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Citroen C3 Picasso 1.4 VTi VTR+

Click to view picture gallery“Practicality and packaging are the
  core features of the new Citroen C3
  Picasso small to medium sized five-
  door, five-seat MPV. And with prices
  ranging from 11,495 to 15,595, it
  affordable too

THERE WAS A TIME when if we referred to a family car as being 'boxy' it was regarded as a criticism. Today everything has changed: compact, boxy, fuel- and space-efficient, multi-use vehicles are what today's car users should be driving — apparently.

Traditionally MPVs are conservatively-styled people carrying vehicles but Citroen, with their C4 Picasso and Grand Picasso, and Ford with the sporty S-Max, have broken off the shackles of efficient but dull offerings.

The new Citroen C3 Picasso compact MPV priced from 11,495 cannot be classed as sporty although the tall exterior five-door 'spacebox' design is cute and the five-seat interior is clever and versatile. It needs to be because it's pitched into a crowded and competitive market where it will have to compete against the likes of the Skoda Roomster, Nissan Note, Kia Soul, Fiat Qubo, Ford Fusion, Vauxhall Meriva as well as, perhaps, the Honda Jazz and other small to medium sized MPVs from Citroen and Peugeot.

A little larger (about five-inches) than the benchmark Ford Fiesta 'supermini', the Citroen newcomer is a shade over 4.0-metres long, 1.73-metres wide and 1.62-metres high with a cabin length of 1.66-metres — the longest in the emerging compact MPV segment.

Load space with all five seats in use is a decent 500 litres. Fold down the 60:40 split rear seats and that increases to 1,506 litres. On Exclusive models the front passenger seat backrest can be folded into a completely flat position, thereby extending the load carrying length to 2.4-metres. Handy.

The rear bench seats also slide back and forth on runners, so users can make the best of the space. While the legroom is very good the width is cramped for three adults. However, thanks to the relatively high headroom, all seating positions are high up in the car so views to the outside are excellent. And the raised seats also allow easier access for less mobile passengers.

A brilliant — and practical — styling feature is the wraparound windscreen. The front A-pillars, which these days can sometimes cause huge blind spots, are positioned to the side of the car so the visibility is first class and the cabin overall has a light and airy feel.

“The handling
characteristics for a tall
box-on-wheels are
trustworthy rather than
Another worthy interior design feature is the elongated box-shaped instrument binnacle which sits on top of the dashboard with the digital readouts backlit via a translucent panel. Clever stuff so that everybody in the car can easily read the speed, mileage, fuel consumption and time. Neither is the interior quality as low-rent as seen in some Citroens in the past; the plastics are good quality and nicely textured. The steering column adjusts for height and reach; so, large or small, tall or short, the driver will find the C3 Picasso fits like the proverbial glove.

The only negative points for me were the lack of room in the driver's footwell for my left foot and, secondly, the lower facia (which accommodates the gearlever) which didn't allow for much left leg room. On the subject of gearlever, or rather gear-change, all models have a five-speed manual gearbox but all the engines would benefit from a six-speed unit to lower engine noise at cruising speeds and further improve fuel economy. The gear-change itself is also wide-spaced and offers slow gear selection.

Ride comfort is very good with a compliant suspension set-up, and the handling characteristics for a tall box-on-wheels are trustworthy rather than dynamic. All in all, it's very competent on the road.

As for specification: the C3 offers value for money at a competitive price. The entry-level VT model features generous standard equipment including an MP3-compatible CD player with steering wheel-mounted controls, electrically-adjustable door mirrors, front electric windows and a trip computer.

At the heart of the range, the VTR+ trim gains smart 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, cruise control with speed limiter as well as additional airbags, a child surveillance mirror and three retractable rear head restraints.

The range-topping Exclusive model offers premium levels of design and comfort with additional kit such as dual-zone automatic air conditioning, rear parking sensors, automatic rain-sensitive windscreen wipers, a completely flat-folding front passenger seat, ski flap, dark tinted windows and smart leather and chrome touches throughout the interior.

Buyers can personalise their C3 Picasso with a choice of eight body colours and four upholstery options to suit their individual style requirements. There is also a choice of smart alloy wheels — cool-looking 16-inch 'Blade' wheels are available on both VTR+ and Exclusive models, whilst the dynamic looking black-painted 17-inch 'Clover' wheels are a tempting option with the Exclusive trim.

The C3 Picasso is fitted with low-rolling resistance Michelin tyres which help improve fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions. These are standard on 15-inch wheels fitted to VT models and 16-inch wheels on VTR+ and Exclusive models.

A major disappointment is that for a family car only the top specification Exclusive version has Electronic Control Stability as standard — it is a 350 option for all other models. Not having ESP as standard now means only a 4-star Euro NCAP safety rating.

As for the choice of engines; nothing new as all are well-known. The likely best-selling, price-led 1.4-litre VTi 95bhp petrol unit with 99lb ft of torque is a bit on the 'weedy' side when it comes to acceleration — hills quickly cause it to run out of steam. Officially, the top speed is 111mph and the average fuel economy 41.5mpg, but my test car only achieved 30.6mpg. CO2 emissions are 157g/km so road tax is now 150 a year.

A better choice is the 1.6-litre 90bhp HDI diesel unit. With 161lb ft of torque it is much more flexible to drive at low speeds and offers better acceleration response. Officially, this unit will return around 60mpg; my test car achieved 53.2mpg and with CO2 emissions of 125g/km the road tax is 120 a year. This diesel engine costs 1,100 more than the 1.4-litre petrol unit but for me this is the best choice of engine as far as driveability goes.

Next up the pecking order is the 1.6-litre, 120hp petrol unit and if petrol is your preferred fuel then this is the better option because it is better to drive under all conditions than the under-powered 1.4-litre engine. Top speed is 117mph and 0-62mph takes 10.9 seconds. Officially, this unit will return 40.9mpg and my test car came close, returning 38.1mpg. That's nearly 8mpg better than the hard-worked 1.4-litre petrol engine, and CO2 emissions are 159g/km so the 150 road tax is the same.

Finally there's the 1.6-litre 110bhp, 177lb ft diesel unit. While this does offer more performance and more torque, it pushes up the purchase price even further so it will be the least popular C3. The official fuel economy is 57.6mpg and the test car returned 49.5mpg. The CO2 emissions are 130g/km so road tax is 120 a year — the same as the 90bhp diesel unit. It costs 800 more but that includes ESP as standard. This 110bhp engine, incidentally, is only available with the range-topping Exclusive specification.

Downsides? The biggest complaint is the lack of standard-fit ESP on all models except the very top of the range. Other no-nos include the weedy performance from the 1.4-litre petrol engine and the slow manual gearshift.

What's it got going for it? Well, cute styling, the wraparound windscreen design and great visibility, a comfortable ride and versatile passenger/load carrying combinations. And, as a sweetener for cost-conscious buyers, Citroen is introducing the C3 Picasso with their optional 3-years/35,000-mile Servicing Pack for only 150. — David Miles

Citroen C3 Picasso 1.4 VTi VTR+
| 12,595
Maximum speed: 111mph | 0-62mph: 12.2 seconds | Overall test MPG: 30.6mpg
Power: 95bhp | Torque: 99lb ft | CO2 157g/km | Insurance group 4E