It takes one look at the monthly sales charts to realise South Africans love their SUVs. The rationale behind the purchase of such a vehicle is obvious – they offer space and practicality for the whole family (and a side order of societal one-upmanship). But, where do buyers turn who put family first but abhor big, bulky SUVs? The trusty MPV and station wagon, of course.

Two recent additions to the anti-SUV market include the Citroën C4 Picasso and Honda Civic Tourer. They’re unashamedly different and aim to provide similar solutions to SUVs, but with fewer related compromises.

The Civic Tourer’s stretched profile designates it as a member of a dying breed in South Africa (unlike in Europe, where station wagons still enjoy great popularity). While most of the Civic’s frontal design elements have remained the same as those of its hatchback sibling, one of the key differences is the use of a very strong shoulder line that rises steeply all the way from the A- to the D-pillar. There’s also been liberal use of the rear-quarter glass to create a floating roof effect. Large, intricately designed wheels complete the visual transformation.

When it comes to the Citroën, the front-end features a large lower air intake, LED lights that have been split from the main headlamp housings and a long, narrow Citroën logo. At the rear, the styling is almost box-like with angular tail-lamps and straight-cut lines that make the C4 Picasso look very Volkswagen-like. The panoramic windscreen, large sunroof and slim A-pillars flood light into the cabin. Extensive colour-coding and brightwork, as well as full-grain leather upholstery lend the C4 Picasso an upmarket air.

In terms of dimensions, these SUV alternatives differ considerably. The C4 Picasso is set on PSA’s EMP2 (Efficient Modular Platform 2), which also underpins the Peugeot 308 (due to be introduced to the local market soon). The Citroën is 4 430 mm long, 1 830 mm wide and 1 610 mm high. It’s shorter than the previous C4 Picasso, but its wheelbase has grown by 55 mm. The luggage bay has a maximum capacity of 408 dm3 with the rear seatbacks in place, which grows to a generous 1 256 dm3 should you need to fit longer items.

Whereas the C4 offers a voluminous luggage compartment height-wise, the Honda Civic counters with a long one thanks to its stretched platform (compared with the hatchback’s) that sees the bumpers set 235 mm further apart. This means the cargo area can swallow an excellent 416 dm3 of luggage with all the seats in place. Honda’s Magic Seat configuration system further enhances the interior room with additional underfloor storage in the luggage bay for taller items. Should that still not be sufficient, the rear seatbacks can flip down to accommodate 1 288 dm3.

Despite being large in size, we found both cars relatively easy to pilot, even round town, and manoeuvring into a parking spot was never tricky in either.

When it comes to the cabin of each vehicle, it’s clear that the one is aimed at buyers who favour simplicity and ease of use, while those who like an array of gadgets and gimmicks will appreciate the other. 

The Civic’s interior matches the former description and has a neat and simple layout that feels very familiar to those of other Hondas. Leather seats and chrome trim add some sophistication, as does a long list of standard items that includes hill-start assist, a reversing camera, PDC, heated front seats, a six-speaker audio system, cruise control, auto headlamps and windscreen wipers, Bluetooth, USB and AUX connectivity, power windows and remote central locking.

Picasso buyers won’t feel short-changed, either. Stock items on the Intensive model are: auto lights with LED elements, dual-zone climate control, a seven-inch touchscreen for all vehicle functions and a 12-inch full-colour central display for
the audio and entertainment features, programmable cruise control with speed limiter, leather trim, a panoramic windscreen, cornering function, stop/start functionality, front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.

What’s more, prospective buyers can specify the Citroën with various gadget-and-gizmo packs that include items such as a 360-degree vision parking system, an electrically operated tailgate, a lane-departure-warning system and massaging seats.

Under the bonnet of the Honda nestles the well-known (if not a little outdated) 1,8-litre petrol engine that delivers 104 kW at 6 500 r/min.  The five-speed torque-converter automatic transmission sends drive to the front wheels. On our test strip, the Civic took 12,23 seconds to accelerate from standstill to 100 km/h, and 3,57 seconds to accelerate from 80 to 100 km/h, which is pedestrian. Besides a dearth of torque, the transmission should shoulder the blame for the lack of useful
oomph. We’d save R14 000 and opt for the sweet-shifting six-speed manual ‘box instead.

The steering lacks feedback, but its weighting can be adjusted by toggling between the three dynamic modes – comfort, normal and dynamic. This system, somewhat superfluously, also firms up the suspension. It never lets you gain complete control, however; no matter the mode, the system assesses driver input, driving conditions and load, and adjusts the damping accordingly.  The overall feel is that a driver isn’t necessarily aware of the fact that they’re driving a longer car. It feels a lot like the hatchback, sounds refined and is unflustered.

 e Citroën – which is 140 kg lighter than the equivalent previous model – makes use of a 1,6-litre turbodiesel unit. Maximum power of 85 kW is achieved at 3 600 r/min, while maximum torque (270 N.m) is available at 1 750 r/min.  The C4, which is equipped with a six-speed manual ‘box, accelerated from zero to 100 km/h in a respectable 13,34 seconds. What’s more important is in-gear acceleration: in fourth gear, the Picasso needed a brief 9,28 seconds to accelerate from 60 to 100 km/h.

The gearbox is typically Citroën – it feels delicate and lacks that final bit of precision, while the clutch lacks bite. Otherwise, the Picasso is a pleasure to pilot thanks to a well-damped ride and hushed running. Only the rush of air being displaced by the large side mirrors contribute to higher NVH at highway speeds.

Both vehicles come fully kitted with six airbags, Isofix anchorages for baby seats, hillstart assist, and ABS with EBD and brake assist. During our 100-0 km/h braking tests, the Honda achieved an average time of 2,96 seconds and the Citroën 2,82; both  gures are very good.

As mentioned at the outset of this test, SUV buyers mostly favour practicality and family space ahead of dynamics and everyday driving comfort (to a degree, at least; modern compact SUVs drive almost as well as their hatchback counterparts and often are almost as affordable to run).

Just compare the utilityspace of our Top 12 Best BuysCompact SUV/Crossover, the Ford Kuga, with that of thePicasso and Tourer: the former off ers 152 dm3 more than the French vehicle and 120 dm3 of space in addition to that offered by the Honda. It’s undoubtedly has a more practical interior.

Why then consider anything other than an SUV? Because these sound alternatives offer something from the norm. The C4 Picasso and Civic Tourer manage to o er quirkiness without much compromise: they’re cheaper than off-roaders with equivalent spec and performance, yet are spacious, comfortable, well-equipped family vehicles. We’d wholeheartedly recommend either if the names Kuga, CR-V and Tiguan don’t feature on your shopping list.