Is the smallest Picasso a work of art, or cubism gone too far?
In the space of a decade, Citroën’s Picasso MPV range has gone up from one model to nearly a dozen. Within that range, the C3 Picasso is one of the French company’s earliest steps into blending ‘cool and quirky’ with ‘practical’.
Size-wise, it’s close to the class average, but the idea behind the cube styling was to achieve a class-leading space package. It’s also produced one of the most distinctive looking cars on the road, irrespective of class. If you want to attract attention, almost all of it positive, you won’t go far wrong in a C3 Picasso.
You can pick from a range of five engines, three of them petrol – 1.2, 1.4 and 1.6 – with a couple of 1.6-litre diesel alternatives, but there are no auto gearbox options.
Getting inside might remind you of getting into a cable car. Lots of glass and slim pillars give you superb visibility. Add the near full-length panoramic sunroof to your Platinum model and you’ll have around 4.5 metres of glazing, which is more like a small greenhouse than a car.
Rear head and leg room are both outstanding, while the boot is not just big but also well proportioned with a moveable floor to maximise either visible or underfloor space.
If you want airline tables in the back or a fully folding front passenger seat, you’ll need the top-spec Platinum model, which also includes automatic wipers and lights, dual-zone climate control, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, 17-inch alloy wheels and a panoramic sunroof. But even in lesser models you get a one-touch sliding, reclining, and flat-folding rear bench along with front foglights, lots of chrome trim, 16-inch alloy wheels, roof bars, aircon, cruise, all-round electric windows, rear parking sensors and Bluetooth connectivity. The sat-nav option is clunky, expensive and not recommendable.
Citroën has also put in a lot of effort on improving quality. The interior materials don’t just look good, they pass the feel test too, which is unusual at this price point.
There’s still some work to do on long-journey comfort though. You can’t get the steering wheel as low as you’d like, there’s a noticeable offset to the pedals and not enough rearward seat travel. Our preference on information is for it to be presented in front of the driver, but the C3’s central display works pretty well.
Any compact MPV carrying a fair bit of weight around behind a bluff frontage will struggle to deliver brisk performance, and that’s the case with the Picasso. Even the quickest 1.6 VTi only just scrapes into the 10-second 0-60mph bracket while the BlueHDI diesel takes 13.5 seconds for that. You need to plan your entries into traffic flow with some care.
Once you’re moving, though, the 99bhp diesel’s fair midrange torque keeps you humming along at a reasonable rate as long as you’re prepared to work the well-positioned but rather imprecise manual five-speed gearshift. The more powerful diesel gives welcome additional squirt with little penalty at the pumps. The turbo 1.2 petrol is sprightly and willing and our pick of the range.
There is evidence to suggest that buyers of cars like the C3 Picasso aren’t interested in fast driving, but it’s still a pity that there isn’t much here to reward an enthusiastic driver. The steering is direct and predictable but lacking in feel and the swaying of the body during spirited driving is made worse by the absence of support from the seats. Still, the ride is good courtesy of the simple but compliant suspension, as long as you don’t spoil things by specifying bigger alloy wheels.
In terms of cost, list prices are average for the class but big discounts are a tradition at Citroën dealerships. Don’t expect great residual values when you come to sell it though. The 43.4mpg we got from our 99bhp 1.6-litre diesel is also on point for this type of car and gives a very good 477 mile range. Overall however the 1.2 petrol will probably work out cheaper unless you plan on doing big mileages, and it’s a sweeter engine too.
In the C3 Picasso, Citroën has correctly identified customers’ needs in this class. Space, practicality, manoeuvrability in towns and materials quality are all very good. Feelgood styling and remarkable visibility have been added to the mix, along with keen post-discount pricing, but driver engagement isn’t part of the proposition. That’s a fair tradeoff in this market, but you might not be quite so forgiving about the uncomfortable driving position if you don’t quite fit the physical profile required to make it work.
If you like the C3’s blend of looks and practicality, you’d not look twice at many of its rivals – up to and including Citroën’s own five-seat C4 Picasso.