Thinking inside the box

28 Mar 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Thinking inside the box
Citroen C3

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First Drive | England | Citroen C3 Picasso |

The ‘Picasso’ cognomen bestowed upon the new C3 provides an interesting, if slightly obvious, torch with which to scrutinise Citroen’s new people carrier: its two box ‘form follows function’ exterior is arguably a million miles away from the great man’s abstract artistic style; yet it’s interior is pure cubism.

Which is to say it’s a mess of shapes and textures in there, that some will perceive a just that – a big mess, and an ergonomically detrimental one at that – but others will laud it for its individuality and style. Which side of the fence you fall on will depend on how you feel about things like asymmetrical, centrally mounted digital display encasements (if it’s possible to have feelings on such things). But either way, one thing is immediately apparent with the C3 Picasso: it’s different.

In the Metal

Where rivals like the Nissan Note and Renault Modus try to use creases and off camber silhouettes to hide excess bulk, the C3 is the more like a late ’90s Sophie Dahl about its bulk – it screams it loud and proud, using overt chunkiness as its aesthetic USP. Thankfully, it works: the Picasso is possibly the only people carrier that you might buy purely because of the way it looks (objections on a postcard, please). A happy by product of that is, of course, a mass of interior space.

Obviously it’s based on the C3 platform, though – albeit a slightly stretched one – so there’s not business class level of legroom in the back. The boot floor is of a useful area, if a little skinny, and the split rear bench folds down easily, making this a seriously versatile piece of MPV. Most impressive, however, is the Sistine Chapel of a roofline (in terms of its height, not its decoration).

You could probably build a second floor for another row of seats in there.

However, we have two major gripes with the Picasso. Firstly, this is a family car, right? And in my experience, kids have a Womble-like hoarding ability.

Why, then, has Citroen failed to give this thing any decent storage space in the cabin? The glove box is the worst offender: to look at its barn door of an aperture you’d think it was the size of a dishwasher, but open it and it’s more like a teacup. There’s no storage bin in the centre console, either, and if the little box on top of the dash is good for a couple of biros, where will your notepad go?

The other thing is that some of the really useful family oriented stuff – like illuminated tables on the front seat backs, rear sun blinds, a boot light that doubles as a torch, a boot net, and much needed under floor storage row two – is reserved for the top-level Exclusive model.

Quality isn’t bad though – about on par with (and built using much of the same stuff as) a Citroen C4. There’s some obvious Peugeot switchgear in there too, if that sort of thing bothers or interests you.

What you get for your Money

Space. Wonderfully cheap, structurally dubious space. We’ve already gone into our misgivings about the interior layout and lack of space to accumulate rubbish in (although put like that, maybe it’s a good thing?).

But you can’t complain about the people space on offer in this thing, especially when you can get into one for Ј11,495. Granted, that will buy you a 1.4 petrol VT, which is a little underpowered and underequipped, but it still has the same funky features and commodious cabin as the better specced diesel versions.

They all get ABS, electronic stability, ISOfix, child locks, all the airbags a family buyer will want and an initially slightly frightening feature that makes the hazards go a bit mad if you slam the brakes on. Nice touch though.

For all it’s cheapness as an entry point, the VT is best avoided because it makes do with bargain basement stuff like black door handles, plastic wheel trims and no air conditioning – so you’re best off with a VTR+ in terms of price/equipment balance. That gets alloys and air con and a few other useful touches like a little mirror to watch the kids punching each other with. Exclusive’s where it’s at if you want to unlock the Picasso’s full people carrying potential, but that starts at Ј13,695 for a 1.4-litre, which isn’t bank-breaking, but of course it’s taking things out of properly cheap territory.

Driving it

It’s like driving any other recent small Citroen, which is to say it’s bland and detached, but compensates for that with a modicum of ride comfort, blighted significantly by a shocking driving position. Much like the C4, the C3 Picasso suffers from a cramped foot well with pedals set too high and no clutch footrest, while the steering wheel is angled like a bus’s, so you end up with this bizarre ‘arms outstretched, legs folded’ driving position.

The gear change is classic Citroen/Peugeot, too. Even on our box fresh (pardon the pun) test cars, every one had about four inches of left-to-right travel in the stick in any gear. Unbelievable sloppiness, really.

That sad, as it’s not too bad to drive because, unlike the C4-based MPVs; Citroen has got the ride just about right with this one. It still wallows about a bit, of course, but it has nowhere near the annoying tendency to lurch backwards and forwards, left and right that its bigger brothers do. It deals with potholes and things actually very well, taking the majority of the brunt through the damping rather than the entire body, which is nice.

The engine line-up is a familiar to Citroen already, and four-fold: two petrol units of 1.4- and 1.6-litre capacity, and two 1.6-litre turbodiesels with 89bhp or 108bhp. The petrol engines, which push out either 94bhp or 118bhp depending on capacity, are both decent: free revving, quiet unless you thrash them and adequate with only one person on board. However, this being a people carrier and all that, it’s better to derv it up because you need the extra torque to get up hills and things.

As ever, it’s the stronger of the two that’s the best bet, but the 89bhp just about manages to muster up enough torque to slug the boxy beast along adequately. It takes nearly 15 seconds to get to 62mph though, which is a bit embarrassing, isn’t it?

Worth Noting

Despite it’s packaging triumphs (not withstanding the cabin storage inadequacies), don’t be under any illusion as to the size of this thing. Sure, it has a small footprint, relative to many proper MPVs, but in the flesh it looks more like a member of the C4 family than the C3 one. As one of Citroen’s guys told us, after explaining it was on a C3 platform: they can do anything they like with platforms these days, can’t they, as he gesticulated outwards with his hands.

But as it turns out, it only looks so big because it’s tall. The wheelbase is indeed stretched, by 80mm, though it’s actually a good 15cm longer than the C3. Still, that’s still going to be easier to park than a C4, and believe is, it feels twice as big even as that despite having a smaller footprint.

Unlike many tall hatchbacks, Citroen really has made a small car feel big, rather than just look it.

Summary

We like the C3 Picasso – a lot, in fact – because it’s the type of car that Citroen should be making and it’s been executed mostly very well. Whatever you think about its design, fundamentally Citroen has achieved what so many makers fail to do and made a small car feel absolutely massive. Unfortunately, it could have been much better if the French firm had focussed less on quirkiness in the cabin and more in making it a practical family space.

It’s like a buying a house and decorating it with a load of pretty soft furnishings and wallpaper, then actually moving in and finding you have to keep all your stuff in your dad’s garage because you forgot to leave space for wardrobes. Plus, the driving position is horrible. Citroen nearly has a genuinely great family car on its hands.

Mark Nichol – 3 Apr 2009

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