Citroens C4 Grand Picasso is the only proof youll ever need that MPVs dont have to be boring; with bulging wheel-arches and Space Odyssey headlights, the Picasso would slot right into Citroens premium, design-led DS range.
But looks arent everything and a few experts suggest there isnt much in it for the driver, saying the steering is lifeless and the chassis set up for comfort rather than pin-sharp handling.
Neither should be a deal-breaker for what is, after all, a family car, so I booked one for a week, a week that took in a few long-distance journeys as well as the usual school/supermarket/Saturday football runs – in other words, a typical working week for a family oriented MPV. This is how I got on.
The Citroen is an avant-garde ride with more than a suggestion of Renaults old Avantime about it. Thats good; not every parent wants to be relegated to driving a one-box jelly mould for the 18-years-or-so of automotive purgatory that children often condemn you to. So a sharp set of clothes drape the Citroens ugly bits, a look that draws attention (of the right sort) no matter where you drive.
It seems smaller than you imagine too, an impression reinforced by the ease with which you can park the Grand Picasso. Sure, Park Assist does a fantastic job of squeezing the mighty MPV into the smallest of spaces, but this isnt a vast car that wallows and bullies its way through traffic causing consternation and anxiety in equal measure.
Citroens design team has also managed to give both a raised driving position and a low-slung, almost stanced, look to the body. Thats impressive.
The interior is vast and airy, with an enormous amount of rear-seat legroom even when the drivers seat is set for a six-foot three-inch motoring journalist. Headroom is impressive too, and the boot space can be juggled with the rear two rows of seats folded and sliding to accommodate the optimum kid/luggage ratio. There is 793-litres of boot space with five seats in use and even 165-litres with all seven occupied.
The interior isnt as avant-garde as the exterior; its Baroque in feel with a almost-clashing-but-not-quite juxtaposition of colours and textures that I found startling to begin with but soon warmed to, something the 2,000 amber/black nappa leather seats helped with.
Equipment is generous and the interface is unusually intuitive and easy to use; the aforementioned Park Assist is brilliant, as is the 360-degree camera, something Ive previously dismissed as a gimmick but which proved its worth time and time again in tight spaces.
The Exclusive+ trim of my car added just about every possible gee-gaw and accessory that any sane family will ever need: if you need a car with an integrated air freshener, an electric footrest for the front seat passenger and air-con adjustment for the rear seat passengers, the Grand Picasso has got your back.
Pulling away, the Citroen gently tugs and vibrates your seatbelts, snuggling them up and taking out the slack. This is nice; its telling you: dont worry, Ive got you. Anthropomorphic maybe but that is how you feel in the Grand Picasso, which is probably the best possible emotion it can imbue in a parent.
You wont feel excitement, though. While it handles and goes neatly enough at three-quarter pace it quickly gets flustered if you push just that little bit harder; the steering goes a bit light and stops telling you what is going on, which is a problem as the suspension has probably lost its composure at the same time.
Far better to sit back and waft, snug and secure and comfortable, for it is, like Citroens should be, very comfortable.
My car had the manual gearbox, which is a fine piece of engineering but doesnt suit the nature of the car; waft, not thrash, remember? If I were buying Id specify an automatic gearbox and enjoy the ride.
My car was fitted with a 1.6-litre diesel engine, which produces 115 bhp and 199 lb/ft of torque. Neither figure sounds especially impressive but both were more than ample in practice. Performance figures are 117 mph and 12.1 seconds to 62 mph, but were all a bit too grown-up to place much reliance on them as an indicator of how a car drives, arent we? I cruised at 80 mph+ with ease and never found the acceleration either from a standstill or while overtaking onerous or problematic.
If you regularly travel seven-up, or tow a caravan, you might want to step up to the 2.0-litre though, as most of my driving was solo or with just one or two passengers, but otherwise the smaller engine should suit you well.
The pay-off for my gentle use was a fuel consumption figure of around 45 mpg. That is way off the official figure of 70.6, but you werent actually expecting to get that in real life, were you?
Value for Money
The Grand Picasso range starts at under 20,000, rising to 30,00 for my test car. That seems like very good value to me, especially given how keen Citroen dealers are to do a deal
Depreciation is likely to be fierce though, so make sure the sums add up before you buy. Canny drivers will buy an ex-demonstrator and hang onto it for five or more years to minimise their losses.
If I had to buy a new MPV then the Citroen Grand Picasso would sorely tempt me. It is very comfortable, supremely practical, and looks terrific – and if the Ford S-Max has it beaten on driving pleasure the Citroen satisfies in a dozen different ways every single time you drive it. And that is priceless when youre doing the school run on a wet, windy Monday morning…