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First drive: Picasso on the move

Pretty as a picture: Picasso offers flexible seating for five.

It's sold up a storm in Europe and now Citroen's Xsara Picasso people-mover is Australia bound

11 Mar 2002


CITROEN is set to enter the growing mini people-mover fray Down Under around the end of this year with a facelifted version of the Xsara Picasso five-door that has taken European roads by storm since its launch almost three years ago.

The first of the new-look Citroens to appear, Picasso has been a sell-out success in Europe and will bring advanced multiplex and turbo-diesel technology to the tallboy hatch segment pioneered here by its French arch-rival, the Renault Scenic.

Final pricing and specifications will not be decided until closer to Picasso's late 2002 or early 2003 Australian launch. But its likely pricing will start at $29,990 for the facelifted 2.0-litre Picasso, matching the 2.0-litre Scenic.

Like Scenic, Picasso offers flexible, individual seating for five - including four removable seats - along with six speakers, a roof-anchored centre rear lap-sash belt, four large door pockets, a huge glovebox and novelties like seat-back picnic trays and individually sliding, tumble-folding rear seats.

Picasso does without Scenic's chilled centre compartment, central folding bench and flip-up rear glass, but offers two unique, lidded bins under the rear passenger's feet, slide-out storage beneath the passenger seat, two-position tailgate height and an interesting folding shopping cart that carries 18kg and hooks into the rear luggage space.

Both diesel and petrol Picassos are likely to offer similar spec levels, though the French-spec diesel we drove went without the petrol's power rear windows, velour trim and illuminated vanity mirrors. Strangely, neither vehicle was fitted with a tachometer or cruise control, though the latter may be offered in the facelifted multiplex versions.

Otherwise, the equipment list on both test vehicles was impressive and included ABS, foglights, heater power mirrors, climate control air-conditioning, single-CD audio, folding front armrests, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, digital speedo, driver's lumbar and a large central LCD information display showing temperature, time, distance to empty, fuel/temp levels and trip/audio details.

Alloy wheels and satellite navigation are likely to be optional but even if Picasso does not match Scenic's six airbags when it arrives, at least twin front and side bags will out-point everything else in the class.

There will be no 1.6 to match the entry level version of Renault's intensively marketed Scenic - nor a four-wheel drive version - and as such Australian Citroen distributor Ateco Automotive expects to shift only about a quarter of Scenic's volumes at around 250 units annually.

But the front-drive Picasso's 2.0-litre, direct-injection, common-rail turbo-diesel, which is likely to be priced $2000 further upstream and will also be available in five-speed manual and optional five-speed auto guise, will be unique in the class and should account for 20 per cent of Picasso sales - about the same percentage of petrol models sold in Europe.

But the Xsara-based Picasso - a name allowed by the descendants of Pablo to be used only in variant form - will need a point of differentiation from the Euro-styled, high-roofed mono space hatch brigade including Scenic, Holden's slightly more expensive 2.2-litre/seven-seat Zafira, Mazda's slightly less expensive Premacy, Toyota's larger, far more pricey Avensis Verso, Hyundai's roomier Trajet and a host of cut-price South Koreans like the Hyundai LaVita, Kia Carens and Daewoo Tacuma.

Add into the mix the Mercedes-Benz A-class and the likelihood of Picasso sister vehicle, Peugeot's recently released 307SW, making it Down Under, and it is clear Picasso will not have the market cornered.

Indeed, like its major rival Scenic, Picasso must rely on its high specification level, flexible interior and European styling and quality - and not European prerequisites like compact dimensions and fuel efficiency - if it is to wean Australian customers away from their staple diet of similarly priced Falcon and Commodore wagons.


PICASSO avoids the slightly larger Scenic's rounded rear look with more angular rear glass, which does not prevent it offering slightly more below-parceltray load space of 550 litres - though luggage volume remains similar with the rear seats double folded.

The high roof, flat rear floor and flush loading lip make for easy access to both cargo space and rear seating, while the huge windscreen, twin A-pillars and high seating position provide excellent vision.

Unlike Scenic, the driving position is well thought out, with an easy stretch to both the steering wheel - despite it not being reach adjustable - and dash-mounted gearshift, which provides frontal walk-through ability. But the seats are not perfect. Despite being multi-adjustable, the short seat cushions and firm seatbacks never feel totally ergonomic.

Handling and performance is as per Scenic, with a degree of bodyroll evident during only mild cornering speeds but plenty of grip and compliance on offer when the going gets either slippery or serious. And there is no hint of steering kick-back or torque steer.

Neither engine is the quietest in its class and there is noticeable wind noise around the A-pillars above 110km/h. But noise suppression is otherwise very good and the ride luxurious - at least on fine-chip French road surfaces.

Both engines offer adequate performance, the oil-burner in particular delivering a seamless torque wave that's not far short of the C5's 3.0-litre V6 on paper, and making good use of the tall but well spaced gearing.

We drove the current 1.8-litre petrol Picasso but, for the record, the 2.0-litre, 16-valve, four-cylinder petrol's figures are 100kW at 6000rpm and 196Nm of torque at 4100rpm, while the turbo-diesel produces 80kW at 4000rpm and 210Nm at just 1900rpm.

Citroen's Xsara Picasso will make its Australian debut at this year's Sydney motor show, following the August launch of the C3 hatch, and should be on sale by early 2003.

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