There can be no doubt that the over-riding influence on the design of the Citroen Picasso has been the market segment leader, the Renault Scenic.
The overall layout, the innovative interior stowage solutions, the incredibly good use of available space - all these show that Citroen has taken the basic Scenic charcoal drawing, but embellished it with its own unique style - much like Picasso himself took ordinary objects and instilled them with his own inimitable artistry.
The result is a car that looks different from anything else around - in a bulbous yet symmetrical way (the back and front are amazingly similar) - yet, on the road, is not far removed from its mentor.
Built off the same floorpan as the Xsara hatchback (just as the Scenic comes off the Megane), the Picasso 2.0 HDi as tested here offers a classic front-wheel drive package, with the 8-valve four cylinder turbo diesel engine transversely mounted, and driving via a 5-speed manual gearbox (a four-speed auto is also available).
Under the bonnet is an engine that performs very much better than its specific output would suggest. Maximum power is 66 kW at 4 000 r/min, with 214 Nm of torque on tap from only 1 900 r/min
Yet for such relatively low output the car is extremely driveable, with all that low-down torque making for decent acceleration and overtaking - on a par with your average non 4x4 turbo-diesel double cab or Citroen's nippy Pluriel four-in-one car.
At the same time the car returns amazing fuel economy figures for a load-lugger, with highway cruising of under 5-litres/100 km possible, and our overall average, including town work, of just over 6 litres/100 km.
And it's well equipped.
Standard features include variable power steering, RDS stereo CD player, multi-function onboard computer, central locking, height adjustable driver's seat and electrically operated side mirrors.
The diesel model also features a refrigerated glove box, electric windows all round, electrically retractable door mirrors, body coloured bumpers, door mirrors and side rubbing strips.
The dash is unique to the diesel variant, with the central band across the fascia in a distinctive bronze colour that complements the lighter metallic silver finish of the centre console, fascia air vents and interior door handles.
The modular interior features three full sized rear seats, and thanks to the dashboard mounted gearlever, which allows for a flat floor, they can be folded or removed. The total storage area can be increased from 550 litres to a class leading 2 128 litres.
As mentioned, the Picasso is also equipped with a wealth of stowage space, such as the sliding drawer under the driver's seat, a 15-litre glove box, a central CD cubby, door pockets designed to hold bottles and cans, two concealed "toy boxes" in the rear floor, and the innovative Modubox which opens up into a trolley capable of carrying 18 kg.
This latter item is especially useful since free plastic bags were banned from supermarkets, and easily takes a weekly shopping update - although the monthly "shop" will require bags as well.
The Modubox is easy to take out, and when fixed in place acts as a container to stop stuff rolling around in the boot space.
The Multiplex electrical architecture enables the Picasso to boast innovative features such as the stereo CD system which varies the sound volume according to the speed at which you are travelling, speed sensitive front and rear windscreen wipers, headlights that will stay on for one minute to see you safely down your driveway, a multi-function on-board computer and a fully digital dashboard.
Passive safety features such as rear wheel steering, side impact protection bars, a reinforced "ring-of-steel" around the occupant cell and heated side mirrors, are further enhanced by active safety features such as ABS brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and Emergency Brake Assist (EBA), four airbags (the front two are "dual-stage") and force limiting seat belts with pyro pretensioners.
The driving position sees one sitting high above the normal traffic - always a good thing - and in seats that are very comfortable and offer height adjustment for the driver.
Vision forward is excellent, with the speedo relegated to the centre of the dashboard, and large quarter lights ahead of the main side glass.
But it's not all plain sailing, for Citroen has chosen to use a digital speedo and fuel and water temperature gauges in that central position, with an LCD display.
Firstly, I don't really like digital speedos. Their constant flickering can be distracting, and I've found each time I get into a car with a digital speedo that I'm not as constantly aware of my speed in the same way as I am with an analogue display with its steady needle.
You have to LOOK at a digital to recognise the speedo, whereas a glance is sufficient with an analogue.
But it doesn't stop there - and in fact this second complaint is more important. When there's side light, as happens in the early morning and late afternoon - both times when you're likely to be travelling either to or from work - the panel gets totally washed out by the sun, and you're riding blind!
Bigger shielding might help, but then the display would have to be moved right in front of the driver.
The Picasso is also not the easiest vehicle to park, thanks to that bulbous shape which makes seeing where the vehicle's extremities are quite difficult at times.
However, on the road the car comes alive, with good balance albeit with some body roll in hard driving. If you feel inclined to push it hard (which I doubt owners will) it answers with mild understeer that is easy to counter by easing back on the power.
Passengers are well catered for, and have more than sufficient head and legroom, and the whole impression is one of comfort and solid safety.
It might not be the most handsome boy on the block, but at least the Picasso is DIFFERENT.
The Picasso 2.0HDi is covered by a 1-year, unlimited mileage warranty, a 3-year paint warranty and a 12-year anti-corrosion warranty. A comprehensive 1-year roadside assistance programme is standard.
The Picasso is imported and distributed by Citroen South Africa, a member of the Imperial Group of companies. Citroen SA now has 17 dealerships nationwide, with an objective of an additional six dealerships scheduled to open by the end of 2002.