UK CAR Review

 Citroen Xsara Picasso SX
2000

 
Interior  Exterior

Ah Pablo Ruiz Picasso, a genius touched by a lunatic sense of humour.

Or a lunatic touched by genius.

A prolific Spanish artist whose work got progressively more inspired and more strange.

Ah Citroen , manufacturer des Automobiles, occasional genius, often touched by lunatics, a marque that started off inspired and has slowly become more conservative but still manages to conjure up the strange.

 

Only the French design team and their bottle of wine will know the true story of which came first. Did they design this strange looking beast and then pay homage to its skewed looks with the name? Or did they take the name and then build a car fittingly strange enough?

 

 

The Picasso bit is all in those overdone front quarter lights ahead of the door. It looks like they had a box, a windscreen and a door and a large sheet of metal between and some about-to-be-laid-off bright spark with stripy shirt, beret on head and tenth glass of vin rouge in hand, peddling his push-bike loaded with onions bent on revenge.

Hey, why don’t we put ze pane of glass in here?  Oh how they chuckled!

Funnily enough, if you excuse the front quarter lights, it actually doesn't look too bad. It has a nice focus-like curve to the roof and, sitting next to a competitor's boxy mini MPV, it looks almost stylish.

Windows are large, giving a remarkable greenhouse effect. Granted there is not so much glass as the even weirder Vel Sartis thingy that’s being squeezed from Renault's straining loins, but it gives an impression of a big light airy cabin. In reality it's only an inch or two extra glass all round but the effect is dramatic.

This one is in white which is a terrible colour for any MPV as it looks a trifle like a customised Transit van.  Please pick another colour.

Inside the thing (I'm not convinced it’s a car), they appear to have imported the top designer man they could find and afford (the 70 year old chief upholstery of Avondale Caravans) and said, "Trim that please, monsieur".

Citroen have actually made an effort to build a strange and nouveau dash. It contains a strange and eclectic collection of information. Most of it is useless gumph. I liked the way you could press a button and trim it down to speed and fuel gauge. The digital speedo works fine and does not flicker overly. It's only a shame that it's not a bit more curved and a bit easier to see as it’s a little out of your eyeline. The minimal button is a right old stretch too. It probably all works fine in left hand drive mode but it’s not quite right hand drive compatible.

Five seats look quite inviting and the front pair have a captain style look to them. Though, when any one mentions People Carriers to me I always think of a minimum of seven seats.

 

 

 

So, it's only got five seats.  So it fails the MPV test for me at the first hurdle. I have to ask is there any point to an MPV if you can only fit in an estates car worth of stuff?  Sure, it's comparable to an estate but is it any better or is it just different?

Being a supposed MPV it has all the gubbins you expect - picnic tables and a proliferation of cup holders, with power output sockets for your mobile fridge and such like. Nothing really unusual there then. Storage abounds, of course, although some stretchy netting to stop it all rattling around would not go amiss.

Basic modern car facilities - electric windows, mirrors, power assisted steering, etc tick all the right boxes on the spec sheet but it's hard to find any real touches of inspiration. Air con helps keep the greenhouse effect to a minimum.


 

The basic 1.6 litre unit pushes out a conservative 95 bhp figure and, via the 5 speed box, pushes the small bus-like object to 106 mph top end eventually. After waiting and waiting and waiting for 60mph to arrive in a sedate 13.5 seconds you are forced to concede that this is no dragster. Open the bonnet and you can see how it could easily encapsulate a much bigger motor. The motor of choice would probably be the 2.0hdi if available.

At least the stubby remote gear stick works well with a light, delicate change not always found in Citroens and once the carpet was prevented from fouling the pedal, the clutch assisted in making changes sweet and predictable. In this version it's needed too, not so much to enable performance but to simply keep what little there is. With a rather portly 1240kg to pull along plus passengers, your left arm is going to be rather busy.

Wearing cap and shades to avoid recognition I was piloting the Picasso about in best delivery man mode. When I chanced upon another 1.6 Picasso at the lights, he too was in disguise wearing cap, shades and suspiciously false-looking Sadam tache. Not daring to look at each other for fear of mutual embarrassment, I eyed his neat metallic jade green body work whilst he chuckled at my urban guerrilla Transit white colour scheme. As the sun beat down I envied his full length sunroof but took solace by turning up my air con a notch. Then, as the lights changed, there took place a legendary drag race, his be-spoiled aerodynamics versus the power sapping of my air con. After a hard launch we hit the heady heights of twenty five mph, fingers tensed around the gear stick for a power change into third, we raced past a Panda car as the policeman watched us scream by, his head slowly turning right to left and then returning to his Daily Sport before we had passed his bonnet. Into third (his shift was just as quick as mine) I could see his squint from behind his glasses in my peripheral vision, I applied the Nitrous button and turned off the air con and pulled out a two yard advantage by 40mph before we both hit the brakes hard and ground to a halt at the next lights with a small tailback of irate Caravan pullers stuck behind us . Norris McWhirter - please enter us now as the slowest, safest drag race of all time.

 

 

Where's the trick suspension then? Citroen have really missed a trick in the Grandad sales stakes here. With some pneumatic suspension they could have had the lowest step in height and the most commanding driver's panorama of any MPV on the market. Perfect for geriatric joy riders and their Sunday jaunt to scenic places for a Prince's spread sandwich and a flask of stewed tea. As it is, there is just plain old jiggly springs to hold it up in the air and not drop it to pavement level.

Does it handle? Does it grip ? Do you care? I certainly do not. Modern rubber holds back the paltry horsepower well enough and if this engine can get you in serious trouble then it's time for you to give up driving.

Ride is okay, fine in fact. Not too hard, not too soft. Though with the centre of gravity so high a certain amount of van-like wallow is inevitable around the bends.

Steering is light and predictable and the MPV goes (sort of) where it's told to without fuss, drama or much in the way of fun or feedback.

This is not a car built for the pleasure of driving.  It's more for the pleasure of seeing what you are driving past and to that extent it works well. Perhaps in the twenty first century there is little pleasure left in actual driving anyway so something which just works, goes, stops, turns is all we really need.

 

Apart from the standard stuff  (the airbags, crumple zones, pre-tensioned belts, etc), the biggest safety feature for many is the driving position. I don’t believe that the high-up position in inherently better than a more normal outlook but it seems that lots of you do, which is why you all buy these things with their commanding position. It's just a feeling of King of the Road much like a 4x4 is, I suspect. At speed it's fine, though, as with many MPVs I had little idea of where the front end actually was when parking as all you can see is the huge expanse of dash top (it's so large that after too long in the sun you start to see mirages at the end of it). The view out of the back was OK, though I would prefer much bigger, more (whisper it) van-like mirrors on the doors.

 

Okay, I admit it. I hate MPVs with a fiery passion but do not let me put you off.

If I had to have one it would have at least 9 seats, Captain's chairs in the front, cooker and fridge in the boot , shower and Portaloo in the middle and a pair of bunk beds. Oh sorry, that’s called a camper van. Seriously, I would have to have something a normal 5 seat estate could not offer. Seven seats? Nine Seats? Sliding side doors? This mini one has just five seats which is akin to people saying "I like the style of MPVs but don’t need the space or seven seats". So I guess this is what is called a lifestyle vehicle. The nicest bit of styling on it is the curved roof a la Focus but, as was demonstrated to me, this pushes rear headroom down to the 5ft 7inch comfort zone so if it's five adults makes sure three of them are small. The boot is quite large for an MPV but that reflects the lack of triple row seating.

When looking at it in all honesty I can't find the Picasso connection, it really is a very conservative piece of engineering and design, bar the front quarter lights. I think the FIAT Multipla would have been a much more fitting home for the Picasso name as that is much weirder in nature.

On the plus side, when parked next to a boring old Renault Megane People Carrier it actually looked quite exciting, just a shame it's not. Still, it's not the worst, most boring looking mini MPV on earth.  Just take a look at some of the monsters appearing from the Far East to see how you could do much much worse.

Fine for shopping or dropping the kids at school, just don't expect any dynamism or even an endearing Citroen idiosyncratic nature.

 

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