ve even taken to relaxing by lowering the seat back and gazing up at the sky through the panoramic roof. But I don’t use the massage seats. I don’t expect a full-on shiatsu, but it’s like being worked on by Tom Thumb.
By Stephen Worthy
Month 4 running a Citroen C4 Picasso: averaging 50mpg
The other day my five-year-old said the Grand Picasso was ‘fat’. That’s as maybe, but it’s hardly big-boned. For example, which one of these CAR long-termers do you think’s eaten the fewest pies? Audi RS6, Merc CLS Shooting Brake, Lexus IS300h, BMW 420d, or my C4 Grand Pic.
Hmmm? Well, kerbweights for the above are in descending order, with the RS6 topping the scales at 1935kg. The C4 is a relative bantamweight at 1430kg. There’s only one reason why I’ve been stumbling along at around 41mpg the past three months – that damned right foot of mine. In a transformation of Damascene proportions I’ve enforced a 75mph limit on myself on the 800-mile total commute I do each week. Result? My last three tanks have averaged 50mpg. I haven’t been that excited about a save since Jim Montgomery in the 1973 Cup Final.
Yet all this thrift could soon be under threat – the world’s most perfectly turned-out man is looming on the horizon brandishing something hefty and metallic. His name is Ben Whitworth and he’s anointed the Grand Picasso as the recipient of his new Thule four-bike rack, which he is having fitted for a family holiday. So I’ll be saying goodbye to both the Citroën for a month – and, surely, my new-found frugality.
By Stephen Worthy
Month 3 running a Citroen C4 Grand Picasso: the clutter-free dashboard
In a car likely to spend its existence rammed to its high-sided gunnels with the flotsam and jetsam of family life – baby-changing bags, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, discarded pretzels, kids themselves – the Grand Picasso’s decluttered dashboard is very welcome. At least visually.
Problems arise when you use it. It’s a given that you’re going to have to adjust the temperature, change channels, navigate somewhere, all while on the move. But it’s all so flat, flat, flat – no contours to guide you as you fix your eyes on the road ahead. If you’re used to the dial-based controls of BMW or Mercedes, there’s far too much stretching out and fiddling to be done around the screen. Navigating your phone book to make a call takes the manual dexterity of a silversmith. I’ve given up how many times I’ve had to apologise for calling someone in error. Sorry Phil Taylor, darts legend (it’s a long story).
More seriously, given the catalogue of safety equipment the C4 is loaded with, I’ve managed to engage the parking brake at motorway speed on several occasions. It’s in close proximity to the storage unit which houses your iPod/phone – and both brake and latch have a similar horizontal configuration and proportions.
One day, sudden braking will unleash a nunchukka-wielding amphibious reptile towards the back of my bonce…
By Stephen Worthy
Month 2 running a Citroen C4 Grand Picasso: the practical test
Just enjoyed a weekend with the family at a Very Expensive Hotel in Surrey. In the car park we counted 17 Range/Land Rovers of various persuasions (94.1% were black); seven Cayennes (black paintjob hit rate: 100%); three Bentley Continentals (have a guess); a 911 GTS cabrio (white, annoyingly) and a Ferrari FF (red).
You wouldn’t believe me if I said the Grand Picasso stood out alongside this stellar line-up but, despite costing a third of their mean price, it more than punches above it weight. Those front-end good looks, highlighted by the slant-eyed bi-xenons, lead the charge from the outside but its real strength is its cavernous interior.
With the third row of seats disengaged the boot extends to 2181 litres. You don’t pack the Grand Picasso so much as tip luggage and pushchairs in, like filling a skip. We’re heading to Cornwall next, which will require the deployment of every receptacle on offer and the subjecting of it to that most rigorous of testers – my wife. If it doesn’t allow her quick, comfortable access to the second row of seats when the youngest is having a meltdown, while I’m negotiating the outside lane of the M4, I’ll never hear the end of it…
By Stephen Worthy
Month 1 running a Citroen Grand Picasso: an introduction to CAR magazine's long-term test car
Picasso. isn’t it still the strangest choice of name for a range of MPVs? It’s 15 years since the Xsara became the first Citroën to use that particular nomenclature. Never mind that Pablo’s estate gave their consent, it still begs the question ‘why?’, even today. Considering the manufacturer’s provenance, why not the Citroën Matisse? Or the Monet? Cezanne? Renoir? Nope, they chose an iconoclastic Spaniard famous for contorted faces, misshapen surfaces and harsh, angular lines.
With the new Citroen C4 Grand Picasso, it seems a very odd association indeed. In an office straw poll – without the straws – we think it’s the best-looking seven-seater since the S-Max. And remember how Ford’s sporty load-lugger was first received? Even Olivier at the National would have blushed at such glowing notices.
When the Grand Picasso turned up everything seemed in the right place. Our 2.0-litre Exclusive+ HDi 150 model should pack enough poke to keep me interested on my 150-mile-a-day commute and still keep me the happy side of 45mpg but, more pertinently, the dials hadn’t melted into the dashboard, the steering wheel wasn’t in the boot and there were the requisite four 18in ‘Python’ wheels on each corner. As far as 1705kg of metal, plastic and rubber go, it’s a handsome devil. The slim, furrowed daytime running lights and smart nose have something of the Evoque about them, while inside – chunky, button-festooned steering wheel apart – it feels premium and minimalist.
There are some lovely little details setting it apart from rivals such as the Toyota Verso or Vauxhall Zafira, especially the three-degree slant on the dashboard, running from the steering column towards central sat-nav screen. After the dreek interior world of my previous two long-termers – A-class and IS300h – it’s great to have a full-length panoramic roof too. With two five-and-unders to keep interested on the long summer car journeys ahead, it’s perfect for a spot of aeroplane/stargazing. For those up front there’s also the ability to pull the retractable sun visors further back in order to increase the natural light. If it wasn’t for the tinted windows this would be goldfish-bowl motoring.
Citroën’s envelope-pushing extends to the controls. Besides an on/off switch for the ‘infotainment’ system (effectively a ‘mute’ switch), there’s not a knob or switch in sight, bar the hazards. I’m still to be convinced about the form-over-function equation here, especially when it comes to regulating cabin temperature. Let’s see how we feel four months into the British summer.
As for speccing, we’re one step away from top whack. The only thing that could make our Exclusive+ HDi 150 more expensive before we start adding things is if we opted for an auto rather than manual gearbox. The base price of £26,855 is £1400 more than plain ol’ Exclusive trim and for that your extras include those Python alloys, park assist and rear and front parking sensors, active seatbelt safety (which has already scooped some flesh out of my shoulder when I was deemed too close to the vehicle in front), massage seat (or rumbly bums, as it’s known in our house), panoramic sunroof and blind, a passenger footrest, and a dashboard air freshener. Seemingly everything… except, inexplicably, electrically-powered and heated seats. To get this I would need to upgrade my leather/cloth seats to full Nappa leather affairs, at a £2000 premium. Instead we’ve spent that amount (give or take a tenner) on metallic paint (£520), xenons (£750), Serenity Pack – comprising a Lane Departure System and intelligent beam headlights (£300) – and are trying out Park Assist (£450). That gives us a Grand (Picasso) total of £28,875.
You couldn’t even buy a millimetre of Picasso’s masterpiece Les Demoiselles d’Avignon for that.
By Stephen Worthy