Sunday, September 18, 2011

Test Drive - Citroen C4 Picasso 2.0HDI CMP Exclusive review

I'm living strange days in my life. After my second wheel bearing (rear right one this time) gone out, I just had to drive my S2000 (again) under 40km/h.
If you've never drove a car with a bad bearing, then let me just say that the first km is torture.... after that you tell your secrets to the car and beg him to stop... but he doesn't...a full 5 km's and you start thinking just how beautiful pillars and concrete walls are and just how attractive they seem.
It's bad, in a standard's even worse times1000 in a sports car. First because the car wasn't meant to drive slow and ultimately because it has little or none acoustic shields so you almost feel the steel grinding your bottom.
Anyway, having to endure this torture for around 2 full weeks (yup, that's it... you see Portugal is a country enduring a severe economical crisis, but still every mechanic and lathe crafts-man takes a good vacation :S no wonder we have crisis), it finally started poping and that meant stop or get ready to crash.
So I just HAD to stop. And what just happened to be waiting to be sold in the garage: the Citroen C4 Picasso.
And so the Picasso's test drive of her life happened.

First impression
It's just massive...big....big in the school bus kind of way, massive as in so damn high and soft and heavy that the clumsiness is unavoidable. Evidently, the other half of that coin is excellent comfort and versatility. Now I've tested some big things most call cars, like the but ugly Peugeot 3008, the once stupid looking and now worse Qashqai, and some other new "it has wheels but it's not car" stuff. Out of the bunch, this one eclipses the rest when it comes to comfort. All the rear seats are independent, they slide frontwards or backwards, they adjust their angle so you can either sit straight or lay back, they fold independently and something interesting, with 130.000km these looked like new. In fact the car looked like it has 30.000 and not 130.000km.

Driver and passenger are entitled to full independent sofa-like seats with arm-rest and adjustable heating.
Suspension is one of it's best characteristics. As expected from Citroen, it's comfortable and soft enough to digest road bumps, but still firm enough to allow control of all that body.
Thow it's competent, it's not able to bend the laws of physics; and all that body constructed in hight produces roll, and a sensation of going to tip over in a hard corner, but since this is a minivan, I immediately concluded that this was not meant to drive, but rather carry people.
That immense clumsy handling made-me extra careful. That was, however annoying because I was driving a Citroen, and I'm used to feel a lively and dynamic chassis under everything they build.
There was however another behaviour that made me think twice about the chassis: the way the gearbox is programmed.
The Picasso 2.0 HDI is equipped with the 2.0hdi known from everything from the Peugeot's, Citroen's, Volvo's, Mazda's, Ford's. It's good and flexible, but it's also kinda hungry. This comes fixed to a Robotic Manual 6speed transmission with clutch control. That is one of the downsides of the picasso. The gearbox is the standard 6speed you find in any car coupled with that engine, but the robotization makes the already clumsy driving something completely unacceptable.
Under normal acceleration, the gearbox shift happens slowly and in the cut gas, clutch, shift, clutch, re-gas sequence, this makes the huge moving body roll forward, duck, still, than up again and under power. It's everything but relaxing for both passengers and driver, rendering that full comfort package useless. Under heavy acceleration, the car pushes the engine far beyond it's optimal torque's agonizing to ear a diesel trying to rev like a gas vtec engine that it will never be (it will however die trying if you push-it).
The kick-down is also very odd. The gearbox, basically shifts down once, twice, making it a gas-off,clutch, shift, clutch, power-on and backoff again, clutch, shift, clutch, power.... it's so bad and takes so many ages that you rather just brake and let the others pass.
However it does have a good feature. If you step vigorously on the gas and the step-off, the car doesn't shift-up! It stays exactly here you left-off with the engine screaming like a pig. At first my reaction was "this gearbox option really is the worse thing on earth", but then it happened again on a roundabout...and I liked it. You see under all that "I'm a school bus" thing, there is a pretty good chassis.
The fact that the gearbox doesn't shift up on lift-off makes the huge weight movement very easy and this will unsettle the chassis and let go the rear. Brilliant! I found myself doing bends with a little tail slide on "the school-bus".
The ESP is another good thing. It's very little intrusive and allows tail slides of some degree.
After a full week of C4 picasso, I give-it a good mark. The car is very well built and the interiors are pleasant an comfortable. It's huge but very good to cohabit. The rear suspension with auto-levelling features is very well thought and it's helpful if you need to transport something big and heavy into it's boot.
Pity the excessive weight and that horrible gearbox.
Breaking is good and the engine has enough power to pull it up to 200km/h. It climbs effortlessly to 170km/h and takes forever from that point onward. However, after 150km/h the car is over it's comfortable zone (at least on our Portuguese roads) and the soft suspension and heavy body creates too much "fluctuation" sensation... but then again, you don't want to go faster than that with your kids inside anyway.

Versatility doesn't end here! You get rear window curtains for the 2 rear glasses and the main back glass, full panoramic front wind-shield. The rear door opens and allows you to access a generous boot with a button to level up or down the rear suspension and allow you to load heavy loads with less "back damage", an always charged and ready to pop-out-and-use flash-light and a full trolley with thermal bag and specific clamps to hold your fresh shopping in place.
Talking about fresh, there is a refrigerator in the middle of the console so that box driver and passenger car enjoy their fresh soda.

Conclusions: Definitely not my thing...but thinking of a family "school run" car, the picasso is a very good option. The 180.000km and 130.000km exemplars I've tested revealed excellent built quality and materials. The electronic gizmo's and full extras aid the comfort and, ignoring the shifts bumps till 6th speed, cruising in the picasso is comfortable enough to make the rear seat's a small office (just like an air plane) using the seat's back as a folding table with self lighting and individually controlled air conditioning.
It's clear why that huge and clumsy looking package found so much acceptance as a family car. It does excel in habitability and comfort without compromising passive safety. Besides the lack of active safety most cars have these days (too heavy and high), this does have a chassis behaviour that works towards the driver and that is enough to shame most AUDI products and far better than some competitors such as the Peugeot 3008.
Talking about safety, the structure is very solid and the crash-test you can youtube will show a perfectly controlled impact absorption. Taking all that moving mass into account, it MUST be very stiff and well built to handle it properly.

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