Citroen Picasso Exclusiv e-Hdi 115 - Call this progress? They really should slam the brakes on it

Wheels Etc.

In his thought-provoking study of modern materialism How Much is Enough?, the biographer of economist John Maynard Keynes, Robert Skidelsky, posits the notion that, at this stage of human development, we should not worry too much about further accumulation of goods and wealth. It's not a new idea. In 1930, Keynes himself looked around and saw the Model T Ford, radio, the vacuum cleaner, the talkies – and took the view that there was a sufficiency of modernity. And you might remember what Jesus said about this sort of thing.

Today, Keynes, or Jesus for that matter, would look around and find the Citroen C4 Picasso as fresh confirmation that having more really is almost an end in itself, and sometimes counter-productive. I refer, in particular, to the electric parking brake. These, as is traditional with motoring technology, made their debut on much more expensive cars than this Picasso, but "trickled down" to relatively modest family transport, as here. I think they are an example, to move from Jesus and John Maynard Keynes to Hans Christian Anderson, of The Emperor's New Clothes; an innovation that the consensus views as progress on the old mechanical lever, but which in fact is nothing of the sort. Years ago, I recall, they used to fit tiny little wipers to the headlamps of cars, before we realised they were hopeless: the electric parking brake is the same sort of thing.

Hence, in the Picasso I did feel as though I was suffering a Keynesian surfeit of sophistication, because, try as I might, the electric parking brake just wasn't usable. You have to apply and disapply it as you set off in a very particular order, or else the car starts screaming at you. Matters are not aided by the in-traffic stop-start system. This requires you to depress the clutch all the way down before it will start the engine up again. All the way down. Failure to hit the floor will leave you in a lurch, literally. The semi-automatic gearbox option is also, by all accounts, a bit clumsy. And then it starts screaming at you again.

Unusually for an old French model (and I don't mean BB, BTW), you still see quite a few of the original egg-shaped Xsara Picassos around. The old shape is almost classic. This latest version is a bit mean and ugly-looking, with slitty headlights and characterless back end. The latest Picasso tries much harder to be avant-garde and technically advanced, and fails. Plus it has a name like a pedigree dog. Where's the progress?

Citroen Picasso Exclusiv e-Hdi 115 Airdream 6-speed manual

Price: Range from £17,500 (£23,999 as tested)

Engine capacity: 1560cc turbo-charged diesel

Power output (hp @ rpm): 114@3,600

Top speed (mph): 117

0-62 mph (seconds): 11.8

Fuel economy (mpg): 70.6