The sales numbers often tell us that MPVs are not popular, but an anecdotal study of the mixture of vehicles in my area (Howick and Manukau) shows that in both high and low income areas the MPV is in fact a popular choice for many people. It’s not just the big MPVs either, as the high number of van-like Toyota Funcargos and the like testify. There’s even a surprisingly high number of the three seat, two row Honda FR-V/Edix, which I would have thought a very niche purchase. Arriving in the new MPV, or at least the small end of it, is the seven seat Citroen Grand C4 Picasso.
This one is all new, and in fact the chassis is the first example of a new platform for all manner of future PSA vehicles, from sedans to sports cars, called EMP2. One feature of the platform is its lightness – the design even extends to a boot floor made of fibreglass to save weight. The vehicle itself is 150kg than the previous model.
But you are not going to see any of that when you see the Grand C4 Picasso on the road. What you will see is a sharp edged, rather aggressively styled MPV, with a sort of two level nose, as if one car has been grafted on to another car. It’s a good look though, and hides the large one box styling of the vehicle.
Two spec levels are available, with the entry level $42,990 Seduction getting a high specification including satellite navigation system rear parking camera, 17-inch alloy wheels, and dual zone climate control. The $49,990 Intensive gains features such as an automatic parking system, 360 degree camera showing you clearance on every side of the car, and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Powering the new Picasso is the Blue HDi diesel 2.0 litre engine, which produces 110kW and 370Nm of torque. Differing powerplants are available overseas, but this, the most powerful diesel option, propels the MPV with more than enough verve. Acceleration is officially in the 10 second bracket, which means the vehicle is no slouch. Playing a large part in this is the six-speed automatic gearbox, something not often seen in small MPVs. The shifts are smooth and quick, and if you want to override the shift and manually select gears you can either use the gear lever or the paddles behind the steering wheel. In practice you don’t really need to do this, as the large amounts if torque available mean that it really doesn’t matter what gear you are in if you want acceleration.
The ride quality and noise suppression is really very good, with picked roads being filtered out before the effects reach the cabin, and travelling at the legal (or slightly higher) speed limit there’s very little noise. Corners are a different matter, with the vehicle feeling rather top heavy and clumsy.
Inside Citroen has made a very futuristic dashboard, with one digital display low in the centre, and a much wider display above that taking up almost half of the upper dashboard. The lower displays lesser functions such as air conditioning and music settings, while the upper is divided into three sections, the one closest to the driver displaying the speed through a large digital speedo, and the other two able to do things like show an rpm dial, an extra navigation display, or by combining the two left displays together, displaying pictures you can download into your car. An interesting point abut the digital displays is that if you are not a fan of big square display screens you can change everything to analogue dials if you want.
The steering wheel is surprisingly comfortable, although there are far too many function buttons on it for my liking. These include buttons to scroll through the different modes if dashboard display and can become distracting. The gear lever sprouts almost vertically out of the dashboard behind the steering wheel, and is itself a slim Art Deco stalk with no extra buttons.
The big trick with the Grand C4 Picasso though is the ability to fold all the rear seats up, or reposition them as you like. On the launch I had no time to really take a look at these, but other journos found it easy enough to manipulate the seats, especially to fold the rearmost row of seats into the floor to enlarge the boot space.
Citroen expects to shift around 100 units of the new car in its first year on sale, which seems respectable numbers. One thing’s for sure, in ten years time, when they are all used cars they will join the flanks of MPVs in my area, hopefully displacing he odd Toyota Previa or two.