Citroen Xsara Picasso 1.6 HDi Desire (2004)
Our Rating

3/5

Citroen Xsara Picasso 1.6 HDi Desire (2004)

One of the pioneers of the compact MPV sector starting to show its age.

In the early days of this magazine, one of the cars which attracted the most reader interest was the Citroen Picasso. It did not create the mini-MPV class - the Megane Scenic did that - but where Renault led, Citroen very effectively followed. Public enthusiasm was very high for a practical and stylish people-carrier which felt more or less like a normal car on the road.

The game has moved on. Honda has entered the class, as have Mazda and Vauxhall and (not before time) Ford, among others. There has been a brand new Scenic, too, based on the latest-generation Megane. But the Picasso, though benefiting from some cosmetic work for the 2004 model year, is still at heart a soon-to-be-replaced Xsara.

It no longer feels quite as clever as it once did, though that's mainly because the practicality of its younger rivals is more immediately obvious. Most of them have an array of cubby holes and storage compartments within sight of the driver's seat. The Picasso hides its oddments space in dark corners, though there is certainly a lot of it.

My own favourite is the quite sizeable compartment underneath each of the rear passenger footwells, and I'm sure the Second Opinion of this car will mention at least one other. It did feel strange, however, to buy supplies at a service station, climb into the Picasso and not immediately find anywhere to put them.

That would be less of a problem to an owner, who would know where all the hidey-holes were, and could also make good use of the enormous amount of space which opens up when the rear seats are tucked away.

Driving the Picasso is made easier by the excellent view. In particular, nobody has yet made a better job than Citroen of allowing a good view at junctions with the areas of glass behind the windscreen pillars and in front of the doors. Properly sized glass, too - not like the peculiarly shaped portholes which feature in some rival cars and still leave large blind spots.

On the move, though, the Picasso is beginning to feel like yesterday's news. The ride is okay, but the handling is a bit uncertain by current standards. Yes, of course a body which is high relative to its length and width will tend to move around quite a lot on it suspension; even so, other manufacturers have since made a better job of quelling the symptoms. In the early days of the Picasso one of its plus points was the fact that it felt remarkably like a car to drive. Nowadays it feels closer to a van.

Despite all that, in one respect the Picasso as tested here feels bang up-to-date. It uses the new 1.6-litre turbo diesel engine with a maximum of 108bhp (the 110 figure in the car's name is the equivalent in metric PS units). Not long ago that would have been considered an impressive figure for a 1.6 petrol unit, and even now it would imply a certain sturdiness. For a diesel it is remarkable. I had to keep checking that it really was a 1.6, because in country motoring I couldn't quite convince myself that it was so small.

The torque figure tells the story. In normal circumstances the engine will produce an impressive 177lb/ft down at 1750rpm, and a quick blast of turbo overboost raises that still further to 191lb/ft whenever you need it, for example when an overtaking manoeuvre has to be sorted out quickly.

According to the results of the official economy test it should be possible to get around 60 miles from a gallon of juice on a long run, though it's worth pointing out that at no point in that process would the overboost facility kick in (see our fuel economy testing feature, and in particular the remarks about maximum acceleration).

Likewise, the usefully low CO2 figure of 131g/km doesn't necessarily translate into real-world conditions, but in terms of taxation the official number is all that matters. And if driven more gently than it was when I had it this Picasso should be able to go a long way between fill-ups.

The car still looks good, it's still practical, it still has its place, and it remains a tempting choice in its class. All the same, I'm looking forward to seeing what Citroen comes up with when it gets round to replacing this model with something fresher.

Second opinion: As far as stowage spaces are concerned, since I'm forced to start with them, I appreciated the pull-out tray under the driver's seat and the fact that the centrally mounted instrument pod allows for what amount to picnic "shelves" at each end of the fascia. And the Picasso has enough legroom in the back for the aircraft-style trays behind the front seats not to get in the way of the rear-seat passengers' bony knees, which isn't the case with all the Citroen's rivals. Quite cute that this car has a detachable stowage area too - at least, there's that fold-out "shopping trolley" in place on the offside of the luggage area, although it could do equally well to cart wet swimming gear back from the beach. On the move - well, that's an excellent engine. No question. Better than the gearchange, which can be clonky if you use too much follow-through, although the console-mounted gearlever is handily placed. The £500 option of a full-length glass sunroof is enjoyable in summer, although not at high road speeds. Ross Finlay.

Engine
1560 cc, 4 cylinders
Power
110bhp @4000 rpm
Torque
177ib/ft @1750 rpm
Transmission
5 speed manual
Fuel/CO2
57.6mpg / 131 g/km
Acceleration
0-62mph: 10.8sec
Top speed
110 mph
Price
From £16664.00 approx
Release date
19/02/2004

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