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Click to view picture gallery“A New Year —
  the perfect time for a
  new ‘motor’.
  Especially a new
  7-seater Citroën C4
  Picasso, which comes
  with a whole host of
  unique and innovative
  class firsts...”

ONE IN TEN NEW CARS sold in 2006 was a multi-purpose vehicle (or people carrier). In fact, the MPV sector was one of only three new car segments in which new car sales grew in 2006.

Travel anywhere — at home or abroad in Europe — and you see MPVs wherever you look. And not just being used by large families. Whether you are an active twosome who needs a spacious vehicle or a larger family, the modern day MPVs in their 'compact medium' and large sizes fit the bill for a growing number of drivers.

On sale in the UK from 15 January, 2007, the new C4 Picasso is the latest player in Citroën's MPV line-up — and Citroën are now of one of the biggest players in the UK MPV market. The C4 Picasso seven-seaters join the five-seat Xsara Picasso Compact MPV, the Berlingo Multispace Budget MPV and the C8 full-size MPV. Later in 2007, Citroën will also be introducing a five-seat version of the C4 Picasso.

The new C4 Picasso seven-seat range starts at a bargain 14,995 for the 1.8i petrol seven-seater, topping out at 21,695 for the 2.0HDi with Citroën's fuel saving electronic manual/auto transmission. The main seller overall is likely to be the 17,995 1.6 HDI SX with the electronic transmission. We already know that Citroën are the 'price champions' and that their dealers are only too willing to do a deal,
so expect to get a discount on those prices. Ensuring you're off to a good start, Citroën are launching the new range with a very welcome zero per cent, 3-year finance package.

The new C4 Picasso line-up is powered by a choice of four engines: 127bhp 1.8i 16V and 143bhp 2.0i 16V petrol units, and 110bhp 1.6 HDi (as tested here) and 138bhp 2.0 HDi diesel powerplants. Both diesel engines are fitted with Diesel Particulate Filter Systems while CO2 emissions are as low as 150g/km. Fuel economy for all four versions is impressive, with the 1.6 HDi capable of easily returning some 50mpg
on the combined cycle.

Depending on model, buyers can select either a 5-speed manual trans-mission or Citroën's advanced new 6-speed electronic gearbox system. With a choice of manually operated paddle-shifts or an automatic mode, this hi-tech system offers the twin benefits of ease-of-use and lower fuel consumption.

As its name suggests, the C4 Picasso uses the same platform as the C4 medium-sized hatchback and coupe models. The manufacturer
may claim the C4 Picasso to be a Compact MPV and so be competing against the likes of the best-selling Vauxhall Zafira or revised Ford C-Max in the sector, but the Citroën newcomer is actually much bigger. At 4,590mm in overall length it is only marginally smaller than the large Citroën C8 MPV, but it has much more versatile and flexible interior seating and load carrying combinations.

With its egg-shaped profile, the newcomer accommodates seven pas-sengers within three rows of seats. But where it scores over the C8 is that the rear and middle rows of seats fold (in various combinations) away into the floor to give a truly flat floor to the load area. The vehicle can this be used in this load-lugging configuration — or with any combination of left- and right-hand seating — but still with a long flat area to carry items such as skis. Another welcome bonus is that these seats can also be operated by just one finger — they really are that easy to fold up or down.

Reinforcing its versatile nature, the C4 Picasso offers the largest boot space in the class when in the most common five-seat configuration, with an available 576 litres beneath the luggage cover. And this can be extended to a massive 1,951 litres if you care to fold away the second row of seats, too.

To stow everyday paraphernalia there are a number of useful cubby-holes dotted around the interior, which can include a 5.4-litre 'coolbox' in the centre of the dashboard, underfloor storage space in the boot and two illuminated dash-top compartments.

Access to the middle and rear row of seats, incidentally, is via side-hinged doors — not the electric sliding kind used for the C8 MPV.

Space and light are just two areas where the C4 Picasso excels. Citroën says it has the biggest windscreen which, in turn, forms part
of the largest glazed area. The least-cluttered dashboard design is complemented by the most innovative use of lighting sources; the simplest folding rear seating system contributes to the largest boot volume; and there are class-leading levels of elbowroom and the best all-round visibility. furthermore, for added reassurance the C4 Picasso has recorded the highest Euro NCAP score for adult occupant protection. That's a whole lot of Brownie points!

In addition, the new C4 Picasso brings to market a host of unique and innovative class firsts — a parking space measurement system, Hill Start Assist, air quality sensor and scented air freshener, Lane Depar-ture Warning System, self-levelling suspension and paddle-shift gear-change all make their debuts in the range — although some of these features are not available on all models.

On the inside, the most immediately striking feature is the deliberately uncluttered look and feel in the front, achieved by removing the hand-brake and, on most models, the gear lever. Don't panic — these are replaced by a dash-mounted automatic electric parking brake and a paddle-shift gearchange and mode selector stalk, sited behind the steering wheel.

This modern design approach helps create a clear, fluid and simple dashboard layout. Many of the usual buttons that litter other MPVs are cleverly incorporated into the C4 Picasso's innovative fixed 'centred controls' steering wheel — that, initially, can be confusing to use.

Separate individual controls for the vents and air conditioning are con-veniently located at either end of the dash, so as not to clutter the centre of the facia. Key driver information is communicated via a centrally-located multi-function screen that can be customised to offer a choice of colour settings. The attention to detail in where controls are placed, the number of controls and functions available and the design of such items as the extending windscreen visors is very impressive and well thought out. I have a few reservations about the durability of some of the fixtures and fittings but time will tell as to how they stand up to long-term use.

The huge expanse of glass creates a light, bright and attractive environment for all on board. The wide-angle panoramic windscreen rises up and over the heads of the front seat occupants, providing a field of vision that is double that of a standard MPV. However, the facia panel is quite high and the front bonnet declines sharply, so even with this large windscreen it's not that easy to judge parking distances at the front. The larger C8 has a much lower facia and you can see
the bonnet which makes, I think, for better vision for the driver.

Light — both natural and artificial — plays a key role in the relationship between the occupants and the vehicle. Depending on the model, there are up to 32 different light sources on-board, ranging from the innovative use of subtle strip-lighting in the doors, headlining and dash to the door bins that are automatically illuminated when a hand is placed inside them, plus a boot light that doubles as a hand-held torch. There are also welcome lights in the door mirrors that bathe the ground with light when one approaches the vehicle in the dark.

The impressive list of equipment offered on most models includes
front and rear parking sensors, cruise control and speed limiter, a high quality hi-fi system developed with Philips and a NaviDrive colour SatNav system with built-in telephone and voice recognition facility.

In another class first, top-of-the-range models are fitted with self-levelling pneumatic rear suspension. By maintaining a constant ride height regardless of load, this system benefits both handling and safety. It also allows the height of the rear sill to be raised or lowered independently for easier loading.

The self-levelling suspension will be appreciated by users who tow car-avans, boats, jet skis or trailers, and I think the 138bhp/199lb ft 2.0 HDi turbodiesel model with this set-up will prove to be an excellent tow vehicle — especially as it includes a hill-start function. The downside is the maximum towing weight: it's only 880kg.

However, my test model was the 1.6 HDi with the electronic 6-speed gearbox which is really a manual gearbox without a clutch pedal and only costs an extra 500 — less than half the price of a conventional automatic transmission. It can be used in manual Tiptronic form or
you can simply leave it to do its own thing in Auto mode. Once you get used to its performance, it works very well. Price of this vehicle in VTR+ trim level is 18,695, but you will get a deal once the vehicle has been on sale for a few months.

I thought that with such a large vehicle — particularly one loaded with kit as well as seven seats — the overall weight of the C4 Picasso
would take its toll on the performance provided by the four-cylinder, 1.6-litre direct injection turbodiesel engine. Not so. The 110bhp and 177lb ft of torque available from only 1,750rpm makes it a responsive performer with a top speed of 112mph and 0-62mph acceleration in 13.4 seconds.

Official fuel economy figures say 49.6mpg and my test car returned a very impressive 47.4mpg. Citroën's electronic transmission must play
a big part in providing this level of performance and fuel economy for such a large and heavy vehicle. And it is just what real-world customers want.

The C4 Picasso's suspension, clearly set on the soft side for comfort, does allow significant body roll during cornering. Road grip negotiating bends is, however, very good. The rear beam axle and suspension layout does not absorb impacts as well as it could, and the rear wheels seem prone to following the 'tramlines' created by heavy traffic in our modern day roads. I did find that the more weight I had in the vehicle, the better it handled. The steering is a little too light and vague at cruising speeds and gives very little feedback to the driver. Passengers will love it; drivers will find it less rewarding.

Against? To recap: only time will tell how well the interior fixtures and fittings cope with the rigours of family life and it can be difficult to
see the bonnet for judging parking distances. The ride can also be un-settled and I would prefer more steering feedback at cruising speeds.

In all other respects — class-leading design; versatile, easy to use seating; value-for-money specification; space and light; well thought out and comprehensive equipment; safety rating; smooth and fuel efficient engine/transmission and price — the C4 Picasso is a very impressive newcomer to the 2007 new vehicle market.
David Miles

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Citroën C4 Picasso 1.6 HDi 110 VTR+ 7-seater | 18,695
Maximum speed: 112mph | 0-62mph: 13.4 seconds
Overall test MPG: 47.4mpg | Power: 110bhp | Torque: 177lb ft

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