Citroen C3 Picasso 1.6 HDi 110
by David Finlay (1 June 2009)
Not many years ago it was safe to say that Citroen was at its best when designing and building small cars, but nowadays I don't think that such a claim could withstand close scrutiny. My personal favourite Citroen of the moment is the C5, which is decidedly large, and I have a warm regard for the even bigger C6. But I wouldn't be inclined to argue with anyone who reckoned that the French manufacturer's most recently-launched model, the C3 Picasso, is the best of all.
And this is not a small car either. Yes, it's based on the C3 hatchback, which is, but with all the seats in place it has a load capacity of 500 litres, and as we've said before that's not far off the amount of space on offer in a similarly-configured Ford Mondeo estate (though it should be pointed out that such an impressive volume relies largely on the Picasso's considerable height).
Fold down the rear seats and the capacity more than trebles to 1506 litres. But that's not all, because in the case of the range-topping Exclusive tested here you can also fold the front passenger seat to create yet more space and carry items 2.4 metres long.
There are other storage areas too, of course, but just before you get the idea that the C3 Picasso is a miracle of packaging I have to say that there is a suitably eccentric Citroen-like quirk to the whole business. The size of the glovebox lid might easily lead you to assume that some kind of cavern lies behind it, but in fact most of that space is dominated by fuses, and when I tried to put a chequebook in there I had to fold it in half to make it fit.
That's a strange oversight - I imagine the designers saying to themselves, "Well, there is already enough space in this car, so pah! Let us not bother offering more here" - and it has a counterpart elsewhere in the car. Forward visibility, as in the C4 Picasso, is superb thanks to the brilliant design of the glass area ahead of the doors (no other manufacturer beats Citroen for ingenuity here) but look behind you and you'll see that the rear view is substantially blocked by enormous C pillars. Other than for reasons of eccentricity or cussedness, why should this be?
One more comment about space: Citroen likes to say that this car will carry five passengers, and there are certainly five seats, but the one in the middle of the back row is very narrow and hardly suitable for adults. I would also have been raised to a higher level of serenity if the driver's seat had an extra inch or two of rearward travel, but then I am quite unnecessarily tall: there's no doubt that the Picasso will seat four six-foot adults without any trouble.
The Exclusive version is the best-equipped in the C3 Picasso range, and also comes with the greatest number of optional extras. It's available with the full range of engines (90bhp 1.4 petrol, 120bhp 1.6 petrol plus a 1.6 HDi turbo diesel in 90bhp or - as here - 110bhp forms) and although the 1.6 petrol gives the best straightline performance I felt the diesel was quite quick enough; it will sort out urgent overtaking manoeuvres quite adequately, and to be honest stirring acceleration is hardly going to be high on the priority list of a C3 Picasso buyer.
With this engine you get ESP as standard, but on other Exclusives and all VTR+ models it's a £350 option, and it's not available at all on the entry-level VT. In view of the safety benefits of ESP (Euro NCAP for one regards it as a vital contributor to safety) this seems short-sighted, but it's clearly part of Citroen policy - the VT doesn't get curtain airbags as standard either.
The most surprising thing about the C3 Picasso is how well it behaves on the road. It quite definitely isn't a sporty car, but it handles nicely enough (though the high centre of gravity is a limiting factor) and the ride is really quite something.
Again this is an area in which Citroen sometimes performs wonders and at other times seems as if it can't be bothered, but the test car - and indeed all the other C3 Picassos I've driven - soaks up all kinds of unpleasantness brilliantly.
I still prefer the C5, but the C3 Picasso is generally an admirable car, and one I would have no objection to owning if I needed a compact MPV in my life.