THUMPING BAD RIDE
Citroën’s new C4 Picasso fails to get into gear, according to Neil Lyndon
Horrid, horrid, horrid. The Countess of Wessex’s pulverising judgment on Cherie Blair came to mind every time Citroën’s new C4 Picasso changed gear. The automated manual ETG6 gearbox on the version I was driving at the recent launch felt like a drunk at a party who is constantly lurching into your back and spilling your drink. Every time it shifts a cog, the car delivers another thump between your shoulder blades. It’s an extraordinary shortcoming and, arguably, also one of the C4 Picasso’s most unique characteristics. Like most mass-produced cars these days, this compact MPV is an individually- designed carcass encasing a mass of components that come from other companies and are common to many other brands. Citroën doesn’t just share parts with Peugeot – the other company in the PSA conglomerate – but is also in partnership with Ford and BMW over engine development, with Fiat to make vans and with Toyota in a sheaf of joint developments. Almost all the secondary, digital apparatus in this car – from the satnav with its 12in high-definition screen to the enginemanagement system – will have been commissioned or bought in from a specialist manufacturer. The world is not short of makers of excellent automatic gearboxes. Couldn’t Citroën simply have gone out and bought one off the shelf for the C4 Picasso? Lord knows they have knocked themselves out on other components. Priced from £17,500, this car teems with innovative gadgetry. The 7in touchpad for the 12in screen features seven touch-sensitive controls and contains so many functions in its MultiCity portal that mastering them all might take half a day’s intensive study. As with Volvo’s latest information systems, Citroën seems to intend the C4 Picasso to function like a mobile iPad as much as it is meant to transport you from place to place. Other nonautomotive comparisons also apply. The more expensive versions of this car offer a lounge pack like a businessclass airline seat which includes massage pads and an electrically extendable leg-rest for the front-seat passenger. Like Ford’s C-Max and Kia’s Carens – the most stylish and appealing choices in the MPV field – the C4 Picasso has been designed to look more like a hatchback than a van. Instead of the inverted Christmas pudding which the original 1999 Citroën Picasso most resembled, Frédéric Soubirou has crafted a shape that looks more like a box with rounded ends. The rear is so rounded that it allows a few millimetres more space in the load area. Cleverly, Soubirou has compressed the outward dimensions of the C4 Picasso, compared with its immediate predecessor, while making more room for passengers and luggage inside than any other compact MPV. More than five square metres of glass, Price (as tested): £27,775 Power: 115bhp 0-60mph: 12.3sec Top speed: 117mph Average fuel consumption (claimed): 70.6mpg CO2 emissions: 105g/km Insurance group: 18E Star rating (out of five stars): Kia Carens Price: £17,895£23,895 For: nifty looks, seven-year warranty Against: not electrifying to drive Rating: Ford C-Max Price: £17,350£23,925 For: good to drive Against: tight for space inside Rating: including a panoramic windscreen and a glass sunroof make the C4 Picasso feel like a conservatory, while also providing excellent allround vision for the driver. It is built on PSA’s new EMP2 platform which will form the basis for more than 20 models to come from the group, including Peugeot’s forthcoming 308. Given the persistence of a nasty suspension thump in the C4 Picasso, I’m not certain that this new platform marks much of an improvement compared with, say, the Peugeot 5008 MPV which I have been keeping very happily at home as our family bus. Where PSA have achieved a marked improvement (as our experience with the 5008 has so far confirmed) is in the reliability of their products. Citroëns and Peugeots have inched up the charts in impartial surveys of customer satisfaction and Which? recently named the Citroën C1 the most reliable supermini (which might not surprise anybody who understands that the C1 is effectively a Toyota). Given such progress, Citroën really ought to do better than the C4 Picasso’s three-year manufacturer’s warranty (compared with Kia’s sevenyear warranty on the Carens). “Absolutely horrid,” as the countess concluded in her remarks on another subject.