2015 Citroen C4 Picasso Review

Driven to Write took a Citroen C4 Picasso on a 186 mile trip. It does one thing better than an Opel Zafira. We’ll come to that later….

2015 Citroen C4 Picasso in diesel guise
2015 Citroen C4 Picasso in diesel guise

Introduction

There’s so much wrong with this car. Ahead of you are 1740 words, almost none of them are complimentary.

More introduction

The C4 Picasso is a car that I am sure that you have all seen on the school run, launched in 2013. It has seven seats and an electrically powered tailgate. DTW took charge of a C4 Picasso with the express intention of seeing how it coped with three adults and two children. Normally I would structure a review like this along the lines of: general description, design, engineering, driving, comfort and conclusion. That general ordering assumes that all of those things are of equal value and you’d want to read them in that sequence. I will dispense with that and focus on the aspect that occupied most of my attention: the driver interfaces.

2015 Citroen C4 Picasso dashboard. Most of what´s wrong with the car is here. The design theme is meaningless or hard to decipher. Why does the upper part´s awning stretch left to the a-pillar?
2015 Citroen C4 Picasso dashboard. Most of what´s wrong with the car is here. The design theme is meaningless or hard to decipher. Why does the upper part´s awning stretch left to the a-pillar?

The driver interfaces

Yes, those driver interfaces. They can be placed into two categories. One, the standard mechanical ones for driving and two, the other ones for HVAC, navigation and the sound system. Category one we can dispense with and say this: anonymous with light steering and snatchy brakes. The gearshift mostly played by the rules but occasionally caught me out so I jammed it into first in a panic. Getting smoothly from standstill often caused a lurch. In fact, I must note that when I tried first to set off I was foxed by the electric brake. I prodded and pulled the tab for quite some time before casting around for inspiration. I saw a little instruction on the upper display telling me to press the foot-brake pedal if I wanted to release the parking brake. If instructions are needed, the design has failed.

I needed to press the clutch (‘declutch’) pedal to get the engine to start. There was a prompt on the panel for that as well.

The centre console and display units of the Citroen C4 Picasso. Glare is a problem. Note the way they key fob is loctated.
The centre console and display units of the Citroen C4 Picasso. Glare is a problem. Note the way they key fob is located.

Category two provides more interest. It shows how out of touch they are Citroen on matters of haptics, ergonomics and graphic design. And if you can’t manage those you should not be in the business of car control systems.

Citroen have dispensed with the usual dials and typical means of presentation of speed and engine activity. It’s cheaper and easier to engineer, I suppose. They have provided two screens, providing both the visual information and also the means to control the car’s ancillaries. One screen is set under a huge canopy on the top of the dashboard that makes one think the glove box lid is open. Another screen is at mid-level and you use this one to try to control the HVAC, the radio and the satellite navigator genie.

Citroen’s designers opted to put the HVAC controls as a sub-menu of the main screen. That’s beyond wrong. You thus need to press a button by the side of the screen to get to HVAC menu. The haptics of these buttons are reminiscent of a Sinclair ZX80 key-board (there’s a pressure sensor under a flexible skin). Then you need to sort out which of four black and white columns you want: the outer ones for temperature or the inner pair for fan speed. Some colour here might have helped. You have to really ‘read’ the columns to understand them. Take a look at the photo below to see what you think.

2015 Citroen C4 Picasso HVAC controls. These are fiddly and take your eyes off the road. Deeply problematic.
2015 Citroen C4 Picasso HVAC controls. These are fiddly and take your eyes off the road. Deeply problematic. There’s no ashtray in the car. Under the panel here is the brake release button and under that is a panel that opens up to gain access to the USB connection.  It’s hidden under a deep overhang.

To change the fan speed and outlet channel (face or feet or window) can require more than ten button pushes. The first is to activate the HVAC menu. And then you need as many as nine stabs to reduce the fan speed to zero or increase it from zero to the required level. I tried this on the motorway and when I was done I realised I had simply stopped actively concentrating on the driving for an unknown period of time.

This system is hazardous and for this reason alone I would be unable to recommend this car to anyone. It doesn’t matter that the demisting function is powerful and effective. Finding it means you risk either a) stopping suddenly to focus on the controls or b) you crash while looking for the controls and operating them. With three rotary dials you can turn on maximum demist with three identical gestures: twist for demist, twist for maximum heat and twist for maximum air-flow. The button-and-screen option is an ergonomic mess.

After this the rest of the car’s unsatisfactory characteristics are petty but they are numerous.

2015 Citroen C4 Picasso rear door skin. I forgot to take a photo of the rear compartment and front area. The doors are harmless. They have some vaguely 60s texttures and metallic.effect vinyls (the light grey area top left).
2015 Citroen C4 Picasso rear door skin. I forgot to take a photo of the rear compartment and front area. The doors are harmless. They have some vaguely 60s texttures and metallic effect vinyls (the light grey area top left).

The speedometer is unreadable when strong sunlight falls on it. The screen becomes a grey blank. When you can read it you have speed indicated in two ways, both wrong: ever changing digits and a re-creation of the then-cute ’70s Citroen ribbon dial where the needle stays fixed and the numbers rotate past as the speed changes. I didn’t see the engine speed displayed. If I have to choose this option from a menu somewhere then I feel the car is not telling me what I want to know.

Opel’s Insignia and one of Audi’s SUVs (the Q7?) have an electrically operated lift gate. These are a vast waste of time. There is one instance where it is useful: you are approaching the car from a distance and want to open the boot so you use the key fob’s plipper to start the process. Here is a little film of the things in operation:

It takes a long time to open. Closing it cannot be effected by pressing the same button on the plipper. You need to press a button on the tail-gate. What I ended up doing was forcing it shut because I did want to wait the ten seconds for the thing to close. In most circumstances the electrical lift gate is slow and that will provide more units of annoyance than can counterbalance the units of fun derived from the automatic opening process.

2015 Citroen C4 Picasso boot: 550 litres of volume. It has two lamps, which is nice.
2015 Citroen C4 Picasso boot: 550 litres of volume. It has two lamps, which is nice.

The devil is in other details too.

When you press the buttons that operate the roof lamps, the whole fixture they are set in flexes since it is not fastened to the metal of the roof but to the headliner which is soft.

Architects have a pretentious word for how something is shaped to give it expression: articulation. An example is that when you design a door-way on the façade of a building you shape it to draw attention to it. This could be a moulding, the use of a distinctive colour or an interruption of the patterns surrounding the door. The message is: I am a door, come over here and walk in this way. Turning to the dashboard of the C4 Picasso, the hole into which you must jab the “key” is not articulated. Here is a photo:

The key slot is very faintly articulated which is that very slight sculpting around the hole. It´s not clear enough. A bezel of a different colour would be good, an illuminated one better. You can pull out the key and the engine stays running.
The key slot is very faintly articulated which is that very slight sculpting around the hole. It’s not clear enough. A bezel of a different colour would be good, an illuminated one better. You can pull out the key and the engine stays running.

That’s just a hole with a PVC sheet to keep dust out. It needed to have a bezel of a different colour to highlight it. Citroen’s designers did not give this important element of the dashboard expression but instead spent a lot of time shaping this meaningless Zaha Hadid-style landscape which is supposed to be read as two interlocking masses: the dark shapes of the cowl and the light shapes of the rest. You can’t see it in the photos and only dimly perceive it when faced with it in real life.

I could not get the cruise control to work the second time. Odd that. Every other car has a button labelled “cruise control on/off”. Not the C4 Picasso. I could see the button to pause the control and pause the speed limiter. I could find the button to increase the speed or decrease it. But having accidentally operated the systems on one day I failed to get it to happen again the second day of the test.

The seating

The test car had seven seats. In the name of research I unfolded the rear most two seats and concluded no child would want to sit in them for more than ten minutes. The middle seats were easily rolled forward but hard to fold flat. I think this kind of operation should be blindingly easy. And if it’s not the engineers have failed.

The body-coloured area under the cant rail confuses this.
The body-coloured area under the cant rail confuses this.

Styling

Some good details that don’t hang together is my summing up. Having spent so long talking about the HVAC I don’t feel the aesthetics matter all that much. The topological relationship to the means of construction is impossible to comprehend, particularly with respect to the grey-coloured a-pillar to c-pillar component. I call this meaningless difference. This could have been a nicely styled car; over-egging the omelette took place. It lacks restraint which ruins the effect of the rather clever grille/lamp feature and the neat rear aspect, for example.

2015 Citroen C4 Picasso a-pillaar. Neat enough.
2015 Citroen C4 Picasso a-pillar. Neat enough.

Looking on the bright side.

Big boot – yes.  The driver’s seat offered good comfort. The rear passenger volunteered that the car was very comfortable too. The interior lamps had a nice tone to the them. I noticed the lack of a centre arm-rest however. DTW might be the world’s least influential motoring site but I can still ask for a centre arm-rest on all long-distance cars. Sitting with your arm hanging for four hours is not very nice. There is a reason armchairs have two armrests. And skimping on them just because the car has moving seats is a dumb convention.

The headlamp is nicely finished. It´s actually a great detail, wasted among the rest of the clutter.
The headlamp is nicely finished. It’s actually a great detail, wasted among the rest of the clutter.

Fuel economy

This staggered me. The C4 Picasso gets 34 mpg. My 25 year-old petrol 2.0 four-pot gets 32 mpg when driven the same way as I drove the Picasso. Sure the Picasso can go quickly: I found myself doing 95 miles per hour without noticing. However, mostly I stuck to 70 mph or less and drove like I was driving the Pope. 34 mpg is very, very poor when that is considered. We usually offer to put fuel consumption in perspective by estimating how many times you’d have to refuel if you drove from Calais to Cap Ferrat. This time I won’t bother.

Conclusion

This is a fairly damning review, no? I didn’t like this car and its plush ride and rear-view camera were not enough to sway me. There was no CD player – did I mention that? The C4 Picasso is a four-cylinder nullity with a frustrating and nigh-on- dangerous HVAC

Did I mention the flimsy tonneau in the boot? Maybe I should. The shutline shown here is tidily handled though. When the boot is open there are no reflectors visible on the remaining surfaces. Puzzling.
Did I mention the flimsy tonneau in the boot? Maybe I should. The shutline shown here is tidily handled though. When the boot is open there are no reflectors visible on the remaining surfaces. Puzzling.

control system that in no way outperforms three twirly dials. The costly and heavy electrically powered lift-gate sums up this ill-thought-through gadget fest. It does nothing better and nearly everything worse.

The C4 is, it says in my notes: a badly performing digital interface encrusted by an over-styled car. The essence of the car’s mechanics is anonymity. What might have been a smooth, spacious cruiser is a constellation of annoyances. Locally there is the evident expenditure of talent, but utterly wasted, allied as it all is to so many woeful mis-steps. This is quite the worst car I have driven in about six years.

But wait! I said there was one thing it did better than the Opel Zafira. That is that the air vent vanes on the dashboard are good and solid and smooth-acting. They were very nicely engineered and very solidly made. The Opel’s had a rubbery quality. There: The Citroen C4 Picasso class-leading air vent-vanes.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

16 thoughts on “2015 Citroen C4 Picasso Review”

  1. Interesting! I’ve always thought of the Picasso as one of the better options in its class – but I’ve actually never driven one. Is it really that bad? Or is your judgment somewhat hampered by the awful HVAC controls (which might not bother everyone)?
    The car you reviewed is the C4 GRAND Picasso. The smaller non-grand version is aestheticlly (even) more pleasing, as it shows exactly the kind of restraint you were asking for. The rear third is way more coherent, especially the rear lights.

  2. Apart from the HVAC there’s nothing to this vehicle. The “traditional” bits are characterless. What’s to like? A fast demist and comfortble seats and pretty interior lights? That’s not enough.

  3. We have noted before the current vogue for overdesign. The 2015 Ford Fiesta I have use of at the moment sports a dashboard so overwrought that discerning basic information such as MPG becomes nigh on impossible. A shame, as in other respects the car is really quite remarkable. I should write a review. If only there was a place I could publish my findings?

    1. You can post a review here if you like. You could choose to post it as long reply or as an article. Our fees are close to zero, note.
      By all accounts the Fiesta is a neat car. My aunt has one. It´s a shame it´s grotesquely curclicued inside and out. The last one was more dignified, even in ST trim. The current Fiesta has glowing lights on passenger side of the dashboard and mood lighting in the footwell. Sometimes I despair of car design. At one point it was such a rarified discipline, the careful balancing of form and function with a bit of showbiz thrown in. Now there is far too much showbusiness and it´s hard to imagine the chaps responsible spend much time really thinking hard about the ultimate effect of their designs. And they are not stupid, note.

    2. Given a few more days of parping about, I may well do that.

      Regarding dashboards, the Fiesta is not the lone offender in the Ford range. When the wife was in the market for a CUV last year, the Kuga was a serious contender. That was until we took one out for a spin and noted the bewildering number of buttons packed into the central console. In comparison, the Mazda CX5’s touch screen and sober arrangement of a few carefully marked out buttons was leagues ahead in terms of perceived usability. In that regard, Sync 3 cannot be rolled out quickly enough for Ford.

  4. Regarding the electric parking brake and need for placing ones foot on the main brake before starting the engine, these have been around for some time. Its a safety matter especially where electric or hybrids are concerned and is quickly becoming universal on the modern car.
    The second generation Prius from 2004 required a fob insertion then footbrake activation followed by pressing a button to turn the car on.
    I wonder if this was the first use of this system the reason being the engine does not start but the car is electrically active and as a safety matter the brake needs applying.
    All this is perfectly logical when you stop and think about it.
    I fully agree with your like for tactile feedback HVAC controls that are rotary in nature with maybe one single button for fully automatic operation.
    The central console on my Ampera is horrendous in this respect, you would go ballistic!

  5. Shame … it’s one of the few moderns (in average purchase land) that I see on the road and think I like the front of that. Unfortunately I can see your perspective ref the so called technology improvements. Driving a 30 year old car daily my stuff all still works and is super efficient, I doubt that some of the new tech will work properly after as little as 5 years.
    I still like the looks though .. nice to see Citroen grabbing that avant-garde styling again

  6. Dgate: it´s true the convention to place your foot on the footbrake while disengaging the handbrake has been around for a while. I think this doesn´t excuse it from being unhandy. I ask myself how else could it be. Is there not a better system possible? I found myself flipping the little tab down and the light would go off and then on again indicating the brake was off then on then off. There was a mismatch in feedback and action. I don´t know why I didn´t keep my foot on the footbrake pedal. You´d think it was a natural thing to do. When turning on the ignition I always depress the clutch to make sure the car doesn´t shoot forward. My feeling is that the switch to a switch for the park brakes has lost something intrinsic to old-style handbrakes. These don´t require foot pressure on the brakes before operating and they are legal. Where is the differerence in principle? Someone has misapplied a lot of brain power to this and got it wrong.

    Stephen: Write off the Picasso. Check out the Zafira. The only annoying thing was the slightly ambiguous more/less fan speed marking. The rest of it was lovely as I remember. It´s a pleasing looking car to drive and personally I find it rather lovely to look at as well. It has a spacey vibe about it without being strange and the detailing is convincing. If I had a lot of money I´d like the one with the complex leather interior.

    1. Actually I am thinking automatic when you are in a manual. You are correct in thinking this is wrong since the proper procedure as you know is to gradually release the handbrake as the clutch initially bites while increasing revs so at no time the car is allowed to freewheel.
      This would be impossible with the car you described unless there is a delay in the system as in some hill hold equipped cars.
      It seems the boffins are forcing systems designed for automatics onto manual equipped cars.

  7. That’s precisely put: the carrying over of a convention to where it’s not needed. It could be that the button operation allows accidental disengagement. The solution is a button with an active-choice element like the double-button for chainsaws. Why are we having to work this out for Citroen? Incidentally the XM’s foot operated park brake allowed hill starts and it was mechanical.

    1. My previous Leaf and now the Ampera both use an electric parking brake and I find them superior to a physically set manual one. Neither of these are manual gearbox cars though.
      I do use left foot braking on automatics so always have fine control between braking and accelerating without introducing the third element of a handbrake
      thus It literally functions as a parking brake. This where the little electric switch is much appreciated.

  8. @ChrisWard1978: I’m definitely not in the market for a family car, but if i were…

    I agree with stephenlewis that the design is at least refreshing, inside and out. While the ergonomics might not be perfect, the rest of the car seems perfectly fine: Apparently good seats, comfortable ride, plenty of space, take a diesel and the efficiency is good as well.
    The EMP2-platform is better than the Zafira’s old GM-Delta-platform (with some Epsilon-elements) that already made the previous Astra a pleasing, but insanely heavy vehicle. Doesn’t the Zafira suffer from overweight as well? I quite like it, but what exactly does it better than the C4 Picasso?

    1. I found it more economical, as comfortable and easier to use. Apart from the rubbery air vents nothing about it attracted my ire. I think the ergonomic flaws of the C4 very serious. I´d hate to have to live with them. It´s not a matter of them not being perfect so much as being very problematic indeed.

  9. I owned the previous Grand Picasso, I own the new one. Brilliant cars. We are 2 adults and 4 kids. The 2 yongest kids aged 10 years fight for the last row seats, they love it. Fuel consumption is great, quality even better (tested for 5 years!) Design is beautiful, especially compared to the uggly Opel Zaphira. I handle the seats up and down all the time, I can do it blindfolded, so easy my kids can do it. Floor goes flat. Easy accces to last row. Wast Space on second row, which slides forward to leave more space to last row. Value for Money is amazing.
    Only complaint i have: I have keyless entry and go, the key fob is a bit big. I always keep the key in my bag, so I don’t really care about the “articulation” of the key holder in the dash 😉

    1. Hi Stig: Welcome to DTW. It´s interesting how subjective design can be. Both cars are quite practical and I´ve tried both the new Picasso and the current Zaphira. I found the Zaphira much nicer looking and the materials of a higher quality. There were parts of the Picasso that had nice flourishes but the whole didn´t get. I think the market has room for both cars though and I seem to see them in equal numbers.

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