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There are MPVs sprouting all over the place; Citroën joins the queue

Once upon a time, there was the Renault Espace: brilliantly conceived, launched in 1985, but seldom copied. I remember Gordon Murray, he of the innovative design tendency, puzzling in a 1989 magazine article that he couldn’t understand why all family transport was not made this way, such was his admiration for Renault’s trend-setter.

Indeed, ‘Espace’ has almost become a generic term for people-carriers, or MPVs, although that might change now that there is some serious opposition up and running.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the world has gone MPV-mad. The Toyota Previa and Nissan Serena have been around for a while, but this year alone has witnessed the launch of the Peugeot 806, Ford Galaxy, Volkswagen Sharan, Fiat Ulysse and, featured here, the Citroën Synergie.

And what have MPVs got to do with motorsport?

Quite a lot, actually. What would you rather use as a tow car? An Escort, or something that will seat up to seven people, or perhaps six and a few spare wheels?

Much as I love the Espace, one of its biggest drawbacks has always been that its driving position was altogether too van-like. This is less so with the Synergie, although it is still not quite car-like enough.

Based, as it is, on the same floorpan as the 806 and the Ulysse, both of which are similarly available with either 2.0 petrol or 1.9 turbodiesel engines, Citroën has focused its attention on clever design touches to enhance the appeal of the Synergie.

The sliding side doors are a boon for ingress and egress in car parks, and a rear compartment luggage cover is available (standard on the seven-seater, an option if you request but five chairs), which is not always the case with this class of vehicle. More innovative are the retractable coat hooks and the interminable supply of fully integrated cup-holders, drawers, cubbyholes and bottle storage racks which make this the closest thing there is to a seven-seater filing system on wheels. There is even a handy sunglasses pocket built into the roof, just above the driver’s head.

The seating has been designed to be easily removable, and flexible. Should only the outside two seats be fitted in the centre row, they can be spread to increase carrying capacity. A fairly basic fore and aft adjustment facility is standard, though the top-of-the-range VSX models do have fully sliding ‘Captains’ Chairs’ throughout. The front chairs on SX and VSX models will swivel if required, and it is possible to drop the off-side handbrake, without disengagement, to facilitate this.

All of this practicality is fitted into a shell which, despite appearances, is actually only half an inch longer and precious little wider than a Xantia. As a packaging exercise, it is superb.

As a driving tool, it is satisfactory. The performance of both the 2.0 and the excellent, torquey turbodiesel is adequate. Top speed is an irrelevance, but for the record both will cruise comfortably at 90-plus mph. Both are quiet operators, and cabin noise levels are low. The diesel should return around 35 mpg in typical usage, giving it a theoretical range in excess of 600 miles per tank. Expect the 2.0 to cover around 28/29 mpg.

In its quest for further innovation Citroen has located the gearlever within the dash, rather than on the floor, but although it is within easy reach, and it looks quite smart, its positioning feels peculiar at first, and the change action is a little vague. That, really, is the most obvious dynamic flaw.

Prices start at £16,200 for the 2.0 LX, rising to £23,090 for the range-topping 1.9 TD VSX, which comes with ABS (an option on LX and SX variants), multi-play CD, air conditioning, alloy wheels and heated front seats. All models have remote central locking, deadlocks and a coded immobiliser, and the sunroof (an option on the LX) features an automatic sensor-controlled safety cut-out, which will cause it to retract should anyone, or anything, obstruct its way. It also closes automatically when you lock the car.

The Synergie is practical, innovative and decent value for money. Given the sudden abundance of MPVs, it needs to be.

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