BEAUTY – and the appreciation of art – is very much in the eye of the beholder. I fell foul of my lack of understanding of art in the Guggenheim in Bilbao a few years ago. I wasn’t there through choice. A car company had organised test drives of a new model in the Spanish city and thought it would be good idea to enlighten motoring journalists, once they’d had their time behind the wheel, on some of the finer things in life that didn’t involve food or wine.
In one gallery I paused to lean on what I thought was some scaffolding left by workmen – only to be reprimanded by one of the attendants. As his rebuke was in Spanish, or possibly Basque, I don’t know exactly what he said but I got the message that, far from some building equipment, this was in fact a highly respected work of art.
I had a similar experience the other week as I took a much-anticipated tour of Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute, the ancestral home of the Marquess of Bute. The mansion itself is a treasure, dripping in Old Masters, Italian marble and some of the finest craftsmanship to be found anywhere in Britain, far less Scotland. Yet, on breaching the main entrance hall, I almost tripped over three wooden triangles on the floor which turned out to be the work of a family member who is an artist specialising in installations.
And in the library, I wondered why perspex blocks had been placed over some of the priceless books only to be told that they too were part of her artwork. Even the splendid and ornate chapel wasn’t spared, with the fabulous tiled floor being used as the blank canvas for a grand collection of coloured glass shapes.
It was all a bit beyond me, but I know I’m not alone. Even the work of the great Spanish artist Pablo Picasso was only fully appreciated after his death. And while that posthumous acclaim has grown steadily ever since, his name also now carries on thanks in a small part to his adopted country of France’s carmaker Citroen, who’ve just produced the latest version of their C4 Picasso compact MPV.
I’m delighted to say that the car has none of the extrovert angles and cubes of its namesake artist. Not only is it a fine looking car, continuing the Citroen tradition of individual design and style, but it drives pretty well too.
This is clearly part of the Citroen family, not as much of a design departure as the current DS range, but a good looker all the same. A wheel at each corner gives it a look of stability and presence and it is less like a van with windows than some of the previous versions. The front end has a positive look, helped by LED daytime running lights, and the side view of the sculpted body panels is significant.
At the back end, the LED tail lights have the novel Citroen hallmark 3D effect. What is really clever is that while it’s more compact on the outside – 4cms shorter and lower – it has more space inside for passengers and the biggest load-carrying capacity in its class. Standard across the range is Citroen’s unique panoramic windscreen which, with the visors folded back, gives a real feeling of open space on the road.
The test car had the optional huge glass sunroof which is great even if it doesn’t open, although there is an electric blind when the sun gets too strong.
It also had front massaging seats, special headrests and a rising legrest for front seat passengers. I’m delighted that Citroen have simplified the use of technology… ironically by doubling the number of touchscreens. There’s a tablet style 7-inch screen which controls all the vehicle settings and in-car functions such as aircon, satnav and the DAB radio. The panoramic 12-inch screen which sits above it is used to display other information such as cruise control and speed limiter settings, and you can even change the theme by uploading a personal photograph as the backdrop.
The car weighs 140kgs less than its predecessor and, along with improved aerodynamics and a new range of efficient engines, the result is low CO2 figures – in some cases sub-100 g/km – and amazing fuel economy of almost 75 miles out of every gallon.
Prices are good too, slightly cheaper than the outgoing model, which will appeal to the two target groups of customers, namely younger couples with one or two children who want something stylish and desirable but need a practical vehicle for the family and all the clutter that goes with them. And, secondly, those older couples who want plenty of space combined with practicality, efficiency, economy and ease of access. You might even be able to squeeze in a couple of Old Masters.
CAR Citroen C4 Picasso e-HDi115 Exclusive
PRICE £21,555 (£23,174 as tested)
PERFORMANCE Max speed 117 mph; 0-62 mph 11.8 secs
MPG 70 mpg combined
CO2 EMISSIONS 105 g/km