Car manufacturers are always inventing unusual features - sometimes they even help sell cars. We've had cars that talk from Renault and Austin, cars that you talk at from Jaguar, and cars with massaging seats from Mercedes-Benz. But, until now, no maker has sold a car with a fragrance dispenser. That's what Citroen's new C4 offers. Call it a gimmick, but it's appealing - especially if you have dogs or malodorous relatives - and just one of a number of features in this new hatchback, an alternative to the best-selling Ford Focus.
More serious is the lane-departure warning, designed to alert drowsy drivers drifting out of lane on the motorway. Given that most motorway fatalities are caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel, this is sensible technology.
The car itself replaces the Citroen Xsara, a dull hatchback that played its part in obliterating Citroen's one-time reputation for making cars of extreme eccentricity (2CV and Ami), extreme beauty (DS and SM), extreme ugliness (2CV, Ami and Visa) or extreme complexity, with the result that the company rarely made money. Today, Citroen is owned by Peugeot, and after a period of making dull, reliable cars that sold well and made a profit (commercial reality can be so tiresome), it has been fingering the more adventurous strands of its DNA over the past three years to produce the modestly innovative Picasso, C3 and Pluriel.
The C4 is the boldest manifestation yet. There are two versions: the three-door coupe I tested is the most striking, its abruptly cut, glassy rump lending it a unique look; the five-door is more conventional, but still individual. Both are a big improvement on the Xsara.
Inside, the futurism continues - a digital speedometer sits atop the dash in a sci-fi pod, and the central pad of the steering wheel is fixed, the buttons for stereo, cruise control and satellite navigation arrayed around its perimeter and the whole ensemble capped by a digital rev counter. Another novelty, for a budget Citroen at least, is quality - the C4's interior is constructed from materials more substantial than in recent Citroens.
The best engine for this car is also the most advanced - the 1.6HDi turbodiesel. It musters plenty of pulling power and excellent economy, consumption in the low 50s being entirely feasible. This engine is civil too.
The sportiest drivers will find the C4 a less satisfying steer than the agile Ford Focus, but its cornering powers are more than adequate. However, rougher roads have the suspension thumping, and some may find the clutch pedal awkward - a pain if you're regularly traffic-bound. Rear-seat room isn't generous either, but less important in the three-door.
So it has its flaws but, clutch position apart, none is serious. It has a particularly effective combination of performance, economy and convenience. The C4 is an intriguing car, both to look at and live with. At this price, that's rare.
Price £15,495 (Citroen C4 1.6 HDi VTR Plus)
Max power 108 bhp
Max torque 227 lb ft
Max speed 116 mph
0-62 mph 10.3 sec
Fuel consumption 49.6 mpg
CO2 emissions 125 g/km
Ford Focus 1.6 Titanium 3-door £14,925 - Not as interesting or as intriguingly equipped, but easy to live with.
Volkswagen Golf 1.9 TDi SE 3-door £15,680 - More conventional than the Citroen, but a well-rounded car that's more comfortable.