EXPLORING the miracle of procreation needn’t condemn you to a lifetime of dull family cars.
It became something of an accepted notion that the point at which you happened to bear a litter of children was the point at which you’d kiss goodbye to driving interesting cars and sign up for a multi-purpose vehicle, or an MPV.
Over the years manufacturers have tried to change this. The first few MPVs to enter the market were little more than vans with upholstered rear seats that could often be removed to turn the vehicle into; well, a van.
Modern MPVs have, through years of evolution and competitive design, become much more enjoyable to live with.
The balance between function and form has shifted massively in the last decade or so and, at the same time as being practical, they’re often genuinely good to drive with all the features of a top-level executive car.
Citroen, which has now started selling the latest of its strong selling ‘Picasso’ range, has always been rather good at producing small, practical and cleverly-designed MPVs and its first Picasso, an over-inflated version of its Xsara model, boasted pretty looks and innovative design features which made it an instant hit.
The latest car to wear the Picasso signature is based on the C4 hatchback but, from the front at least, there is little to hint at its humble underpinnings.
Far from being a dull people-carrier with all the personality of a butternut squash, the C4 Picasso sports one of the most futuristic-looking frontages in the motoring world.
Stare at it for a good while, straight on, and there’s a whole array of details to get your head around. The narrow LED lights that run into the equally narrow grille seem to be trying to fool you into thinking they are the car’s main headlights.
It’s only on a second, longer look you’ll notice the main lights have actually been there all along, just underneath, but they were buried a bit by the prominent lower grille and the brightness of the lights above.
The effect is very futuristic. At least in a sort of what the future was supposed to look like back in the 1990s sort of a way.
Such a bold look is going to divide opinion. I like it. I think it’s a bold and daring approach on a car that needn’t look so bold and daring.
But the last car that tried and failed to look bold and daring was the Fiat Multipla and that was a spectacular flop despite it, ironically, being one of the best cars in its class.
There’s better news as you walk around the car, however.
It’s much more sober and reserved. There’s a much stronger impression of the car the Picasso was developed from and it’s far less futuristic. The Multipla,
incidentally, was bonkers all the way round it. The wacky front was just the start.
So if you can look past the ‘Marmite’ front end (trust me, it looks better in the flesh) there’s rewards waiting inside.
True to the Picasso heritage there’s plenty of design brilliance in the interior - which any family motorist will tell you is the most important part of the car.
Immediately you’re struck by the enormous windscreen, which carries on way past the rear view mirror and into the roof. It’s like driving a coach and there’s plenty of light pouring into the cabin, which can be deflected by the enormous visors which slide down before they fold out.
The next thing you notice is the absence of any dials. In the centre there are two screens. A small dash-mounted screen for the main entertainment, navigation and telephone functions and then a huge 12inscreen at on top of the dash, replacing what should be a set of dials, which displays the car’s vital statistics and a few other things including a photograph album. (I kid you not).
Sounds complicated? In all honesty, it is. Usually in a week spent with a car I’ll have mastered everything that flashes and beeps but there were still things in the C4 Picasso that foxed me after seven days of living with it.
But there are some very clever features on board, especially in top-line models, and most of it is operated from the steering wheel to save you fiddling around with the touch screen controls.
It’s all a tad distracting at first but you quickly establish what you use and where that is and it becomes much more sensible than it first appears.
There’s plenty of storage in the front and, thanks to that huge windscreen and massive front quarter lights, it feels large and airy with brilliant visibility.
Safety is paramount and driver aids include adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and self-parking.
In the back, the story gets better still. There’s three individual seats which all fold down flat and will each move backwards and forwards to give either legroom or boot space.
There are tables on the rear of the front seats, storage bins in the flat floor and a 12v plug socket behind one of the passengers. All three seats, incidentally, have isofix fasteners for child seats.
The boot is cavernous with a very shallow loading floor and the tailgate, while being quite heavy, is massive and loading items in is a doddle.
Engines range from a 90bhp diesel which offers great fuel economy to a 155bhp petrol but the pick of the bunch is the one in my test model, the rather excellent 115bhp e-HDI diesel. 115bhp doesn’t sound a lot but it’s a good engine with plenty of torque and the fuel economy is trememdous.
The range starts at a thoroughly reasonable £17,500 but be prepared for a long list of options.
Fundamentally, though, the overall feeling you’re left with is one of great design.
Over the years the Picasso range has been roaming our streets, Citroen has learned plenty about how to produce a great family car. Look at this, if you will, as the pinnacle of that design evolution.
It has flaws, but they’re few and far between. Its strengths out-weigh its weaknesses and its rivals now have a big job on their hands if they want to move the game on.
(Model tested) C4 Picasso Exclusive e-HDi 115 Airdream manual, £23,889
Engine: 1560CC diesel producing 114bhp @ 3,600rpm
Size: (L) 4,428mm, (W) 1,971mm, (H) 1,625mm
Maximum speed: 117mph, 0-60mph: 11.8secs
Efficiency (mpg) Urban: 62.8, Extra-urban: 74.3,
Boot space: 537 litres (seats up)