MULTI-PURPOSE Vehicles (MPVs) have a reputation for being dull to look at and boring to drive. They’re seen as functional, humourless boxes, with sensible, easy-wipe cabins populated by the children of practically minded parents who shop with the head rather than the heart.
If you consider yourself even a little bit stylish, you probably struggle with the concept of buying an MPV even if you concede it’s an excellent way of shuttling your family around. But what if your car is an extension of your personality? No wonder MPV ownership makes otherwise confident souls desperate to tell strangers they went to the Stone Roses gigs in the summer and, of course, to the Spike Island gig back in the day (thereby tragically confirming that they are indeed middle-aged).
As if we needed reminding how family-friendly it is, the launch of the Citroën C4 Picasso was held at the Warner Bros Studios just off the A41. I hit the roads around Watford in the C4 e-HDi 115 Airdream Exclusive model, which turned out to be a cheerful and satisfying drive. The ride is comfy: it isn’t fast but body roll is well-controlled and the engine is quiet enough for the kids to nod off in the back.
It might not be a thrill-a-minute, but it looks, dare I say it, cool. Citroën is keen to move its brand upmarket and they have created a compact MPV that’s distinctive and stylish. Does it still look like an MPV? Yes – but thanks to high-tech styling, including a sharp crease down the side, thin LED running lights, a sculpted body and rear LED lamps, it has a purposeful, determined look. More importantly, it doesn’t look like any other MPV, which, in this market, is really saying something.
Yes it’s shorter and lower than its predecessor but somehow it’s also larger and more comfortable. The three adult-sized seats in the rear slide individually and there’s plenty of legroom as well. The feeling of space is boosted by a whopping 5.3sqm of panoramic glass. The windscreen stretches from the dash back over the front seats to open the car up to the sky. There’s also a visor that keeps the sun out of your eyes, no matter where it is in the sky. It’s like driving a goldfish bowl – in a good way. It had me craving for Monument Valley, Utah or Big Sky, Montana. Watford? Not so much.
In keeping with the slick looks, switchgear is kept to a minimum. Most of the controls have been integrated into a touchscreen in the dash. There is also a large, panoramic HD screen above for driver information. You can choose the way you want information to be displayed and you can even have one of your own photos as the background.
The cabin is also packed with thoughtful touches. There are enough little cubby holes for you to keep a spare pair of aviators, a stow of emergency dummies and the kids’ iPads. A small, extra rear-view mirror allows you to oversee back seat brawling and the clam-shaped boot means protruding luggage can be easily accommodated.
I don’t know if Citroën are deliberately targeting Dads, but it’s one of the few compact MPVs I would be quite happy to drive – even without the kids in the back. It’s for parents whose heart is in Hoxton but whose home is in Hemel Hempstead. It’s cool, in a dad way.
CITROËN C4 PICASSO
0-62MPH: 11.8 secs
TOP SPEED: 117mph
CO2 G/KM: 105g/km
MPG COMBINED: 70.6mpg
DESIGN Four stars
PERFORMANCE Three stars
PRACTICALITY Four stars
VALUE FOR MONEY Three stars