Citroen’s raison d’etre, if you pardon my French, has always been to be just a little different, to offer a certain je ne sais quoi.

I’m glad to see such difference is still celebrated in the C4 Picasso, a car whose heritage stretches back to 1989 in the early days of people-carriers.

The handbrake? A button on the dash. The gearchange? On the steering column like cars used to be in the 1950s. The style? It certainly stands out in a crowd.

People new to Citroen may be confused at first, but Citroen drivers love a challenge. And sure enough in a day or two it becomes second nature to change gear via the steering column.

The C4 Picasso is at the heart of Citroen’s range. And it’s been on a diet. Thanks to the fact that it is based on a new platform, Citroen have shaved 140kg off compared to the old model.

Efficiency is so improved that the new car becomes the first conventionally powered compact MPV to dip below the 100g/km free road tax threshold and manages up to 74.3mpg.

But for me it’s the styling which makes this car stand out. It’s not only the smartest, sleekest people-carrier I’ve seen, it also appeals to young and old in equal measure.

A ‘loft-style’ interior boasts a large amount of glass area for an exceptionally light and airy feel. A panoramic windscreen is standard, while a large sunroof is optional.

The rear bench seat, complete with Isofix child seat mounts, can be slid forwards to expand the boot from its normal 537 litres to 630 litres. The tailgate operates in a ‘clamshell’ design that means it can be closed even when loads are protruding beyond the load aperture. As long as the baggage will squash backwards, the boot will close.

At 4cm shorter and with a 4cm lower roof line, the new Picasso is more compact than the model it replaces. However, the wheelbase is 6cm longer than before and that affords an extra 2cm of rear legroom. A practical touch is the distribution of three 12-volt power sockets around the car from which devices can be charged. The entry-level £17,500 model is a VTR grade car with a 118bhp 1.6-litre VTi petrol. An extra £695 buys an 89bhp diesel. The most popular model is likely to be the e-HDi 115 VTR Plus, at £20,255.The C4 Picasso won its first award just a month after launch when it was named ‘Best MPV’ at the 2013 Next Green Car Awards.

It is the latest incarnation in a bold tradition of innovative MPVs which began with the Xsara Picasso in 1999. The C4 Picasso is expected to mainly appeal to two types of customer.

Younger families who demand style and who do not want to compromise on desirability may be drawn to it. The second group are older couples. These buyers value space, practicality, flexibility and ease of access.

The sleeker, more dynamic styling exterior of the car is impressive but as ever with Citroens the inside is exciting, too. It features an uncluttered, ‘loft-style’ interior ambience with a huge glazed area.

The bright interior is also complemented by the quality of the materials used and the attention to detail. The dashboard combines several colours and materials, including glossy blacks and sparkle-effect finishes. It looks good and has a premium feel. Travelling can be a first class experience thanks to the availability of front massaging seats, ‘Relax’ headrests on all seats and a ‘Relax’ front passenger seat that lets the occupant raise, stretch and rest their legs. Such is the quality of the diesel units they are expected to outsell petrol.

Citroen C4 Picasso Exclusive e-HDi 115 Airdream PRICE: £22,055. Extra-cost features on this model included metallic paint (£520), half-leather (£700), Xenon lights (£750) and Exclusive convenience pack (£849). Test version costs £25,199 ENGINE: a 1,560cc, four-cylinder turbo-powered diesel engine generating 114bhp PERFORMANCE: Top speed 117mph, 0 to 60mph in 12.3 seconds COSTS: town 64.2mpg; country 76.3mpg; combined 70.6mpg INSURANCE: Group 17E EMISSIONS: 104g/km WARRANTY: Three years, 60,000 miles