Citroen C3 Picasso (2008-2017) review
The Citroen C3 Picasso showcases the French brand at its quirky best, with a huge cabin and interesting styling, but it's not perfect
Though many manufacturers have replaced their MPVs with SUVs, Citroen has held fast, offering both the award-winning C4 Picasso and this, the smaller Citroen C3 Picasso. It wowed customers at its debut in 2009 thanks to its classically crazy Citroen styling, and even years on in 2017 it looks funky, fresh and modern. It's an ideal car for those who aren't impressed with small crossovers and want the practicality of an MPV, but without the massive footprint that a seven-seat people carrier brings.
Although the market is moving to SUVs, the Citroen C3 Picasso still has a number of rivals in the supermini-MPV sector, and each offers something different to counter the C3's kooky styling. The Ford B-MAX has its party-piece sliding doors, the Kia Venga has a class-leading seven-year warranty, and the Honda Jazz is smaller but just as capacious. The C3 Picasso hits back though, with brilliant fuel economy and great refinement from its efficient engines.
The styling is what really sets it apart. Like its bigger brother, the C4 Picasso, the C3 Picasso is fun, charismatic and looks like nothing else on the road The Citroen C3 Picasso’s design is credited to Donato Coco – the man also responsible for the larger original C4. Its most eye-catching feature is the huge glazed area formed by the three-part wraparound front windscreen which, coupled to the optional panoramic sunroof, gives the spacious cabin an extremely bright and airy feel.
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The car is only available as a five-door, five-seat hatchback, but Citroen claims ‘class-best’ laurels for the C3 Picasso’s interior space thanks to modular seating, slim-line seats and a flat floor.
Choosing a C3 Picasso is simple as the car has only two trim levels and two engine choices. The petrol option is the 1.2-litre version of the PSA Group’s three-cylinder PureTech unit, while the diesel is a 1.6-litre BlueHDI four-cylinder. Both are fitted with manual gearboxes and promise excellent fuel economy with low running costs. There's no automatic gearbox option.
The two trim levels are called Edition and Platinum, and both are pretty well-equipped. The cheaper Edition model features 16-inch alloy wheels, ABS, ESP, fully-adjustable steering wheel and driver’s seat height, electric mirrors, cruise control, manual air-con, and a radio/CD player with Bluetooth.
Going Platinum means 17-inch wheels, the panoramic sunroof, dark tinted rear glass, automatic lights, wipers and air-con, plus the trim level allows you to specify a reversing camera with the optional sat-nav, and even leather upholstery.
The Citroen C3 Picasso was a breath of fresh air in the small MPV class when it was launched in 2008.
Its boxy lines ensure the C3 Picasso has plenty of space inside, where the impressive build quality really makes it feel like a premium product. The cabin is also an extremely relaxing place to spend time, as wind and road noise are kept to a minimum.
The three-cylinder petrol engine is the best option - it has enough pulling power to cope with big loads and motorway trips, yet returns excellent fuel economy.
A facelift in 2012 added the new family grille and LED running lights, plus smart new wheel trims and paint colours.
Engines, performance and drive
The most striking aspect of the C3 Picasso driving experience is the refinement. Wind, road and engine noise are low, giving the Citroen a big car feel, particularly at motorway speeds. This impression is bolstered by the supple and composed ride, which soaks up even big bumps and potholes.
On the other hand, the soft suspension set-up means the C3 Picasso suffers from body roll in the bends and can also feel a little floaty over some of the UK’s twisty back roads.
Over-assisted steering, which delivers little in the way of feedback, adds to the sense that the C3 Picasso is not really a driver’s car. The handling would have to be described as safe and predictable, rather than involving.
You only get the choice of two engines with the C3 Picasso, but both are advanced units that show of the Peugeot-Citroen Group’s admirable efficiency tech. Petrol fans can pick the 109bp 1.2-litre PureTech three-cylinder, while diesel fans can choose a four-cylinder 1.6 BlueHDi diesel, which comes with 100bhp.
Both engines are just about powerful enough on the motorway. While the petrol needs to be worked hard to extract its performance, it will sit at motorway cruising speeds without feeling strained or getting noisy. The diesel is less powerful, but with 20 per cent more torque it doesn’t seem quite so challenged by a full load of passengers.
The diesel's performance is quite turgid though, with 0-62mph taking a leisurely 13.3 seconds. This compares to 11.8 seconds for the petrol, which definitely feels nippier and more responsive around town.
For that reason, we’d recommend the petrol unless you regularly travel long distances (when the diesel’s better economy comes into play) or frequently load your car up with passengers and luggage.
MPG, CO2 and Running Costs
Like other models in the Citroen line-up, the C3 Picasso represents decent value for money. As the model has aged, Citroen has simplified the range and added spec in an effort to keep it competitive. That means even the entry-level Edition model has plenty of standard kit, but that shouldn’t stop you trying to knock a worthwhile discount off the new purchase price – especially in the light of the car's poor resale values.
For day-to-day running costs, the C3 Picasso should be cheap to drive whether you pick the diesel or the petrol engine.
The diesel has a clear advantage on mpg, with an impressive 72.4mpg for claimed fuel economy. If you don’t rack up many miles though, the petrol engine’s 56.5mpg isn’t going to be that painful at the pumps either.
As is often the case, it’s a matter of balancing the extra cost of the diesel engine over the potential savings – unless of course you need the extra torque for load-carrying.
On the emissions front, the petrol claims a C02 figure of 115g/km, whereas the diesel emits 101 g/km. Those low emissions figures – and list prices - also make the C3 Picasso pretty cost-effective as a company car.
Petrol-engined versions of the C3 Picasso fall into insurance group 14, while the diesel engines are in group 16. This seems high compared to the Ford B-Max and the Hyundai ix20, which both range from group 7 to 13.
All models in the C3 Picasso range have average-to-poor residuals, with even the diesel models struggling to hold on to much more than 30 per cent of their new value after three years and 30,000 miles.
This makes it even more desirable to secure a discount from your dealer up-front, but of course that won’t help overall brand values in the long run.
Interior, design and technology
If you want a small MPV that stands out from the crowd, the Citroen C3 Picasso could be the car for you. The nose features large wraparound headlamps, while the rest of the shape is an eye-catching mix of straight lines and bold curves.
Even the entry-level Edition models feature alloy wheels and roof rails. Go for the range-topping Platinum and you’ll get a unique 17-inch wheel design, body-colour upper bumper inserts, black side rubbing strips with chrome inserts, more chrome embellishments on the door handles and darkened privacy glass for the rear windows.
All models benefit from a novel panoramic windscreen that stretches over the heads of the driver and front seat passenger, which is particularly effective in combination with the panoramic sunroof fitted to the Platinum model.
Inside, the centralised instrument cluster takes a bit of getting used to. The digital readouts themselves are a bit dated and some of the trim is beginning to look tired too.
The ergonomics of the driving position and controls are not particularly well-optimised – in particular the fiddly stereo controls are blocked by the gearlever. But overall equipment levels are good and the high driving position makes the C3 Picasso a very easy car to place on the road and park.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The C3 Picasso has just one audio set-up available, which is an RDS radio/MP3 and CD player with four speakers and steering wheel-mounted controls.
Bluetooth phone connectivity is standard, and there’s a USB port and aux socket for connecting music drives.
Sat-nav is an £800 option on both trim grades. It’s the Citroen eMyWay system, and if you’re speccing-up the Platinum model you can spend a further £200 to get reversing camera system (with parking sensors) thrown-in too.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Few cars of any size can match the Citroen C3 Picasso for versatility. Thanks to its boxy and upright exterior, it's able to make the most of its supermini dimensions for cabin space.
Look around the interior and you’ll find bags of storage and it’s solidly screwed together too, with an attractive fascia featuring classy aluminium air vents.
What’s less impressive is the driving position, which feels a little cramped and there’s nowhere to rest your left foot when it’s not operating the clutch.
The C3 Picasso is 4,078mm long, which makes it almost identical in length to the Ford B-Max, but noticeably shorter than the 4,300mm Vauxhall Meriva.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Considering it’s only as big as a supermini outside, C3 Picasso occupants get plenty of leg and headroom – even in the rear with the 60/40 split rear seat pushed back on its sliders.
However, a word of warning about the panoramic glass roof – standard on Platinum models – which badly limits rear headroom and makes the C3 Picasso feel cramped for adult passengers. For kids (and smaller adults) it’s brilliant though.
There are standard ISOFIX mounting points for child seats in the back.
Opening the C3 Picasso’s tailgate reveals a remarkable 500-litre boot, but only if you’ve slid the adjustable rear bench seat into its most forward position, which makes a huge different to the legroom in the back. With the rear bench pushed back to make more room for passengers, boot volume reduces to 385 litres.
Fold all the seats down flat and a raised panel drops in to bring the boot floor up to be level with them. The resulting space is great for large items, as the volume goes up to an impressive 1,506 litres. The boot lip itself is small and low, and with a large square tailgate opening it’s easy to stack luggage into the car.
A space-saver spare wheel is an £80 option that we’d recommend over the standard issue aerosol can.
If you want to use your car for towing then you’ve a bit of a conundrum. The diesel engine’s torque characteristics make it better for towing, but the maximum towing weight is only 900kgs. The towing limit for the three-cylinder petrol is 1,100 kgs.
Reliability and Safety
Unfortunately, a five-star score eluded the C3 Picasso in the independent EuroNCAP crash tests when it was tested back in 2009.
The C3 Picasso earned four stars because ESC was originally only an option on many models, but you'll be pleased to know that it now comes as standard in the UK version, along with curtain side airbags for the front seats.
The crash test's occupant safety rating was reasonably good at 81 per cent for adults and 76 for children.
More modern designs do better. The Hyundai ix20 earns five stars with adult/child safety percentages of 89/85, the Ford B-Max earns five stars with percentages of 92/84 and the Vauxhall Meriva earns five stars with percentages of 98/77. The bigger Kia Soul, though, only earns four stars, with percentages of 75/82.
It's also worth noting that Citroen performs quite badly in our annual Driver Power satisfaction survey for both reliability and dealer service - and like most French cars the electrics can suffer from the occasional fault.
In the 2015 survey, the brand finished 20th for overall satisfaction out of 32 manufactures and was 18th for Reliability.
The C3 Picasso itself ranked 108th out of 200 cars for overall satisfaction, but managed 78th for reliability. Build quality was a notably poor 167th though, so Citroen clearly has more work to do in order to shake its reputation.
The Citroen line-up attracts the standard brand warranty of three years and/or 60,000 miles, which is average but certainly not exceptional for the class. The Hyundai ix20 offers five years and/or 100,000 miles.
At least routine servicing for your C3 Picasso should be a bargain-basement price, especially as Citroen typically offers fixed rate/menu pricing. Last time we looked the price for a service was £149, including collection and delivery of the car.
You can also budget for routine maintenance with Citroen’s monthly service plans, which start from as little as £11 per month.