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Citroen Xsara Picasso Automatic 2003 Road Test

Mon, 20 Jan 2003

Few cars have been as long awaited as the Citroen Xsara Picasso Automatic.

At last: the best sensibly-priced 5-seater MPV with an autobox. Not only that, you get the 138bhp 2.0 litre 16v PSA petrol engine to give it a bit of go, and a Tiptronic style change lever to keep control over the box. Best of all, with Citroen’s current cashback offer, they only ask £13,995 for the SX or £14,995 for the Exclusive, despite RRPs of £15,995 and £16,995.

The Exclusive really is a lot of car for £14,995. You get alloy wheels, velour seats, climate control, electronic stability programme, electronic brake assist, cruise control and lumbar adjustment for both front seats, which, incidentally, will fold flat as in a Honda Civic, once you remove the head restraints. The other similarity to the Civic, but curiously to no other small MPV, is a completely flat floor which allows the driver to easily slide across and get out of the nearside front door, or walk between the front seats to sort out the kids in the back.

Somehow they’ve made it drive much better than any other Picasso. Handling is neat, tidy controlled and grippy at the front. Perhaps it’s the power. Perhaps it’s the gear ratios. Perhaps it’s the added control from being able to left-foot brake. On my test drive, I got stuck behind a FIAT Multipla which wasn’t being driven slowly, and the Picasso was all over it on the twisty bits. When an empty straight appeared in front, the Picasso went past like a slingshot and picked up speed staggeringly well for an automatic MPV. You can even reach the 70 limit in second if needs be.

That’s not how these cars are likely to be driven, of course. But I make the point to illustrate how much more car-like the Picasso has become with the new 138bhp engine and 4 speed autobox. This box is the same as used in the more expensive C5 and C8 automatics, not the one in the Xsara auto which has been giving some trouble.

Providing you don’t ask too much by attempting to change down at too high a speed, you can use all the lower gears to retard the car on descents. It also has a fully automatic sports mode, but that seemed to me to far too jumpy, changing down at the faintest whiff of throttle and sometimes half way round a bend. Better to use standard automatic for slobbing about town and the lever for the open road. Then you’ll have a car which is everything for five people, and quite a lot of fun for the driver as well.

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