David Motton

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Practical Caravan's tow car experts review the top of the range, diesel, 138bhp Citroën Grand C4 Picasso – how does it fare in this tough test?

Overview

MPVs are like comfortable shoes: sensible but dull. If Citroën is to be believed, it doesn't have to be that way. Like stilettos designed for hiking, the C4 Grand Picasso promises style and substance, function and flair. To see if it lives up to the hype, we've put it through our in-depth tow car test.

Towing

We've reviewed the top-of-the-range diesel C4 Grand Picasso, which has 138bhp. Torque is the more important measure of muscle when towing, and this Citroën musters 199lb ft. That's not an especially impressive figure – Volkswagen's 2.0-litre TDI Touran offers an extra 37lb ft, for example.

But while it's outgunned on paper, the Grand Picasso never felt under-powered when towing our 2006 Lunar Quasar 524 caravan, an 80% match (although the towing limit is a modest 1500kg). Stability at speed was impressive, too.

But – and it's a big but – our car came with the six-speed EGS semi-automatic gearbox. This does away with the clutch pedal and gearstick in favour of paddles behind the steering wheel.

This makes low-speed manoeuvres painfully difficult – you can't slip the clutch as you might while slowly reversing to hitch up. This wouldn't be such an issue if you could choose a conventional manual in its place, but the 2.0-litre diesel engine is only available with EGS.

Everyday driving

The gearbox takes some getting used to when driving solo, too, although it's not as much of an issue as it is while towing. In manual mode, changes are smooth once you've learnt to lift off the throttle for each shift. Still, the automatic mode is disappointingly jerky.

Gear changes might not be very comfortable, but the ride is. It neatly absorbs bumps without being too soft for twisting country roads.

Compared with the Kia Sedona we tested previously, the steering is well weighted and precise. Keen drivers, however, will be happier behind the wheel of a Ford S-Max.

All-round visibility – especially to the front – is excellent, thanks to slim front pillars. It's a real boon when joining roundabouts, and also contributes to the light and airy feel inside.

Space

There's no arguing with the Citroën's cabin. It's a brilliant mix of style and practicality.

Of the seven seats, the front five are comfortable for adults. The rear two are for children or missed-the-last-bus home use only. All seven passengers can feel safe, though, thanks to a five-star performance in Euro NCAP crash tests.

There may be bigger MPVs, but few are as easy to convert from minibus to removal van and back again. The five rearmost seats slide, tilt and fold away into the floor with a minimum of hassle.

It might not be the most important consideration, but the cabin looks great, too. The central instrument display, the chrome highlights and the steering wheel's fixed hub add to the sense that this is not any old box on wheels.

Running costs

Citroën has been known in recent years for its value-for-money pricing and big discounts. Which is why it's something of a shock to discover that the 2.0 HDi Exclusive costs £21,700.

To be fair, you get lots of kit for the money, including climate control, a CD/MP3 player and alloy wheels. It also features adjustable rear suspension, which can be lowered to save your back when loading and unloading.

After three years on the road, our sister magazine What Car? predicts the Grand Picasso will be worth 41% of the original list price. That's respectable, albeit 3% less than a top-spec Ford S-Max.

The Grand Picasso looks much better value if you opt for the 1.6-litre diesel. It generates just 22lb ft of torque less than the 2.0-litre diesel, comes with a conventional manual gearbox rather than a fussy semi-auto, and is priced from £16,495.

Technical specs

Engine size1997 cc
Kerbweight1620 kg
Maximum towing limit1500 kg
Power138.0 bhp
Torque199.0 lb ft
Official MPG46.3 mpg
CO2159 g/km

Verdict

The Citroën C4 Grand Picasso is a cracking MPV. It does all the things an MPV should, but with a sense of flair which few people movers can carry off.

However, the top-spec diesel is pricey, and that gearbox is irritating at slow speeds. When hitching up, we found ourselves reversing towards our caravan in a series of jolts, no matter how gently we pressed on the throttle. You'd be better to go for the 1.6-litre manual version – it will save you money and hassle.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Good bump absorption
  • The cabin is handsome and practical
  • It was stable at speed when towing

Cons

  • The semi-automatic gearbox hurts its towing abilities
  • It's quite expensive
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