Good: innovative interior design, spacious and versatile, efficient engines
Not so good: touch-screen system is counter intuitive, divisive exterior styling
Along with the evergreen Volkswagen Golf, one of the hotly tipped favourites to take the overall 2014 Irish Car of the Year title is the car you see here, the new Citroen C4 Picasso. Now, we realise that the exterior styling has as many haters as lovers, but we applaud the powers that be at Citroen for daring to be different - and it's certainly that.
The same strategy has been applied to the cabin, though it's met with a more universal thumbs up. This Exclusive model shows it off to its best of course, but the basics are right. The high roofline and huge expanses of glass combine to make the C4 Picasso feel light, airy and, importantly, roomy. It's no illusion either, as illustrated by the generous amount of legroom in the rear - for all three seats.
Those back chairs also move independently of each other, including adjustment of the angles of the back rests. This means the C4 Picasso can hold five adults comfortably, or house three child seats - even Isofix ones. And the boot isn't too small to swallow a 'travel system' buggy and a few change bags either thanks to its 537-litre capacity.
But none of these useful details reveals how interesting the cabin is. Along with illuminated rear picnic tables (my kids' favourite feature) there are unusual textures and materials used that lift the ambience above all of its rivals, along with loads of cleverly designed cubbyholes for storing your bits and pieces - and the dashboard is completely unique.
All versions of the C4 Picasso get the main seven-inch control touchscreen. It takes over climate control along with infotainment and, if fitted, satnav. We're not entirely convinced by this set-up, as something as simple as altering the temperature a degree requires you taking your eyes off the road, but perhaps it works better with familiarity. Nonetheless, in comparison to the snappiness of the latest iPhone, the touchscreen is slow to respond.
The Exclusive model tested is additionally furnished with an extravagant 12-inch HD screen high up on the dashboard, on which you can customise the instruments and even display your own photographs and album art. Neat, though infuriatingly it cannot display the satnav map and directions unless they are also displayed in the smaller screen below. Not a reason to choose a different car, admittedly, but annoying all the same. I guess not all cars will come with satnav in the first place.
It says something about the car when we've gone this far into the review without even mentioning how it drives. And in truth, that's of secondary importance to most family MPV buyers. For the record, the C4 Picasso is comfortable and refined and thanks to a reduction in weight in comparison to its predecessor, the 1.6-litre HDi diesel engine has all the performance most will need - certainly in the 114hp guise we tested it in.
Of more interest of course are this car's running costs and the C4 Picasso scores highly. Emissions duck under 100g/km in one version (though as that comes with the awful ETG6 'automated manual' gearbox we'd steer clear), but aren't much more even in the 150hp 2.0-litre HDi variant. Production of carbon dioxide is directly proportional to fuel consumption too, so the C4 Picasso proves to be an economical car.
Large MPVs aren't doing too well in Europe right now, but there still seems to be an appetite for compact models and without hesitation we'll say that the Citroen C4 Picasso is one of the best of the current crop. Whether that's enough to win it the Irish Car of the Year gong, we'll have to wait and see...