Rental Car Review: 2017 Citroen Grand C4 Picasso

2017 Citroen Grand C4 Picasso

My wife and I spent several days at a resort on Crete during our honeymoon 27 years ago.  While lovely, there was nothing else around.  That’s great if you want to get away from it all, but boring if you don’t.  I could have rented a car so we could go exploring, but I was too afraid.

For our first trip to London with the kids in 2022, there were obviously plenty of things to see and do that are accessible from the Tube.  However, there were two sights that we wanted to see that would require us to either rent a car or pay for a very expensive cab or coach.  This time, I wasn’t going to let fear prevent me from making the most of this vacation.

The Harry Potter Trip

The trip came about on a whim.  One of our family activities when the kids were younger was to read them the Harry Potter series before bedtime.  After each book, we’d watch the movie.  The “eighth” story, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, has never been made into a movie, nor are there plans to do so.  This was late 2021, and the world was slowly coming out of COVID.  While the play premiered on Broadway shortly before the world shut down, there was no firm date for its return.  Out of curiosity, I looked to see when it was coming back to the Palace Theater on London’s West End where it first premiered.  The website said March 2022 and was selling tickets.  I showed it to my wife, who said, “Let’s do it!”

We nicknamed this trip “The Harry Potter Trip”.  Besides The Cursed Child parts 1 & 2 (two full-length shows that you can see on the same day or spread out), we also planned to take in the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Leavesden Park (a fun coach bus with tablets in the seatbacks for watching The Sorcerer’s Stone was included as part of the package) and, of course, Kings Cross station.  We spent quite a few pounds in the Track 9 ¾ store.  We also took in many of the other London tourist attractions.

2017 Citroen Grand C4 Picasso

“What is a ‘weekend’?” – Violet Crawley

As a fan of Downton Abbey, I also wanted to visit Highclere Castle, which is about a 90-minute drive from London.  One of my wife’s bucket list items was Stonehenge, which turned out to be only a 40-minute drive from Highclere Castle.

Surprisingly, there were no car rental agency offices near our flat in Westminster, which was about a 10-minute walk from Victoria Station.  I decided that it was a good time to take Turo for a test drive, so to speak.  My only requirement was that it had to be a model not available in the U.S. That criteria immediately knocked the Audi Q3 out of the competition.  The 2015 BMW 118i hatchback was very tempting, but it was still too close to the 1 Series coupe and convertible available here, and I felt my family would be much more comfortable in the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso, which also was only a short walk away.

After creating an account in Turo, I panicked because I could no longer find the Citroen.  It turns out that there is a setting in your profile where you certify that you can operate a manual transmission, otherwise only automatics show up in your search.  After clearing that hurdle, I booked the Citroen for a Tuesday, taking the optional insurance just to be on the safe side.  The total was £137.97 for 200 miles.  A bit high, but still a substantial savings over the alternatives.

Just a Touch of  Dystychiphobia

Once that was all settled, there was one other problem: I was terrified of driving in England.  On Crete, my fear stemmed from an accident a friend of mine had in a rented car in Athens several years before.  They wouldn’t let her leave the country until she paid about $200 U.S. dollars, which she didn’t have.  As for driving in England, this scene kept going through my head:


However, I wasn’t going to be daunted by others’ misfortunes in car rental.  So, I did what I do best: Research.  Most Americans who had driven on the left for the first time said it was a little disorienting at first, but they got the hang of it quickly.  A couple of helpful suggestions were to have other people in the car watching (I had three) and to put a sticky note in the middle of the dash with an arrow pointing to where the middle line in the road should be (if the middle of the road is to your left, you’ve got problems).

After Google Maps sent us to the wrong apartment complex, we finally found the Citroen a few blocks away.  We took a walk around the car and a few “before” pictures to be on the safe side, then Ismael handed us the keys, and we both got on the wrong side of the car.  It took a little longer than usual to get adjusted (OK – the shift pattern is the same as in the U.S., so first is now up and away from me, and fifth is closest to me…), but then I slowly pulled away from the curb.  Even though it was a two-way street, the cars parked on both sides of the street – and not in any consistent direction, either – shrunk it to one lane.

2017 Citroen Grand C4 Picasso

Just as I was coming to the end of the block, a woman turned onto the street in the opposite direction and stopped to wait for me to get out of her way.  I tried to get her to back up so I could get around her, or she could have stayed on her side and waited behind the last parked car until I got through, but no.  So much for “friendly” English drivers.  I backed up into a driveway and let her by.  At the end of the block, I then moved onto the left side of the street and put on my right turn signal.  “What are you doing?” screamed my wife.  “Getting on the correct side of the road,” I retorted.  “Oh, yeah.”  If one of us was going to be the first to get confused, better her than the one behind the wheel (OK – so making a right turn in the U.K. is like making a left turn in the U.S.  I should end up on the far-side of the road…).

Liquid Gold

This Picasso was equipped with the 1.6 BlueHDi diesel engine, which there was precious little of.  Fortunately, there was a station just around the corner.  I knew I was going to be driving about 200 miles the next day, so I figured I’d just fill it up.  For some reason, the fact that diesel was a bit under £8 per gallon didn’t really register.  Mixed with the 14.5-gallon tank of the Picasso, the bell finally rang at over £87, or about $114.  This was a big shock to someone used to small cars and cheap gas.  As the Picasso gets about 50 to 60 miles per gallon, this was overkill, but would ultimately work in my favor.

The next challenge was to find on-street parking near our flat.  It took a few passes, but a spot finally opened about a block away.  My wife got out to help guide me.  Parallel parking is not something I do routinely and sitting on the “wrong” side of the car just upped the ante.  I believe I got it on the third try.  It was a restless night.


2017 Citroen Grand C4 Picasso

Our tickets for Highclere Castle were for 10AM, and we were on the road by 8.  Fortunately, traffic was surprisingly light, and I was able to get out of London and onto the M4 with no problems.  It was a cold, overcast and rainy day.  In other words, a perfect day to spend mostly in the car.  Periodically, my wife would tell me that I was very close to the left edge of the lane (I believe the word used was “grass”), but that was her only complaint.

French Carpet Ride

Once on the M4 – a multilane divided highway that would take us nearly all the way to the castle – I was finally able to sit back, relax, and take in my ride.  The Citroen Grand C4 Picasso is part of the European MPV class of vehicles, or “mini minivans with front-hinged rear doors” to us Yanks.  Similar in size to the original Honda Odyssey, other forbidden fruits in this class include the Renault Scenic, Volkswagen Touran, and Ford Galaxy.  While the name Citroen brings to mind the cute-as-a-bug 2CV or wildly-styled, mechanically-complex cars like the DS, SM and XM, the GC4P didn’t look or feel terribly different than any other vehicle I’ve driven.  The slim line front grill with integrated driving lamps with the cool chevron in the middle is very distinctive, as is the expanse of A-Pillar glass ahead of the front doors.  Inside, there is a large center-mounted instrument panel, and that’s about all that sets the interior apart.

There was, however, abundant space in the front and rear for the whole family, with a flat floor and rear seats that recline and slide.  The fact that the GC4P is very much like a normal car meant that there was a very short learning curve to how everything operates and no need to RTFM.  I wasn’t sure if this MPV had the 100 or 120 version of the 1.6 BlueHDi, but acceleration felt surprisingly peppy, and I’m guessing the more powerful version with 118 horsepower and 221lb-ft of torque.  According to the specs, 0-60 takes 11.7 seconds.  The five-speed manual shifted smoothly, with all that lovely turbo-diesel torque making smooth take-offs easy and downshifts rare, and the Picasso easily loafed along at 75 MPH.

Higheclere Castle

We made it to Highclere Castle well within our appointed time.  Cameras are not allowed inside. So, exterior shots will have to do.  Scenes set on above-ground floors are shot in the castle, and there are large cardboard photos showing the cast filming scenes in the rooms that are part of the tour.  Kitchen and servant-quarter scenes are filmed on a soundstage because the basement of the castle contains one of England’s premiere ancient Egyptian museums.  It turns out that Howard Carter, who discovered King Tut’s tomb, was financed by the 5th Lord Carnarvon.

Highclere Castle

After leaving Highclere Castle, we stopped for a truly mediocre lunch at Chalkhill Blue in Andover, then drove on to Stonehenge.  I had no idea that anybody commuting on the A303 could clearly see this ancient monument from the road.  It was simply surreal.  Aside from getting off at the wrong roundabout spoke, we again had no issues getting there.


Traffic was a little heavier on the way back as we were now encroaching on rush hour.  No issues on the M3, but downtown London was very different from that morning.  I still tended to hug the left edge, but not in any way that threatened an accident.

“That was some of the best flying I’ve seen yet. Right up to the part where you got killed.”

Our first encounter of the day occurred when our lane split into two, and I realized at the last minute that I needed to be on the left side to go straight and cut off an angry man driving an Alfa Romeo Giulia.  He pulled up next to me and started yelling.  Again, so much for the “friendly” British driver.

Now, I was a little more nervous.  We fished through heavy rush-hour traffic, part of which was on an expressway in downtown London, and I moved right to get off at the next exit.  This exit was very narrow.  There were calf-high cement curbs on either side with protruding iron bars.  The Citroen is very wide and, combined with my tendency to hug the left edge, resulted in the left rear-wheel hopping the curb.  While recovering from that shock, the left wing mirror slammed shut against one of the iron bars and the glass went flying.  My son asked if I was going back for it.  A “no” weakly emanated from my mouth.

2017 Citroen Grand C4 Picasso

I was a wreck.  I’d done so well for almost 200 miles and screwed the pooch 10 minutes from my final destination.  I just wanted to return the thing and be done.  I told Ismael what happened, and he was a bit upset but took it well.  He was happy that I was at least returning it with three-quarters of a tank.  I figured I was covered because I took the insurance. So, I wasn’t overly concerned about any additional damage, I was just suffering a badly bruised ego.

I ran into Ismael in the supermarket the next day (that’s what I get for renting locally) and he told me he’d taken the Citroen for a drive and couldn’t discern any fallout from the curb hop.  He was also willing to look past the scuff on the back of the wing mirror and just wanted the money for new glass.  He then told me that Turo would charge him £250 to put in an insurance claim.  I thought he was trying to put one over on me, but he was right, as Turo wants the parties to work it out amongst themselves.  I paid him £24 for a new mirror and was happy to put the whole thing behind me.

Do I regret hiring the car?  Not at all.  I faced my fear and, except for the end, had a great day.  Now that I’d done it, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.  Maybe with something a little smaller, and preferably in a country that drives on the right.