Rover P6

I would love the Alpine A110 to be European Car of the Year – but history is against it

ONLY in an age of boss of Nissan-Renault being under arrest, Volkswagen suggesting cable ties as a fix for broken seatbelts and a former Top Gear star vowing to quit TV for good if he wins I’m A Celebrity can European Car of the Year be considered a bit ho-hum.

The seven-strong shortlist was announced on Monday and – from what I could see, at least – seemed to barely register a faint blip on the nation’s motoring radar. Part of me likes to think it’s because fewer of us care what motoring experts in Sweden or Spain make of the continental car choices when we’re busy trying to order a Full English Brexit, but I suspect it’s got rather a lot more to do with history not being in their favour. The Renault 9, the 1982 victor which is all but forgotten now, being a prime example.

There are many, many examples of the 60-strong panel of motoring writers – proper, learned scholars of the profession who fuss over mid-range torque and intuitive infotainment systems in the same way I worry about MGs with dead batteries – getting it right. They called it right on the first Focus, a genuine game-changer among family hatchbacks, for instance, and the Rover P6 that won the contest’s very first outing is fondly remembered as a brilliant bit of British design. But every time I look back at the Peugeot 307 picking up the plaudits in 2002 or the me-too VW Polo beating the radical Toyota IQ to the top spot in 2010, I cringe a bit, because it just smacks of going for the best all-rounder rather than the one that genuinely moves the cause of the car forward.

This year’s contenders are – deep breath – the Alpine A110, Citroen’s C5 Aircross, Ford’s latest Focus, the Jaguar i-Pace, the Kia Cee’d, the Mercedes A-Class and Peugeot’s 508. I would love to see the 60-strong jury devour a crate of wine between them, throw all caution to the wind and go for the sports car, which is what they did 40 years ago when the Porsche 928 won. But I’m happy to bet that won’t happen (and I’ll happily write a column in The Champion eating my words if it does and the Alpine does a Leicester City).

If it were up to me it’d be the I-Pace strutting home with the silverware, because it’s an eco-friendly, on-message electric car that just happens to look and handle like a Jaguar should, and to hell with the fact you need the thick end of £60,000 to afford one. But it isn’t, so I reckon the smart money’s on either the Aircross or the 508, both of which are perfectly worthy but a bit forgettable.

Whatever happens, we’ll have to wait ‘til next March to find out the winner. In a TV special presented by Noel Edmonds, I’d imagine…

Why the Citroen C4 Picasso makes total sense in today’s Britain

The C4 Picasso might not be the sharpest MPV through the bends, but David thinks it's all the better for it

I DON’T mind saying it. I’m a bit slower than I used to be.

Not in the sense that I’m no longer any good at the brainteasers Channel 4 chucks at me during the commercial breaks on Countdown or that I no longer know how many were going to St Ives – but that it takes longer to cover ground, no matter what the car. Regardless of whether I’m in a Suzuki Celerio or the new McLaren Speedtail, the age of 50mph average speed restrictions that go on for ten miles at a time have seen to that.

Not that it matters one jot, because speed isn’t the luxury it used to be. Do the one percent jet across the globe in three hours on Concorde? Nope, because these days they can do it overnight in an A380 first class cabin that’s better equipped than most hotel suites. The sleeper trains to Cornwall and the Scottish Highlands have been kitted out with more upmarket furnishings because the operators know plenty of folk are happy to fork out for the hotel-on-rails experience. Making the journey more enjoyable, rather than quicker, is where the smart money is these days.

Which is probably why I emerged from Citroen’s latest C4 Picasso with a content smile the other day. It might be a distant relative of the Peugeot 5008 that I tried a few months ago, but unlike that car it doesn’t pretend to be a chunky off-roader – this unashamedly sets out its stall as a people carrier, and feels all the better for it.

Nope it’s not the most razor-edge family bus through the corners but it handles capably enough, with the reward instead being a soft, supple ride. Visibility is excellent – no turgid, safety-paranoid A-pillars here – and the full-length panoramic glass roof makes it feel like something like out of Grand Designs inside. You can slide the sun visor mountings back into the headlining too, to give you even more light through that massive windscreen.

Kevin McCloud would approve of how avantgarde and well appointed it is inside too – I love the dashboard plastics and the way all the dials have been moved into a single digital slab on the centre of the dashboard, including a strip-style speedometer reminiscent of what your granddad had in his Rover P6. The seats heat up and give you massages too – and the front passenger one comes with a leg rest not entirely like something you’d get on a living room recliner.

I even like the way it looks – those headlights make it seem like it’s squinting at you with faint disapproval, as if to say you’re an idiot for buying an SUV instead. In fact, the only real chink in its armour is that something this massive really ought to have seven seats – for that you’d need its Grand Picasso sibling, which doesn’t look as good.

So there you go – I’m championing an MPV because I think it’s a bit of a looker. Maybe I am a bit slower than I used to be…