2015 Citroen C4 Picasso Review

We 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

Editor’s note: To mark the recent announcement that Citroën are to discontinue the (now-named) Grand C4 Spacetourer this July, we mark its passing by revisiting this exhaustive DTW research report, first published on 22 September 2015.

Introduction

There’s so much wrong with this car. Ahead of you are 2,158 words, almost none of them complimentary.

More introduction

Launched in 2013, the C4 Picasso is a car that I am sure you have all seen on the school run. 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 a 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 primary mechanical controls for driving and two, the other controls for HVAC, navigation and the sound system. We can dispense with the former by saying the following: it is 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 away smoothly from standstill often caused a lurch. In fact, I must note that when I first tried to set off, I was foxed by the electric parking 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 pedal to get the engine to start. There was a prompt on the panel for this as well.

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

The secondary controls provide more interest. They reveal how out of touch Citroën is on matters of haptics, ergonomics and graphic design. And if you can’t manage those, you should not be in the business of  designing car control systems.

Citroën has dispensed with the usual dials and typical means of presentation of speed and engine activity. Screen-based controls are 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 you think the glove box lid is open. Another screen is at mid-level, which you use in an attempt to control the HVAC, radio and the satellite navigator genie.

Citroën’s designers opted to put the HVAC controls in a sub-menu on the main screen. That’s beyond wrong. Hence, you need to press a button by the side of the screen to get to the HVAC menu. The haptics of these buttons are reminiscent of a Sinclair ZX80 key-board, with pressure sensors under a flexible skin. Then you need to sort out which of four black-and-white columns you want; the outer pair 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, feet or window) can require more than ten button pushes. The first is to activate the HVAC menu, 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 indeterminate 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 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 card. I forgot to take a photo of the ftont and rear compartments. The doors are harmless. They have some vaguely 1960s textures 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 are wrong; ever changing digits and a re-creation of the then-cute 1970s Citroën 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?) also have an electrically operated tailgate. This feature is 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.

It takes a long time to open. Closing it cannot be effected by pressing the same button on the plipper. You instead need to press a button on the tailgate. I resorted to forcing it shut because I did not want to wait the ten seconds for the thing to close. In most circumstances, the electrical tailgate 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 mounting in which they are set 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 of this is, 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 faintly articulated with slight sculpting around the hole, but it’s just 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 needs to have a bezel of a different colour to highlight it. Citroën’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 day one, I failed to get it to work 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 that 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 summary. 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, but 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 pleasant. 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 34mpg. My 25 year-old petrol 2.0-litre four-pot gets 32mpg when driven the same way as I drove the Picasso. Sure, the Picasso can go quickly: I found myself doing 95mph without noticing. However, mostly I stuck to 70mph or less and drove like I was driving the Pope. 34mpg is very, very poor in these circumstances. 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 control system that in no way outperforms three twirly dials. The costly and heavy electrically powered tailgate sums up this ill-conceived gadget-fest. It does nothing better and nearly everything worse.

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.

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, solid and smooth-acting. They were very nicely engineered and very solidly made. The Opel’s have a rubbery quality. There: the Citroën C4 Picasso has class-leading air vent vanes.

Author: richard herriott

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

29 thoughts on “2015 Citroen C4 Picasso Review”

  1. Good morning, Richard. I have never this contraption, but I agree with all you are saying here. However, I do like the absence of the ashtray.

    When I look at the dash awning I imagine the instruments are in the center and the idiot lights are in front of the driver?

    Regarding the glare of the screens: My E92 has these old school dot matrix displays, same as my E46 had. The brightness of these is adjusted automatically according to how much light hits the display (well sensor next to the display) It’s only monochrome 605 nanometer digits you see, but I have never encountered a situation where I was unable to read them. And of course the brightness can be adjusted manually together with the rest of the dash lights.

    34 miles to the UK gallon? that is 8.3 liters every 100 km in EU money. My 15 year old straight six manages with less fuel. The Citroën has quite a large frontal area, so maybe that explains it?

    Every time I encounter a car with an electric tailgate all I can think is what is wrong with you as a driver that you can’t manually close it? Last time I saw it was this week on recent Merc A-class.

    On a side note I never really liked the controls Citroën had on the CX for instance. I can understand the reasoning behind it, put the controls where your hands are supposed to be, but can’t you do the same with stalks like any other car? Especially the indicators were annoying in my view. I don’t mind the lack of the self cancelling feature, though.

    1. “Every time I encounter a car with an electric tailgate all I can think is what is wrong with you as a driver that you can’t manually close it?”
      That´s spot on. Also, I think the same about rain sensing wipers, or automatic headlights: if you can´t tell if it´s raining or dark, and operate manually the wipers or lights controls, should you be driving?

    2. Hi Freerk, I think stalks are inherently flawed, or perhaps I am uniquely clumsy in having inadvertently activated various stalk-based functions, especially wipers, probably hundreds of times over 40 years? Perhaps it is significant to note that race cars generally avoid stalks altogether.

    3. Tailgates are electric to prevent you from slamming them shut with lots of noise.
      I fully agree with regards to automatic wipers and lights which are unnecessary complications.

    4. I’ve never felt the need for a powered tailgate – but then I’m a 183cm tall male. I think my 155cm tall mother would have struggled to reach the tailgate of a typical MPV or SUV. (Not that she would have liked powered operation either; she would have suspected a device thus equipped of murderous intent. She might have been right at that.)

    5. I thought the point of the powered tailgate was that you can open it when you have your hands full of shopping? Of course you could always put the shopping down for a moment…

    6. Gooddog, I never had an issue with column stalks. Some functions were different on different cars, but it’s not much of a learning curve. Race cars usually don’t need indicators, so I can see why there are column stalks. Also the use of racing gloves may make use of stalks less appropriate.

      Dave, you can close a normal tailgate without a lot of noise, it’s not that hard to do. And how much of a problem is that anyway when people shut the doors of there cars with a bang. One of the worst sounds to my ears is actually when people open the car, grabbing the door handle way to aggressively and then hear the door handle slam against the bodywork. It’s an unnecessary sound and it annoys me every time I hear it. And it happens all the time.

      Michael, yes electric tailgates are fine for shorter people, but the button for closing them is usually on the inside of the tailgate, so the problem still remains.

      John, how often do you have your hands full when you approach luggage space of your car? Every time I need a lot of stuff I use a shopping cart or have it delivered to my house instead.

    7. Hi Freerk,

      Personally never, but I know that some cars with electric tailgates have a sensor underneath the rear bumper that you activate with your foot, so that’s what I was thinking of. I don’t know if the C4 Picasso mentioned in this article has that feature.

  2. Well, I dodged a bullet there. Back in 2014 I was choosing a new car, and with two growing children and a grandmother nearby an MPV seemed perfect. I originally opted (reluctantly as I’d just spent six years driving around in the coal hole that is the interior of a Passat) for a Sharan, purely for the space, but that suddenly dropped off my company lease option, so then it was down to the Picasso or the Zafira Tourer.
    I wish I could remember now my final decision making process, but I think the flimsiness of the Citroën’s interior played a part in it. The reviews I can remember certainly didn’t refer to the haptics of the HVAC which would have driven me mad.
    The Zafira was fine. As you’d expect nothing Earth-shattering about it, though my wife and I loved the panoramic windscreen. The only fault in that time was a flaky rear parking sensor, which drained the battery a couple of times before being replaced. The only irritant was an awkwardly angled accelerator, while economy, compared to the C4 Picasso above was stellar, averaging about 57mpg of diesel (5l/100km approx).
    Could Citroën have made the C4 Picasso any more irritating if they’d tried?

  3. Good morning Richard. What a way to spoil what should be an eminently practical vehicle. I know some would argue that, with climate control, you just set and forget the HVAC controls, but that’s simply not the case. On a freezing winter morning, you want everything directed to the windscreen to demist it. You can do that before pulling off, but, when you’re on your way and everything warms up, you’ll want to switch to ‘normal’ settings. Having go dive into sub-menus to do so is just dumb.

    The three rotary dial layout is not only ergonomically perfect, but its ubiquity means that you can jump into an unfamiliar rental car in darkness and be immediately familiar with the controls. If it ain’t broke…

  4. A shame it’s not great, I always liked the look of these as to American eyes it’s quite whimsical for a largeish MPV, what with the pano-windscreen and “3D-effect” taillamps. Citroen and the MPV always seemed like a natural match, but besides the original Picasso and Berlingo they haven’t really done much personal exploration. I’d like to imagine a CX-based MPV in the era of the ‘Megagamma’ concept would have been divine, marrying hydropneumatics with the living-room comfort of an Espace I!

    1. Two things don’t gel in a car: hydro pneumatic suspension and a high centre of gravity.
      That’s why the DS did everything to bring down its cente of gravity by use of a plastic roof to frameless door windows made from extra thin glass and even a single spoke steering wheel. That’s why there was only one contemporary car with a lower centre of gravity than the CX in form of the Testarossa.
      That’s also why Citroen got into serious trouble with the XM and its large (and heavy) glass area which brought the centre of gravity high up and necessitated tricks like Hydractive suspension which initially brought more trouble than it was worth because otherwise the XM would have needed arm thick and rock hard anti roll bars.
      An MPV therefore surely is the last thing you’d want to be based on the CX.

    2. Perhaps reimagined as an EV, then. Nice and low CoG thanks to battery packs, and have some hydropneumatics to iron out the ride and help control the massive weight in corners!

    3. I had no idea the XM was that bad. It does have a lot of glass in the green house but not more than a Ford Scorpio or almost any estate like a Volvo 740, surely.
      Incidentally, my own golden money pit has been trucked off (Friday) to the mechanic who will inspect the car and see how many zeroes he needs to tack on to any number between 8.999 and 9. The car´s not budged for a year. When the parking space was revealed there was a neat line of rust flakes right under the sill flanges. Given Aarhus is not in an earthquake zone I am quite surprised rust flakes were dislodged (maybe it was thuds from me opening and closing the doors from time to time).

    4. I don’t think the XM is particularly bad or any worse than other Peugeot-era Citroens with hydro pneumatics. It’s just that the hydro pneumatic suspension is less resistant to roll than other suspensions and peugeotised Citroens use McPherson struts that are inherently more prone to roll than double wishbone setups as used in ‘proper’ Citroens. Add to this that hydro pneumatic suspension units suffer more from stiction than conventional suspensions and add the fact that struts put lateral forces on the rods of the suspension cylinders, increasing stiction and you have a sub optimal setup but all Peugeot was willing to offer to Citroen. Their Hydractive system just was a means of getting around these inherent deficits. At least in its original – primitive – form Hydractive switched into its ‘hard’ mode everytime the steering wheel moved or throttle or brakes were touched, which means for far too much time. Add to this very fault prone sensors (steering angle in particular, which in the beginning more or less was a consumable) which again made the system switch as default.

      I wish you good luck with your XM.
      It seems that XMs with a leaking DIRASS (conventional power steering) mostly need a new shaft seel on the steering column. Lots of work but cheap spares. XMs with DIRAVI are an economic write-off in this case because the DIRASS unit doesn’t have official spares (specialists can repair it nevertheless) and to get at it you have to unmount the front subframe with engine and gearbox.

  5. Time flies. I´d forgotten all about this beauty. The articles central schtick, that its best feature is the air vent, is very unfair to the Zafira. When I see a Zafira I remember what a lovely time I had driving it. I don´t even notice C4s like this car or remember I drove one.

    1. The Internet never forgets…just as well you’re not looking for a job at Quai de Javel, Richard. 😁

  6. Did the C4 have voice activation? Perhaps the trend in future will be to tell the car that you’re hot / cold and it’ll act appropriately. They say it’s more efficient to warm the person than the car, so heated surfaces such as steering wheels and seats (and windscreens) may become more common. One would still need air conditioning, though, I guess.

    I must say I like most convenience features, especially automatic lights. In my car, head and tail lights are programmed to come on when you switch on the wipers. I think that’s a good safety feature. It’s also very convenient having the lights come on automatically when you enter the garage, etc – it takes a task away when you’ve got your hands full.

  7. Guh, don’t you hate it when reviewers sit on the fence and hide their real thoughts? 😁 Fortunately the era of maddeningly, uselessly complex and distracting user interfaces is long over now… Oh wait…

    With all the focus on safety you’d think authorities would take a dim view of this kind of thing, but instead they dictate ever more self-driving-ish features that increase weight, chances of technical failure and complexity. That seems to be – with apologies for the language – ass-backwards.

  8. I have to say the five seats version is to me by far the best looking MPV. The seven seats version has drastically worse proportions.

    1. “Also, while you can stick the key in the receptacle the writer had trouble finding (whatever that says about him), there is no need whatsoever to actually do so – just keep the damn key in your pocket.” Limitless stupidity I guess. I need to hand back my Ph.D, I suppose! On the other hand, why have a slot if all you have to do is leave it in your pocket. The slot afforded slotting so stupid here tried to put the key in.

    2. Key handling can get even more stupid.
      My Audi B9 doesn’t have a keyhole anywhere and the ignition key can be kept in your trouser pocket. In case you don’t know where to put the key you can go to their accessory shop and buy a hard rubber insert for a cupholder hole in the centre console (80 Euros) which offers an otherwise functionless hole to put your key.
      There aren’t many things that are more stupid than this.

  9. To bad that this piece is from 2015, as the driver interface was extensively redone in approx. 2017. New hardware beeing from Continental instead of Magneti Marelli. Certainly a good thing, probably wouldn’t be possible anymore now that Magneti Marelli belongs to Stellantis (me thinks). This includes a ‘demist’ button, btw. Reminds me of a friend whose Tesla Model 3 went blind when she entered a tunnel and she panicked, searching for that function.
    Also, while you can stick the key in the receptacle the writer had trouble finding (whatever that says about him), there is no need whatsoever to actually do so – just keep the damn key in your pocket.
    The fact that actual cars, mostly SUVs, are externally bigger and heavier while having less internal space , or are some strange wannabe-coupés with side windows so small you wonder why they bothered putting them there in the first place, makes me regret the demise of that kind of family vans like the C4 Grand ‘whatever they called it at last’ was. I also dislike the fact that car companies think they have to setup every car on the Nurburgring – making them way too uncomfortable on normal roads. Of course even Citroën lost their magic in this regard when Peugeot made them abandon the hydropneumatic suspension.
    The motorized hatch is now seen on almost all cars and while it actually comes in quite handy sometimes, I fear the day when it stops working, gas struts being so much cheaper to replace.
    There is one thing the C4 Grand … still does better than actual cars – whatever assistant you don’t like, you disable only once and for all – not every time you start the engine.
    A friend of mine once said that there is no ideal car, you need at least 4 different ones. I tend to agree, and think that the C4 Grand… comes close to an ideal family van – especially when you also have access to a roadster for sunny days or to a real 4×4 with a hitch whenever required…

    1. The best car is the one that does the most for most of the time without compromising ordinary use. That means a lot of cars are mostly very useful. I think a VW Polo estate or a Focus/Golf/Astra estate does 95% of what people need. Even the comparatively less practical saloon format is a long way from inflexibility. I seldom wish my 406 was bigger or bootier.

  10. Ugh, glare. I hate it when designers who get paid five or six times as much as me can’t figure out how to protect an instrument cluster from sunlight. I didn’t know the C4 Picasso was that bad in this respect – I thought my 2009 Lancia Delta, with its satin chrome-painted instrument cluster frame, was bad. It seems someone tried to outdo FCA’s ergonomics-shunning stylists. As for the HVAC controls, someone ought to remind designers that adjusting its parameters isn’t some obscure, rarely-used setting in Microsoft Word that can be hidden in a submenu of a submenu of a submenu of a submenu. No engineer worth their salt would have OK’d this, and whoever did needs to be stripped of their degrees and sent back to elementary school.

  11. A Dacia Lodgy dCi (with Yokohama
    C-drives fitted and a simple thin padded pillow over the seat) is a decent alternative.

    Refreshingly simple, yet still comfy enough.

    The sweet mid-range
    pull of the K9K at 75-80 Mph fits the van’s secondary ride/gait so damn well they are actually severely underrated.

    (Far from the prettiest MPV
    out there, though, by any stretch
    of the imagination).

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