Here's a question: do you like your cars simple or clever? Now, if you like intelligent design, if you're the sort of person who bothers to read the handbook to find out exactly what your wheels can do, and if you are willing to pay what it takes to be an early adopter, then welcome to the Citroën C4 Picasso. If not, stop now, and put your name down for something altogether less classy and entertaining.
The new five-seat model is slightly more compact than Citroën's original people-carrier, the Xsara Picasso, and - although the general concept and most of the mechanical bits are carried over from before - the bodywork aft of the front doors is unique to this car. This lends it a little of its own personality, though both new Picasso models (the seven-seat version is already on sale, renamed the Grand C4 Picasso) tend to stand out by dint of their adventurous styling.
So, what's so clever about it? Well, for a start there's a vast panoramic windscreen that intrudes quite a way into where the roof should be. You can supplement that with a full-length glass roof if you like, thus transforming your mini-people-carrier into a mini-planetarium.
And then there's the artful use of lighting in the interior, with thin strips along the roofline of the cabin and across the lower line of the dash. You can customise the dash to suit your mood - change the colour of the dials, delete the rev counter, that sort of thing. There's even a built-in shopping trolley in the boot - and the interior light that doubles as a torch.
More substantially, the gearbox is something of a tour de force, though you might well be forgiven for thinking that, on this score at least, Citroën has been a bit too clever for its own good. The clutchless manual affair has the great advantage of cheapness (it's a £500 option), lightness and compactness but, like the one in the new Smart reviewed in our road test this week, it doesn't work all that well. It's not jerky, exactly, just not as smooth as a traditional automatic box (which won't be available in the UK) or a manual box (which will).
As with other C4 models, only the rim of the steering wheel, and not the hub, rotates, so making the minor controls on the wheel easier to use. The engines, too, are brainy enough to deliver what appears to be excellent fuel economy. Optional air suspension at the rear enhances comfort and handling, while all the usual electronic aids to stability are there. The parking brake engages automatically when you stop the engine and disengages when you put the car into gear and press the accelerator. It even has a parking-space sensor. Maybe the only trick it misses is one that's central to its multipurpose role: the rear seats don't fold into the floor.
So we can't quite award this clever car a first-class honours degree, but the C4 Picasso stacks up well against its competitors. This Citroën deserves to be a hit; and it would be if it was a bit cheaper. Not all of the cleverness is available on all the variants; you have to pay for the privilege, and a fully kitted C4 Picasso can crest the £20,000 mark. As a guide, expect prices to start at about £14,500 for an entry level 1.8 petrol version, though you may find Citroën may offer some little incentives to attract interest, such as 0 per cent finance. Maybe you can outsmart the dealer and do even better.Reuse content