If I said “road trip to the South of France” I’d expect you to snap back with “Aston, F-Type, Maserati… something fast, convertible and posh”. Imagine it – the wind in our hair, the scent of champagne and camembert in our nostrils, dashing from the frozen north to our first glance of the Med with no more than a tickle of the throttle and a flash of the passports at Calais.
Well, sorry to shatter your dreams, but we’re going there and back again in a people carrier. That’s how La Famille Hunter rolls. For starters, three of us are making the journey, so a two-seater is out. We need space for a week’s worth of luggage, plus gifts for the couple whose wedding we’re going to, plus whatever treasures we can plunder from the vineyards surrounding the church.
And forget the throaty roar of a barely-tamed V8 – we’re paying for the fuel ourselves, so only ultra-economical cars need apply. And, because we’re round the twist, we’re doing the return journey – all 1,200 miles of it – in one go, so first-class comfort is crucial.
Also, and perhaps I ought to have mentioned this at the start, Scotsman Motoring’s Citroen Grand C4 Picasso long-term test car is peering in through the living room window, ticking all the boxes and begging to be driven. That rather seals the deal, n’est-ce pas?
OK, so it’s not sports-car chic, but the Grand Picasso is easy on the eye. Seven-seater cars are the bread and butter of France’s motorway network but, in a stream of last-generation Grand Picassos, Peugeot 807s and Renault Espaces, this latest Citroen turns heads. It’s the funky face with its tiny headlights, the swathes of glass and the sweep of the windscreen pillars that merge seamlessly with the roof rails, that mark it out from the also-rans. In the epicentre of haute couture, hairy-faced Hunter is TRENDING! Who would have believed it?
The autoroute is the Grand Picasso’s happy place. Its 1.6-litre turbodiesel engine yields a modest 113bhp but, once into its stride, it barrels along in the fast lane with barely a whisper. Fill all seven seats with wedding guests, or stuff the 800-litre boot with crates of Minervois red, and it still pulls strongly. A little radar in the Grand Picasso’s nose tells the cruise control to keep us a safe distance from the car in front, while a massage from the front seats keeps pins and needles away. This is too easy.
All the while, the fuel consumption gauge averages 55mpg. Citroen says the big Picasso should be good for 70mpg on the combined cycle, whatever that is, but we’re not going to quarrel with the numbers. The car is moderately-laden, the air-con is working overtime to shield us from the searing heat outside (37C on the Paris Périphérique) and we’ve covered much of the ground at 130km/h, which is 80mph on this side of the Channel. It wasn’t until I got back to Scotland that I worked out how to switch the C4’s giant digital speedo from mph to km/h, but the satnav also displays the current speed limit in mph, to save the driver from doing the sums.
Off the motorway, the Grand Picasso is true to its Citroen roots. OK, so it might not barrel across a ploughed field without scrambling a basket of eggs, 2CV style, but it smooths out imperfections in the road surface with aplomb, with only a slight trade-off in cornering finesse. The enormous storage box between the front seats is begging to be filled with a bottle or two of vin rouge and a baguette.
If a long stretch behind the wheel reveals the Grand Picasso’s strengths, it also flags up a few shortcomings. Niggle un: I can’t get the driver’s seat as low as I’d like. As a result, the sliding sun visor brushes the top of my head when it’s pushed all the way to the top of the massive windscreen.
Niggle deux: Don’t let the revs drop below 1,500rpm, or the engine will respond to your press of the accelerator with a shrug of its shoulders. May God have mercy on anyone daft enough to attempt a third-gear entry on to the Arc de Triomphe roundabout.
Niggle trois: The touchscreen dashboard is as cool as they come, but I wish Citroen hadn’t abandoned good old-fashioned heater controls in its rush to relieve the Grand Picasso’s fascia of buttons, knobs and switches. Flicking through screens while trying to crank up the air-con to arctic chill mode in searing south of France heat is a faff.
It’s hard to be angry when the Grand Picasso cheers us up on the long road home without realising it. Its excellent fuel economy and a 12-gallon tank meant we were able to brim it with cheap French diesel at a sun-kissed aire somewhere south of Calais, and still have 100 miles spare by the time we get back home without having to stop at a grim motorway service station on the M6. Of all the reasons not to take a gas-guzzling sports car on a trans-European trip, that’s probably my favourite one of the lot.
PRICE £25,655 (£29,750 as tested)
ENGINE 1.6l turbodiesel, 4 cyl, 113bhp, 199 lb ft
PERFORMANCE Max speed 117mph; 0-62mph 12.1s
ECONOMY 55mpg (our figure)