David Motton

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Read our review as our expert reveals what tow car potential the Citroën Grand C4 Picasso has – is this the best MPV for your caravan holidays?

Overview

The Grand C4 Picasso is Citroën’s latest seven-seat MPV. Compared with its predecessor, it promises more space, better economy and lower emissions. Judging by our experience of the car at the 2014 Tow Car Awards, it’s also better to tow with. We’ve now had the chance to spend more time with the range-topping HDi 150 Exclusive+, testing it on the road and at the test track.

We’re expecting the Citroën to back up its impressive performance at the Tow Car Awards with another strong showing on familiar roads and our regular test track venue. Our wish list includes impressive economy, good performance, stability at speed and a practical cabin. Read on to find out what tow car potential this MPV truly has, according to our expert tester, David Motton.

Towing

Tow cars keep on getting lighter. Low weight benefits economy and emissions, but it’s not such good news for a caravanner looking for a suitable match for their caravan.

For a seven-seater MPV the Citroën Grand C4 Picasso is very light, with a 1505kg kerbweight (including 75kg for the driver which Citroën doesn’t include in published weights). If you follow the advice of the major caravanning clubs for towing newcomers and pull no more than 85% of kerbweight, that restricts you to a caravan weighing just 1279kg.

However, both clubs say a matching ratio of up to 100% is acceptable for an experienced tow car driver, so we hitched up the Grand C4 Picasso to a Bailey Unicorn Cadiz with a Mass in Running Order of 1344kg. That’s an 89% match.

The Citroën had no trouble at all towing the Bailey. At motorway speeds it felt solid and composed, and even when the wind picked up the Grand C4 Picasso was unfazed.

Sometimes cars that feel fine at high speeds are less secure in an emergency manoeuvre. However, when we pushed the Citroën in a slalom test there were no nervous moments. It’s a tall vehicle and the suspension allows a fair amount of lean, but the car never felt sloppy or out of its depth. It gripped strongly and went where the driver pointed it with little interference from the caravan.

So, stability is impressive. And the Citroën backs that up with determined acceleration. The HDi 150 engine is the most powerful option in the range, with 150PS (148bhp in old money) and 273lb ft of torque. Even with gear ratios chosen for economy rather than punchy performance, the Citroën accelerates from 30-60mph in 13 seconds. However, accelerating from 50-60mph in fifth takes a steady 15.7 seconds – a sign of how tall the gearing is.

In reality, it’s not a big issue. Sometimes you need to change down two gears when you’d expect one to be enough, but the diesel engine has plenty of mid-range muscle so, once the correct ratio has been selected, it pulls strongly.

When the time comes to stop rather than go, the brakes are reassuring. An emergency stop from 30mph with the Bailey in tow needed just 10.7m. That’s an impressively short stopping distance on a damp track.

The Citroën Grand C4 Picasso is fitted with an electronic parking brake. Some drivers hate these electronic brakes, but we found that the C4's easily held the outfit still on a 1-in-10 slope. The brake releases automatically once first gear has been selected and the clutch raised to the biting point, but we found that the outfit would roll backwards momentarily unless we were quick to apply enough revs. Attempting the same slope in reverse, we felt some vibration through the driver's seat.

This aside, there’s very little to take issue with in terms of towing ability. However, it’s worth noting that the braked towing limit of 1700kg isn’t quite as generous as it seems. Load the car to its Gross Vehicle Weight (the most it is permitted to weigh when loaded) and the towing limit effectively falls to 1400kg. That’s something to keep in mind if you are an experienced driver considering the Citroën as a tug for a relatively heavy van. The 70kg noseweight limit is also on the low side for a car of this size.

Provided you can stay within these limits, though, the C4 is a very capable tow car.

Everyday driving

Without a caravan behind it, the Grand C4 Picasso shifts along with real purpose, making the most of the 273lb ft of torque. As long as you keep above 1500rpm, there’s plenty of power for solo driving. The engine is reasonably refined, too, staying in the background unless worked hard. Road noise is more likely to disturb the peace as it echoes around the big cabin.

The old Grand C4 Picasso put comfort above control, but today’s car has a much firmer ride. It keeps body movements in check on country roads, but does make the car less cossetting at low speeds. It’s a compromise that we’re happy to make for the car’s much-improved towing manners, however.

The steering is reasonably direct and very light, making the car easy to manoeuvre. Keen drivers are likely to prefer the weightier feel and greater feedback that the Ford S-Max’s steering provides. The notchy feel to the Citroën’s six-speed gearbox also takes the edge off any B-road fun you might like to have on your caravan holidays.

It’s a capable solo drive, but not an especially exciting one. The Grand C4 Picasso’s strengths lie elsewhere.

Space

It may not be fun to drive in a conventional sense, but this Citroën is a very pleasant car to travel in thanks to a cabin that combines style and practicality – and space.

As soon as you get behind the wheel of the Grand C4 Picasso you appreciate how good forward visibility is because of the slim front pillars. Combine a large glass area with the panoramic roof, and the cabin feels bright even on a dull day.

The dashboard is striking. Citroën has slashed the button count by grouping most controls onto a touchscreen display. It takes a little getting used to, and means that simple tasks such as adjusting the air-con temperature take a bit longer than with simple rotary controls. However, there’s no denying that it gives a clean and elegant look to the cabin.

Those travelling in the second row of seats have plenty of head and legroom, and three individual seats. The cabin is wide enough for adults to sit side-by-side without feeling too snug.

As with most seven-seat MPVs, anyone in the third row has drawn the short straw, but these seats are fine for occasional use and short trips. Sliding the second row forward frees up more space if those in the middle have some kneeroom to spare. Getting to the rearmost seats is easy enough because the outer second row seats slide and tilt forwards to move well out of the way.

Those in seats six and seven shouldn’t feel hot and bothered on a summer’s day, though, thanks to airline-style vents above their heads. Passengers in the second row have vents in the door pillars to keep them cool.

With all seven seats upright there’s not a lot of boot space, but as a five-seater the Citroën’s capacity is a generous 632 litres even with the middle row set all the way back – that puts some estate cars to shame. With all of the seats folded, the floor isn’t completely flat; but it’s not far off, and there’s a massive 2181 litres of space available.

Thanks to its roomy cabin, airy feel and flexible seating, the Citroën Grand C4 Picasso is an excellent MPV.

Running costs

With a price-tag the wrong side of £27,000, the range-topping Exclusive+ isn’t cheap, although What Car?’s Target Price team reckon that £24,625 is a realistic transaction price. You also get plenty of toys: the panoramic roof, dual-zone air conditioning, reversing camera, sat-nav and 8GB hard drive for music are all standard on the Exclusive+.

Safety equipment is also comprehensive. Although the Grand C4 Picasso hasn’t been tested by Euro NCAP, the five-seat C4 Picasso is very similar and has achieved five stars. And running costs should be low, as the official combined figure of 70.6mpg is impressive, and we achieved 30.6mpg when towing.

After three years and 36,000 miles you can expect to get back around 40% of the purchase price, according to What Car?. That compares with 44% for the equivalent Ford S-Max.

Technical specs

Engine size1997 cc
Kerbweight1505 kg
85% KW1279 kg
Towball limit70 kg
Maximum towing limit1700 kg
Power148.0 bhp
Torque273.0 lb ft
Official MPG70.6 mpg
CO2105 g/km
30-60mph13 seconds
30-0mph10.7 m

Verdict

The Grand C4 Picasso is one of Citroën’s best cars in many years. If it is judged purely as an MPV, you’ll struggle to buy better. There are many clever touches in the cabin, such as the extra rear-view mirror for keeping an eye on the kids and the underfloor storage beneath the feet of the second-row passengers.

Citroën also gets the basics right, with lots of space for those in seats one to five and adequate room for passengers in seats six and seven. Keep the rearmost row for occasional use and there’s acres of storage space for bags, plus with the second row folded you’ll find more luggage room than in most estate cars.

As a solo drive, the Grand C4 Picasso handles reasonably and rides well enough. It doesn’t entertain the driver like a Ford S-Max, but that’s hardly the be-all and end-all with an MPV.

Hitch up a caravan, and the Citroën really comes into its own. The firm suspension may not do the low-speed ride any favours, but it means that the Grand C4 Picasso takes a resolute attitude to towing duties. At a steady 60mph the Citroën feels unflappable, and in an emergency manouevre the car refuses to let the caravan take charge. The biggest black mark is the confusing towing limit, but provided you have no intention of towing more than 1400kg that needn’t put you off.

It’s not a cheap car to buy, but you could choose the less costly Exclusive trim and still enjoy the same towing ability. 

Overall, the Grand C4 Picasso is a very practical family tow car, a great companion for your caravan holidays.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Extra rear-view mirror and underfloor storage are handy touches
  • There's an impressive amount of boot space
  • It is a strong, unflappable, secure tow car

Cons

  • Check the price of the trim level before buying
  • The towing limit is a bit confusing
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