Citroen recently unleashed a band of motoring hacks onto the Northern Cape's swept landscape to experience space in its C4 Picasso, new to the South African market.
The Northern Cape's wide open spaces would ordinarily have me completely spellbound, but the five-seater MPV is so comfortable, a nap in the passenger seat threatened instead. The straight roads marking our route also meant that dynamic capability was not a point stressed too strongly on the launch.
Rather than ducking through mountain passes, the roads in the Kimberley region that are straight for kilometers allowed us to appreciate the comfort levels provided by the vehicle's MacPherson-like front strut and rear transverse beam.
However, all C4 Picassos in SA - there are two engine derivatives with two specification levels - come equipped with ABS, ESP, EBD and cruise control with a speed limiter. Seven airbags are standard, too.
True to French form, the latest generation Picasso is flamboyant and gimmicky, and a true treasure trove to anyone who loves having buttons and dials to amuse them.
The facia, rather than being purely functional, actually seems to form part of the overall design. Where the exterior is bold and eye-catching, the interior is extremely minimalistic. The facia is completely dominated by a large central display with digital speedometer and an expanse of tasteful hard plastics running across the dashboard.
The front-loading audio system with MP3 operation disappears beneath a flip-top cover when not in use, and with most audio controls also being accessible from the steering wheel, it probably won't even be used that often.
It's clear that lots of thought has gone into the design of the cabin to make it more accessible to its occupants, but the resultant ergonomics are a bit of a shambles.
The driver and front passenger are able to get completely comfortable using the air conditioning controls housed on the far ends of the dashboard, although the driver still masters a few key functions, such as fan speed.
The top-spec model has a four-zone air conditioning system that allows the two outermost rear passengers to regulate the temperature and fan direction.
For now, the 1.6 HDI gets the longer equipment list - and subsequently the bigger sticker price, too. Although the "base" 1.8 petrol is very comprehensively equipped, the high-spec HDI adds sunblinds on the rear windows, an integrated air freshener, 16-inch alloy wheels, child surveillance mirror and electric safety controls for the rear windows and doors, among other nice-to-haves.
And, as with the C4 coupe and saloon already available here, Picasso is fitted with a nifty steering wheel with a fixed hub and a moving outer rim.
New to the MPV is the automatic electronic park brake that does away with the traditional hand brake between the front seats.
It is activated as soon as the vehicle's ignition is switched off and disengages when pulling away. There is a manual override on the centre hangdown of all places, but this takes a while to register. It must be a device that one becomes more accustomed too with use, but I could do without it, thanks. It does necessitate hill start assist, though.
This MPV is based on Citroen's Visiospace concept, which is said to combine visibility from within the cabin and space all round. And it delivers too.
The windscreen is massive (it covers a 2m2 area!) and even has a "receding hairline" with sliding sunvisors that extend into the roof panel. A nice touch is the light reflective glass that doesn't leave the cabin feeling like a sauna after a few kilometres.
Apart from looking pretty, the large screen allows the driver to see for ever, especially when coupled with the skinny forked A-pillar whose glass centre helps with visibility.
Rearward visibility is good too, although the rake of the rear screen does distort somewhat and finding the ideal setting required some patience. However, having a driver (and front passenger) seat that is height adjustable, helped immensely.
Time spent in the rear, which has three individual seats, assured that it was sufficiently comfortable. Citroen backs that up by stating cabin space is of class-besting proportions. Trays drop down from the front seatbacks.
There is plenty of space in the back and the rear seats can be folded flat into the floor when extra boot space is needed. The boot accommodates a full-sized spare wheel, but the launch ride and drive was dominated by exploring this clever "mom's taxi's" added features.
The light within the boot unclips and transforms into a torch, while a Modubox is strapped to the side and unfurls to reveal a trolley with a detachable canvas bag that could be extremely convenient for those who always have way too much to carry...
Petrol and turbodiesel power
Locally, the C4 Picasso is powered by a 1.8-litre petrol and a 1.6-litre HDI turbodiesel powerplant. All engines are Euro IV compliant.
The 16-valve petrol engine produces 92 kW at 6 000 r/min and 170 Nm at 3 750 r/min and is quietly efficient and smooth on the open road.
The familiar 1.6-litre HDI uses common rail injection and is fitted with a variable geometry turbocharger. It generates 80 kW at 4 000 r/min and 240 Nm of torque at 1 750 r/min that can be bumped up to 260 Nm for short bursts and is a decent cruiser and the model driven simply lapped up the wide Northern Cape spaces.
However, it did seem to suffer a distinct lack of torque (relative to similar turbodiesels) in the lower ranges. This also made overcoming the electric park brake a bit more tricky when pulling away.
Citroen claims top speeds of 180 km/h for the turbodiesel model and 185 km/h for the petrol and 0 - 100 km/h times of 12.7 and 11.7 seconds, respectively.
Both engines are mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. Citroen SA said it was investigating the possibility of adding an automatic gearbox to the range, although this would likely come down to consumer demand.
1.8 - R219 995
1.6 HDI - R249 995
C4 Picasso comes with a four-year/75 000 km service plan.