Final report, 15 March 2010
Our six months or so with the C3 Picasso have rushed past and it's off back to Citroën HQ. I think this car has served as a good reminder for what the long-term test is all about. I'm sure plenty of you think there's a mad scramble for the Ferrari keys when the latest supercar pays a visit to CAR Towers. And you'd be right. But we all love driving the small cars, too.
Assistant editor Chris Chilton, better known for penning features on the latest Lambo-gatti, is a particular fan of the C3 Picasso. He, like me, enjoys its relaxed demeanour and surprisingly roomy cabin. Contributor Jethro Bovingdon, he of smoking tyres and driving while peering mostly through the side window, borrowed it for a weekend and came back cooing over its family credentials squeezed into a supermini footprint.
You see, the C3 Picasso has something about it. There are no new-fangled tricks. Mini-MPVs have been around for at least a decade since the first weird, tallboy Japanese boxes landed on our shores. The European Meriva, Modus and others have slid their seats and hoisted their occupants high for some time. But the Citroën does do it all in a very accomplished fashion. It's a consummate all-rounder.
I measured up our Picasso and found it had more rear-seat space than our Range Rover Sport, which is saying something. With the back bench slid back, it's a roomy space with good views out, yet the cargo room is decent too. Up front, there's plenty of space and a simple, just-enough dashboard with everything logically placed. Especially those wonderful, elevated digital dials – a real safety boon, and I loved the way they were backlit by the ambient daylight. Driving into strong sunshine? No worry. They just glow brighter. That's clever design.
The cabin wasn't perfect, mainly down to the quality of materials failing to impress. Plastics used aren't exactly cheap, just not special enough to match the build quality outside. The ruching effect on the dash was one of the worst offenders, ripped straight out of Marty McFly's 1985 pencil case.
We'll forgive the C3 Pic its cheap 'n' cheerful interior for those wonderful wraparound quarterlights. The panoramic windscreen is this car's ace card. It just lit the cabin up and almost entirely obliterated all blindspots. Effortless visibility is a subtle quality you actually benefit from every day. Brilliant.
And we did enjoy driving the C3 Picasso. Our car's 1.6 HDI engine was well suited to the car's DNA. There was sufficient punch, whispery refinement and around 44mpg – which has to be counted as disappointing for a small diesel MPV. Perhaps it needs a sixth gear, as many of our journeys were rushed airport runs and fifth is a noisy affair at 70-80mph.
The Picasso never felt like a fish out of water on faster runs. The ride is slightly bobblier at high speeds, but most of the time is pillowy soft. I loved its floaty softness on my daily cross-country commute – I just found it a very relaxing place to be, the car gently yawing and pitching thanks to its compliant suspension. Such a change from the over-sprung, over-tyred rollerskates that many press offices spec their press fleet to.
Did anything go wrong? Not really. Nothing broke, but a fuse blew on the screenwash in cold weather (a known problem, see below) and we were disappointed to pay £213 for a 12,500-mile oil change. The service at Borocars in Peterborough was first-rate though, and all the dealership staff very attentive. This isn't my first recent Citroën experience, as I adopted CAR's C6 for a few months when I first arrived. The C3 and C6 are different beasts, but share at their heart an idiosyncratic approach to motoring. It's about French style: a different take on an existing class; dynamics set to pamper not perform (hallelujah!); design installations doubling as art and functionality; and all the while with democratic prices and aspirations.
You've probably guessed, I'm a fan. We named the C3 Picasso one of our 10 cars of the year in 2009's CAR 100 feature, and I hope you can now see why. Read all our previous reports by scrolling down this page, blog-style.
By Tim Pollard
Since Last Report
Since Last report
£213 for 12,500-mile service
Roomy, clever, relaxing
The screenwash shouldn't freeze!
We've just had the C3 Picasso serviced, as it's destined to return to Planet Citroën in the coming days. Petrol C3s can stretch their garage visits to 20,000 miles, but our 1.6 HDI diesel slashes that to a rather more modest 12,500 miles.
Still, I rang around three local dealers to book the job in and each could take the car within days. All three quoted within a tenner of our local garage's quote of £205, although the dealer in Kettering hadn't heard of a C3 Picasso diesel. Huh? It didn't seem worth the extra distance to haggle, so I booked into Peterborough's Borocars.
I've been there once before when I ran CAR's Citroën C6 and the service was as friendly as I remembered it. We always mystery-shop our long-termers and don't announce ourselves as CAR Magazine. They happily dropped me off near the office at 9am and collected me again mid-afternoon when the work was done and answered all my questions in a professional manner. There's no mistaking you're in a crowded Citroën dealership, not some flash executive palace of glass and aluminium – but then swanky coffee machines delivering on-brand macchiatos simply inflate your bill, right?
My only real criticism was that price (and they forgot to stamp the service book). All-in, the C3 Picasso's 12,500-mile service came to £213.54, which seems a lot for a first year fluids top-up and oil change. The breakdown confirmed £141 of labour, £63 of parts and nearly a tenner of sundries, which all seems expensive for a year's motoring. For reference, a similarly priced Vauxhall Meriva 1.3 CDTi needs a service only after 20,000 miles and typically costs £158.
Enough said. Pricey servicing is about the only glitch on the Picasso. We're still loving the actual car and you can read our final verdict on it in the next issue of CAR, the March edition out on 17 February 2010.
By Tim Pollard
Middle of winter, dirty gritted roads mixed with snow and no washers to clean the windows. Aggghhh! Yes, the Picasso's screenwash has stopped working - providing a slight drama on my trip to LHR airport recently. Not being one for driving blind, I headed straight for the Citroen garage to get it checked out.
Apparently it's been a common problem with the latest sub-zero temperatures: it's been so cold that the bottom of the washer bottle has become frozen, despite having the correct anti-freeze mix.
The mechanics reckon that if the driver attempts to squirt the screen in the first few minutes before it's defrosted, it'll cause the fuse to blow. And that's what happened to ours. It was easily fixed - 20 minutes later, our car was fully diagnosed and a fresh fuse fitted. Their advice in future? Simply warm the car up for a few minutes giving the washer bottle a chance to thaw out. And of course up the anti-freeze content in the bottle.
Job done and panic over, I made that plane after all.
By Sarah-Jayne Harrison
The baby Citroen won’t be with us for much longer, so I asked to take it for the Christmas break, then I could try it on a couple of proper journeys and see how it fares as family transport. Reason? Well, I thought it might end up on the list of potential buys as our next car. Context-wise, it would be replacing a much-loved Ford Focus Mk1, and that means I’m looking for a practical all-rounder that’s cheap to run – and fun to drive.
I’d taken the Picasso home a few times so I knew from the occasional commute that its dynamic strength is an absorbent ride, and that it comes at the expense of puddingy handling. But I like the way it looks and it feels very well made too. Maybe it would score high in the practicality ratings.
We set off for a party with the in-laws on Boxing Day, and that meant stacking the Picasso with baby seat, pushchair, travel cot, two bags of clothes (one-year-olds don’t travel light), a pile of gifts (Gina’s from a big family) and what looked like half the Waitrose festive food department. It all fitted, just - we made the most of the split, sliding rear seat. But try stashing a couple of bottles of water, de-icer, some CDs and your glasses about the place and the C3 falls down a bit. The glovebox would struggle to be just that, although there is a handy receptacle for a spare dummy. A squirt of WD40 cured a creaking driver’s door hinge, though no amount of cajoling would reincarnate the windscreen washer. Annoying.
With an increasingly opaque screen we faced a 150-mile drive, most of it at motorway speeds. And that elicited another Picasso flaw. Out of town, it’s all at sea. The soft ride gets turbulent, and you soon realise that supple springing disguises some fairly unremarkable hardware. It pitches about and then surprises you with some big bangs and crashes over rougher surfaces - a big disappointment, especially in a Citroen. It’s noisy too, with a fair bit of road roar but worse is the engine’s droning. It actually gets better if you stray way past the legal limit, but then just watch the range gauge drop. No, this car is all about school drop-offs and shopping trips.
We hit the sales five-up – that’s four adults plus baby seat, with the pushchair in the boot, and we still had room for a few bags of bargains. Hugely impressive for a mini-MPV, and way more than you’d ever manage with a conventional supermini.
Yet the C3 Picasso won’t be replacing our Focus. We need something that can manage longer trips with ease, and I’d miss the Ford’s engaging steering and general alertness. The Picasso is an amazing achievement for something based on a supermini platform, and it’s perfect as a second car or a smart urban runaround. But sadly it’s no miracle.
By Glen Waddington
We're closing in on our first service for the C3 Picasso – which falls every two years or 12,500 miles on our 1.6 HDI. Strikes me as being quite frequent for a modern turbodiesel when some rival derv units stretch out garage visits to 20,000 miles.
Finding the service booklet unearthed a new problem in our Pic: its glovebox would struggle to hold a pair of leather mitts, let alone an A5 pamphlet. It really is risibly teeny-tiny on right-hand drive models, explaining why the manual wallet normally resides in the passenger door pocket.
And – I know I'm splitting hairs here – but the service booklet itself is extraordinarily cheap and nasty. It's a standard stapled document listing the details for every small Citroën, but it obviously predates the Picasso as they've stuffed a loose leaf of A5 paper in for its service details. I thought the loose page had fallen out, but it had never in fact been bound in the first place.
Not that the C3 Picasso feels like it needs a service. Some cars begin to feel looser, baggier once five digits hove into view on the odometer, but ours is not in that club. Our cubist mini-MPV feels really well made for a small Citroën; okay, the materials used in the cabin aren't exactly going to worry Lexus overnight (especially the strange, crinkled dash plastics), but they're perfectly decent for a supermini-MPV. And it's all really well screwed together.
And we won't be describing any mechanical faults to the dealer receptionist. There are no brake squeals, no squeaks or rattles, no glitches at all really. The 1.6 HDI just continues to perform faultlessly. Long may that continue.
By Tim Pollard
Now the chills of autumn are closing in, I’ve just noticed something unusual on my C3 Picasso long-termer. That panoramic wraparound windscreen I’ve been raving about has an unusual design flaw: in dewy morning conditions, the quarterlight doesn’t clear on its own.
Yes, yes – I know it can hardly have its own diddy windscreen wiper, but I’m clearly going to have to get used to wiping it on frosty mornings. Or I’ll face a slightly surreal blindspot (see picture attached).
By Tim Pollard
Our C3 Picasso parked up next to CAR’s newly crowned Performance Car of the Year 2009, the Lotus Evora. Chalk and cheese, really. The Pic musters 90bhp and 161lb ft and takes a leisurely 14.7 seconds to saunter to 62mph. The Evora manages a more robust 276bhp, 252lb ft and 4.9sec. It’s the best sports car we’ve driven all year.
But is there any common ground here at all? The C3 Picasso and Evora are both incredibly focused cars, niche products designed to tickle and delight a very specific group of people. And isn’t that what great design is all about? It doesn’t matter if swathes of consumers don’t like what you do – so long as another group get it 110%.
And while the Lotus entertains and communicates and bubbles with the very essence of what a performance car should be in 2009, the C3 Picasso is pretty damn clever at what it does: transporting bodies and bags in comfort and no-nonsense style. I’m fast realising it’s very good at that indeed. Maybe CAR should hold a Comfy and Sensible Small Family Car of the Year award too?
By Tim Pollard
The latest recruit to CAR’s long-term test fleet has landed: the new Citroën C3 Picasso. It’s going to be an interesting few months, as the little Pic that’s so impressed us in first drives now joins us as a daily driver.
I should declare an interest here: I’m a fan of what Citroën’s doing at present. While Peugeot has been stuck in a rut for a while (does the RCZ signal a return to interesting Pugs?) and Renault is still struggling with a schizophrenic range (brilliant hot hatches! Dull-as-ditchwater mainstream ranges…), Citroën is quietly carving out a reputation for distinctive design, building cars that drive well and selling new types of vehicles buyers actually want. Sounds like a solid business plan to me.
That’s one of the reasons we’ve got the C3 Picasso in. Our last Citroën long-termer was the oddball C6, a brilliantly bonkers car from the leftfield. You’d have to be mad to buy one with your own money, but we loved its idiosyncrasies. The C3 Picasso is reined in from the madder designer doodles, but still cuts a distinctive shape and breathes fresh life into the Meriva/Modus segment.
By Tim Pollard
With the Jaguar XF about to disappear from my driveway (*sob*), it’s time to prepare for its successor. One of the joys of this job is the sheer range of cars we get to drive – and this time I’m downsizing from an executive to a mini MPV. Citroën’s new boxy-but-bootiful C3 Picasso, to be precise.
Like its exterior dimensions, there’s a delightfully bijou range of models from which to choose. There are three engines: a 94bhp 1.4 VTi or 118bhp 1.6 VTi petrol, or the 1.6 HDI turbodiesel, in two different states of tune mustering 89bhp or 109bhp.
CAR likes to choose relevant long-termers, vehicles people actually go out and buy. So we sought advice from Citroën about which model represented the sweet spot in the range – in terms of driving dynamics, value and relevance to the greatest number of buyers. The answer? ‘Go for the mid-range 1.6 HDi 90hp VTR+ spec,’ said the company’s data gurus. It seemed like a good choice, coming in at £13,695 (the cheapest C3 Picasso starts at £11,495, the priciest £15,595).
Right. Now that decision was taken, it was a question of seeing which car we could get hold of. Funnily enough, that exact spec was the car Anthony ffrench-Constant tested in CAR Magazine’s Giant Test in our June 2009 issue. And it turned out that car was available from Citroën for an extended test, so RK09 USO is winging its way over to CAR HQ.
It’s a pretty spec, with a lustrous Mediterranean zing to its £395 optional Blue Ile Belle metallic blue paintwork. The C3 Picasso VTR+ is well equipped, so there are only two extras fitted to our car: a USB multimedia connection (£100) and ESP stability control (£350).
Once the C3 Picasso arrives, we can see if it’s as good as we remember it from our group test. It came a narrow runner-up to the Kia Soul, but I was impressed by the interior space, the comfy drive and the clever design. All core Citroën attributes, in fact.
Stay tuned for our full long-term test review over the coming months.
By Tim Pollard
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