'It means we're going back to our roots to create designs that are different. Citroen has a strong history, and there's nothing wrong with returning to our original values. I think it is even more important for our brand to have a strong identity as competition from other volume makers gets tougher and specialist makers also begin to take an interest in our areas of the market,' he told Fleet NewsNet. Besson claimed the Picasso five-seat model was a good example of how the company's researchers were now 'anticipating the evolution' of different classes of car.
'Peugeot will also be innovative, but our values are not the same. Though the Picasso is a monospace car, it has been styled to have the elegance of a traditional saloon and it is also far better to drive than you'd expect. This shows that we're finding solutions that will interest customers in our models. While it is true that other manufacturers also offer good products, Citroen will always be different and each new vehicle we produce in future will not compare directly with the car it replaces because it will cover a wider market segment,' he said.
Earlier, Citroen managing director Claude Satinet predicted the new model would win a wide following across key European markets because it had what he described as 'unconventional functions'. 'Unlike its rivals, our car has full-size seats for rear passengers and a big boot capacity of 550 litres. We think there's little point in carrying seven people in a vehicle if they are not able to take anything other than a toothbrush with them when they travel. This is a design which will be of maximum benefit to families,' he said.
Though the Xsara and Berlingo-Partner van ranges are also produced at Vigo, in north-west Spain, daily output of the Picasso is expected to reach 800 units next year. A windscreen with a thin metal oxide 'sandwich' is claimed to reflect sunlight to keep the interior cooler in summer temperatures and a multiplexing system is said to achieve a 20% reduction in the car's wiring system - despite powering new functions which include speed-related operation of windscreen wipers, guide-you-home headlamps and automatic radio volume control.
There may be three engines available in the Xsara Picasso range, but there is one version which really stands out - the 2.0-litre HDi model. The common rail direct injection turbodiesel engine is the real star of the range with a healthy 151lb-ft of torque available from as low down in the rev range as 1,900rpm. With almost no turbo lag, the HDi motor felt by far the quickest of the three models available at the press launch - the power came on smoothly and the torque on offer made driving on twisty hill roads much easier than with the petrol versions, which continually had to be downchanged.
Citroen is claiming a combined economy figure of 51mpg for the HDi - well up on the 1.6 and 1.8-litre petrol models, which return 36.2 and 36.7mpg respectively. Carbon dioxide emissions are also much lower, with the HDi producing 147g/km compared with 187 for both petrol engines.
The Picasso offers two petrol engines - a 1.6-litre 90bhp four-cylinder and a new PSA-family 1.8-litre 16-valve unit producing 117bhp. Initial driving impressions showed little difference between the two petrol models and both seemed quite lively on acceleration. The big difference between the two was at motorway cruising speeds, where the 1.6 revved quite hard while the 1.8 seemed far more relaxed.
Due to the design, all five seats are set high in the cabin and offer a panoramic view all round - although the thick A-pillar does restrict vision when cornering. Allied to a spacious interior, the Picasso offers a comfortable cabin and a smooth ride, although wind noise intrudes at motorway-speed driving.
Although Picasso is based on the Xsara, Citroen has produced a new dashboard with a central screen visible to all passengers. It houses information such as speed, fuel and engine temperature, plus the computer with warnings such as when maintenance is required, black ice alert and a buzzer which sounds if you exceed speed limits.