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OK, this C4 Picasso is the first appearance of Peugeot-Citroen’s all-new platform, the hidden architecture of underbody, chassis, mechanical and electrical architecture that’ll gradually become the bones of all the French conglomerate’s next generation of mid-size and large cars. That’s hatches, coupes, estates, convertibles, saloons, crossovers and the rest. Peugeots, Citroens, DSs. Also – thanks to their co-op venture with GM – some Vauxhalls too. So millions of cars and billions of business depend on it doing the job.
What do we learn from the Picasso that can be generalised across all those? Well, for a start it’s weight-efficient. This Picasso is 140kg lighter than the old one, despite being stronger outside and bigger inside. Redesigned and rebuilt crash structures, plus a new front suspension, have moved the front wheels closer to the front bumper. This has given the style department extra freedom, and you don’t get that long-overhang Cyrano de Bergerac look any more.
The whole thing feels strong too. For a sporty car you need a rigid shell for precision in the handling. But for a comfy one you need a rigid shell for a peaceful ride. The Picasso ticks that box, gliding over most bumps with very agreeable pliancy, and generating little tyre noise or thump. You seldom feel any quivers around the body or up the steering column.
The engines are quiet too. I drove a 115bhp diesel which is barely enough in a car this big, so it needed flogging. Even under that sort of strain, it remains reasonably muffled. The turbo petrol 1.6, at 155bhp, is the more enticing as well as civilised alternative, and it’s hardly a shameful drinker.
In fact economy is a strong point, aided not just by the engines and the lighter weight but careful reduction of drag under the body. Through-body aero has had attention too, with repositioned radiators and grille blinds that close when the engine’s cool enough.
The Picasso is set up to be soft and cuddly and comfy, so the suspension rolls and heaves a fair bit when you press it in corners. Slow-witted, then, but faithful like a well-loved pet. There’s good feedback too. All this means that if the platform is re-calibrated for a livelier drive, it ought to be able to deliver.
There are some other calibration issues though. The steering is too light just off-centre, so maintaining a motorway lane takes more concentration than it should. Smooth braking is another issue, because the pedal lacks initial bite. Oh and the clutch and throttle travel don’t help when you’re trying for a swift first-to-second gearshift. Still, fixing all these things should be within the scope of the engineers working on other cars off the platform.
The C4 Picasso and the new Peugeot 308 (second car off the platform) get a control system that relies heavily on a touch-and-swipe screen for controlling the electrics. It all works well enough thanks to consistent logic and clear graphics, though it’s laggy at times. The Picasso also has a big 12-inch telly for its instruments.
Now, back to the C4 Picasso as an MPV. It leads with space and comfort, which goes well with the soft quiet way it proceeds down the road.
The requisite MPV versatility is taken care of by adjustable seats, plus a huge array of storage boxes and entertainment input/output plugs and sockets. The dome-like windscreen and deep side windows give everyone a grandstand view. This is an excellent car to be a passenger in.
On the outside, the design doesn’t pretend to be a crossover or a sporty hatchback. It’s modern and well-detailed, and most of all the design coheres with the way its character on the move. It’s comfortable in its skin. Generations of Picassos have proved that Citroen knows this formula well: it doesn’t need to be a driver’s hero to sell by the tens of thousand. Or an internet sensation.