PRICE from £22,760
ENGINE CAPACITY 2.0-litre diesel
POWER OUTPUT (BHP@RPM) 150 @ 4,000
TOP SPEED (MPH) 128
FUEL ECONOMY (MPG) 61.4
CO2 EMISSIONS (G/KM) 120
Twenty-five years ago I was a five-year-old in the back of a family member's Renault Espace. Back then, people carriers were big, bulky and French, and I remember that the Espace felt like a huge spaceship. In reality, as with its slightly smaller cousin, the Citroën's Xsara Picasso, the Espace was a chunky wagon for moving people around. I drove an old example myself recently and, as I've suspected since the age I started hanging supercar posters on my wall, it wasn't very nice to drive.
These days, people carriers are either from further afield (such as the Kia Carens and Toyota Verso) or, like the admittedly French Citroën Grand C4 Picasso I've been testing, far more sophisticated. So my test model not only boasts sculpted curves, a flash new nose, LEDs, running lights and bling wheels, but also has parking sensors and a host of other gadgets alongside the much-talked-about "commanding driving position".
Along with the seven seats, it's this elevated and airy driving position that really sells MPVs. In fact, the French firm even goes so far as to say that the C4 Grand Picasso offers "loft-style living". I'm not so sure about that, although it's certainly pleasant to drive. And my test-car was the range-topping Exclusive model, complete with leather seats, lane-departure warning, parking sensors, satnav, Bluetooth, a digital instrument cluster and even a scented-air diffuser.
Aside from the frustratingly slow satnav and the sickly smellies, all this kit works well. It will batter your current account, though – pushing the price of this family car close to £30k. I'm sure that even adjusted for inflation, that's a lot more than my aunt paid for her Espace.
To be fair to this bulky Citroën, test cars are always supplied with gadgets that the average buyer opts for at the dealership. And underneath all this, the Grand Picasso is a very good car indeed. It's huge inside, with a massive boot, but is easy to park thanks to its all-round visibility and giant windscreen. On the motorway it behaves perfectly, and is smooth and compliant around town. The only problem is that, economy aside, once you strip out the fancy touches and pricey gadgets, it's just not that radically different from any other MPV.