THE PRESTIGIO is the luxury model of the just-released all-new version of Fiat's flagship full-size MPV, and it's quite a hoist up from the outgoing Ulysse.
More space, more style and more ingenuity are the keynotes of the new ten-model Ulysse range, which starts at an appealing £17,335.
In Dynamic and Eleganza spec, the car easily accommodates seven people - eight if you choose the option - thanks to an extra 27cm of length and 3cm of width, while both versions are richly equipped and offer great flexibility in the seating set-ups.
The luxury Prestigio, though, is something else. Its attraction, it should be said, may be as much for fleet buyers as for families - certainly you can see it picking up a team of executives at the airport and transporting them to conference in the six individual, captain's chair-style, leather seats.
Alternatively, they could hold the conference in the car. The front seats swivel through 180 degrees, the rest can be folded to create tables and the Connect Nav system provides a telephone link and access to a whole range of services. And, naturally, there's a refrigerated drinks bin.
Other upmarket features include heated front seats and, optionally, electrically-powered versions of the standard sliding doors. I won't go on about the more mundane fittings, such as the multi-zone climate system and cruise control.
Executive toys, maybe, but with Prestigio models priced between £21,935 and £24,435, depending on engine, the car is not totally beyond family reach.
The second and third row seats are on sliders, so you can share the space between passengers and luggage. They also fold and tip over for vertical stowing - which is easy - or can be removed altogether, which, because they are very solid, isn't.
This flexibility of the considerable cabin space does mean that, say, a family could head for the sun for a camping holiday, tent and all, without feeling hemmed in.
Distance cruising is what the Ulysse is all about, none more so than the two-litre 16v JTD version on test. It's not a particulary powerful turbodiesel at 109bhp, but there's 199lb ft of pull here and the car bounds along with very little effort and minimal recourse to the gearbox.
The noise suppression is excellent, and the lack of wind sounds off such a big frame is remarkable and, though poorer surfaces can generate some bounce, motorway progress is pleasantly smooth.
High seating means good visibility for everyone, there's a multitude of storage spaces and the seat-back tables are useful to keep young ones occupied. Buy in the optional roof-mounted DVD system and you could get across France without a peep from them.
A dash-mounted short-throw shift allows walk-through access to the back, though the siting of the hand-brake lever tight between the seat and the right-side door bins is something of a knuckle-rapping nuisance to the driver.
He or she may also be disturbed by the positioning of major information dials in the centre of the giant, two-tier dash sculpture, along with the satnav screen. We've seen this before, it's in the new sister MPVs from Peugeot and Citroen, and sorting it all out can drag the eyes off the road for some seconds.
Otherwise, though, the car scores well on safety, including two multi-stage front airbags, twin sidebags and two full-length air curtains.
Disc brakes are fitted all round, ventilated at the front, and ABS with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist is standard across the Ulysse range while the two litre auto and 2.2 JTD models also have an electronic stabiity programme.
The test car had automatic headlights, wipers and parking sensors at the rear, good in such a large vehicle. The difficulty comes at the other end where the dropaway nose is out of sight.
It contributes, though, to a neat exterior, distinguished from its French sisters by a Fiat family face inherited from the Stilo. The lights, front and back, are especially eyecatching.
The Ulysse is a nice job, given the design demands of a big people carrier and, equipped as it is, the Prestigio version is efficient, friendly and very good value.
Mechanical: 109bhp, 1,997cc, 4-cyl, turbocharged common rail diesel engine driving front wheels via 5-spd manual gearbox
Max speed: 108mph
0-62mph: 13.4 secs
Combined mpg: 40.4mpg
Insurance group: 11
CO2 emissions: 186g/km
BiK Rating: 22%
Warranty: 3yrs/ 60,000 miles; 8yrs anti-rust; 3yrs paint