If you’ve spent the last few years pushing ever-increasing numbers of your off-spring out into the world, by now you’ll have probably reached the point where the family hatchback just doesn’t cut it anymore. Perhaps you’ve even recently found yourself ogling the neighbour’s Transit as the solution to your problems.
The thing is, you needn’t resort to buying something that shares much of its styling with the cardboard box your flat-screen telly came in, and for that we can thank the company that gave us that weird pumpy-uppy suspension and a car that looked like a snail.
Citroen has always been known for giving us something a little more left-field, and the Grand C4 Picasso – the company’s offering in the seven-seat MPV market – continues that tradition.
There’s no mistaking who makes the Grand C4, the company’s double-chevron logo stretching across the front of the car and incorporating a pair of attractively slim running lights.
Added design flair arrives in the form of a pair of roof rails that sweep down and around the rear windows, while the rear lights feature a funky 3D-effect that mesmerises following drivers.
The C4’s wheel-at-each-corner stance comes largely as a result of a new light-weight platform, and pushing the wheels further out also allows for a spacious interior.
Even before you climb aboard, the Picasso’s interior feels bright and open, much of that feeling coming from the panoramic windscreen with twin sliding sun blinds and the large glass sunroof.
Practical touches are everywhere, such as the vast central storage bin, the chilled glovebox, and a bonus little hidey-hole in the centre stack where you’ll find charging and USB ports. The door bins are of a decent size and they’re even illuminated at night, while an additional rear-view mirror means you can now legitimately claim to your kids that you have eyes in the back of your head.
The dashboard layout is reassuringly wacky for a Citroen and many of the materials wear interesting finishes, some of which are pleasingly soft and squidgy. The dials reside in a large central display that allows all your passengers to see exactly how naughty Daddy is being with his licence, and while their location can take a little getting used to, if you don’t like the design, there are several others to choose from.
Most of the car’s functions are presided over by a touch-screen mounted just below this, and by jabbing at the screen you can control the climate, audio, navigation and other systems. It works well for the most part, but we’d have liked dedicated temperature controls to avoid having to navigate through a series of screens.
The front seats offer more adjustability than you could ever need – our top-spec Exclusive+ test car also providing heating and massage functions plus an extendible leg-rest – with our one small criticism being that the head restraints are a touch too chunky.
Rear seat passengers have it all their own way, though. There’s acres of room for heads, knees and feet, plus aircraft-style drop-down tray tables that even incorporate a little light for night-time doodling. You’d be hard pressed to find space like this even in Business Class.
There’s still plenty of seat origami on offer, with seat bases that flip up allowing the seats to slide forward for access to the third row, seats that slide independently to create cargo space at the expense of legroom, and seat backs that recline for greater comfort on longer journeys.
The boot has 632 litres of space on offer, rising to 793 litres with the seats slid forward. If you’re carrying stuff not people, dropping all the seats creates a massive 2,181 litre cargo bay that rivals a few vans, but if even that isn’t enough, the front passenger seat folds forward so loads up to 2.75m in length can be accommodated.
As you’d expect, there are more clever touches back here, such as the interior light that’s also a rechargeable torch, the seat belts that clip out of the way magnetically, and even a set of reading lights and ventilation controls for those in the back row.
It’s difficult to know what more anyone could need in terms of practicality. In fact, our only mild criticism is that the power tailgate can’t be closed from the key fob – instead you have to prod the button on the tailgate and then make a run for it before it closes on your head.
The Grand C4 Picasso is available with a choice of two petrol and three diesel engines. The petrols are both respectable performers – the THP 155 squashing your children against the back window for 9.2 seconds during the 0-62mph sprint – but it’s the diesel models that are likely to be the most popular.
The entry-level e-HDi 90 engine might sound like the poor relation in comparison to the rest of the range, but its 74 mpg economy and 98 g/km emissions figures make it seriously compelling. That’s right, folks – a seven-seat MPV that doesn’t pay road tax.
The BlueHDi 150 unit in our test car allows you to kick arse and take names all the way to 130mph, yet still it records 67 mpg on the combined cycle and emits just 110 g/km.
It’s pretty punchy through the gears – enough to surprise a few boy racers away from the lights – and while we couldn’t match the government’s economy figure, we had little trouble maintaining an average in the low 50s.
It’s the only engine available with the option of a conventional automatic – the e-HDi units can be mated to Citroen’s ETG six-speed clutchless manual – although we tested the car with the conventional six-speed manual. The ratios are well-chosen and the shift action is fine, although there’s an occasional reluctance through the gate that can sometimes slow you down. That aside, we’d say this engine and gearbox combination is probably the sweet-spot for the range.
Admittedly there’s not much feel through wheel, but the steering responds cleanly and predictably, and the C4 has been endowed with a usefully tight turning circle, making low-speed manoeuvring a doddle.
For such a big car, body-roll is very well controlled. Of course, it’s not likely to be confused with a sports car, but there’s no pitching or lurching about; just a gentle tipping onto its springs as you round a corner.
It rides well, too, no doubt helped by its new-found longer wheelbase, although we did notice a few occasions where it crashed over drain covers.
For a long journey, with a child in every seat, there can be few more relaxing conveyances to choose from. The Ford S-Max likely offers a touch more for the driver, but the C4 makes up for it with relaxation and goodies.
One of which is the adaptive cruise control, which does an admirable job of maintaining a set distance from the car in front on a motorway, even if slower-moving traffic dawdles out in front of you, and as a handy extra it allows the driver to set one of six pre-determined speeds from the touch-screen. It is a little heavy-footed, though, and you can feel it making constant small adjustments to your speed, but we found it very useful.
In fact, ‘useful’ is probably the most appropriate word to sum-up the Grand C4. It’s incredibly spacious, exceedingly well thought-out, drives far better than is strictly necessary for a seven-seat MPV, and doesn’t require a complete style bypass.
Granted, it won’t set your pants on fire with excitement, but neither will it smash up your piggy bank, with prices starting at £19,205 and our fully-loaded tick-as-many-options-as-you-can test car coming in at £28,875.
So, buy a box on wheels if you want to. But the smart money buys the Citroen.
|Entry-level Price||£19,205||Price as tested||£28,875|
|Engine||4-cyl turbodiesel, 1997cc||Transmission||Six-speed manual|
|Power||150hp @ 4,000rpm||Torque||370Nm @ 2,000rpm|
|0-62||9.8 secs||Top speed||130 mph|
|Economy||65.7 mpg||CO2||113 g/km|
|Dimensions||4597 x 1826 x 1656 (LWH)||Kerb Weight||1430 kg|