Citroen Grand C4 Picasso - the art of movement

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The Citroen Grand C4 Picasso goes beyond the average people-mover. Photos supplied

Bringing a breed back from the brink of extinction requires massive effort and often nothing less than wholly creative solutions will bring a positive result.

With that in mind, it seems if any vehicle can breathe genuine life into the MPV sector, the first and hardest-hit victim of the shift to SUVs, then surely the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso is it.

It's a brave attempt to divert ''conventional'' customer thought that anything with seven seats and a flexible interior design should also come with off-road ability (or at least the air of one). Diesel - also an SUV fuel of choice - features here, but four-wheel drive doesn't; when you take a Grand C4 Picasso to the beach, it's intended to be left in the car park.

The appeal that Citroen is trying to reignite is at the practical and dynamic level; it's a car that has masses of people-tuned application and also drives more tightly and with greater flair than anything on stilts.

The other breakthrough should be obvious. Much of the poor social stigma attached to MPVs is because of their humdrum styling. Of the few playground expresses still in the business here, this is the one that looks least box-like. Every one of the more outrageous elements of Citroen's new styling direction are carried proudly, which is perhaps why the importer prefers comparison beyond the people-mover category.

The debate starts here but I'm impressed; the exterior lines' embellishments work well, the shape is sleek and the interior is masterfully modern. The only obvious drawback of such a sleek front end is that you won't want to leave anything on the dash, for fear it slips down to the base of the windscreen. In which case it could well remain out of reach until the end of the car's life.

That's the only example of style squandering space; from the front seats back, it's more serious about the people-toting business. The 4.6m length makes this a medium car, but from within it feels bigger. A stretched wheelbase ensures legroom in the second-row seats; three separate seats placed side by side, with the central one detachable. It is really good and headroom is acceptable (forgo the sunroof for the best result). Third-row seating is primarily for children, but adults would be able to cope for short stints. The boot is 654 litres with the second-row seats in place and there is heaps of storage for oddments.

Just as smart as the styling is the pricing, given that it's highly specified, powered by the top version of PSA's well-regarded 2.0-litre turbo-diesel and the debutant for PSA's all-new EMP2 modular platform. All this would normally shout ''premium'', as indeed does the quality of the interior.

While occupants of all ages will probably get a kick from showing off how the seats stow and slide, there's a major brag point for technophiles in the dashboard, especially in the high-end Intensive, where the entry edition's category-familiar TFT display is dropped for a much swisher, full LCD screen with impressive digital graphics.

As well as displaying the speedo, the screen also acts as the trip computer, navigation screen and monitor for the 360-degree parking cameras. Or you can upload your own photo to act as wallpaper. Shame it won't show television movies; obviously that's not prudent on the move but would be handy for when parked. Below this screen is another, smaller touch-sensitive one for the infotainment system, again with nice graphics. Again, though, it's in keeping with a cabin with a high level of material richness.

The C4 line found international success in rallying but slip behind the wheel and you'll understand why Sebastian Loeb was never expected to smash this one down a special stage.

It's definitely not that sharp-witted, though that's not to say these underpinnings don't impress. The chassis delivers deftness along with the sort of compliance that is demanded here, so while it rides well neither does it lean too much in corners. The brakes feel assertive but the steering is a mixed bag; it's quite light, which helps when manoeuvring in town, but is also devoid of feel.

Going diesel is no hardship, though. In this relationship, it's the torque that has to speak with authority and assuredly it does. There's 370Nm available between 2000rpm and 2500rpm, which means lots of low- to mid-end hauling muscle, enough to make it a smart shifter from the line and an easy-going mover at highway pace, with the six-speed auto keeping it in the sweet spot on flats or hills, though it does tend to become clattery under load.

The BlueHDi badging is a reminder that this is the first of a new generation of turbo-diesel engines that meet future European emissions standards, particularly for CO2 and nitrogen oxides. In order to keep the exhaust clean, it uses liquid urea, added every service interval.

A tank under the rear seats holds 17 litres of the stuff, which Citroen says is good for 22,000km driving, about a year for most owners. It was strangely vague when asked about the cost of an additive that is freely available as, although new to cars, it is widely used by new trucks.


Citroen Grand C4 Picasso -  the art of movement
At a Glance
Citroen Grand C4 Picasso

Prices: Seduction $42,990, Intensive $49,990.

Engine: 1997c four-cylinder direct-injection turbo-diesel, maximum power 110kW@4000rpm, maximum torque 370Nm@2000rpm.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic.

Brakes and stability systems: Disc/drum, ABS, EBA, ESC.

Wheels, tyres: 225/45 R18.

Fuel and economy: 4.5 litres per 100km on European cycle, capacity 55 litres.

Dimensions: Length 4600mm, width 2117mm, height 1644mm.