NO. The Citroën C4 – disappointingly for kids – cannot turn into a dancing Transformer robot, as you may have seen it do on the TV advertisement. But looking at it, and sitting in the cabin, will certainly get you to think that it can! This car is Citroën back to its quirky best.
The C4’s styling evokes many different comments, but most often it is called unique or clever. Nobody on CAR’s test team thought it was ugly but, on the other hand, nobody called it pretty, either! The fivedoor version we’re testing here is perhaps slightly more conservative in its overall appearance than the sportier three-door. Even so, it certainly makes everything else in this segment look very bland.
Get inside and the strangeness continues. Be careful not to knock your head though, because the swoopy roofline means the doorline is quite low. As with most vehicles that incorporate MPV design elements, there is an immediate impression of spaciousness. The sparse-looking facia stretches far forward, and the A-pillars are sharply angled. Although front occupants are unlikely to complain, this impression of space is somewhat false however, because, in reality, the C4 isn’t much more spacious than its rivals. In fact, when it comes to rear seat space, a car such as the Golf may offer more head- and legroom.
There are storage spaces everywhere – a tray under the passenger seat, sliding drawers in the facia and drinkholders in the centre console. The door pockets and cubby are also reasonably sized. On the subject of build quality, perceived cabin quality is generally fine, but not something to worry the VW Golf or Opel’s new Astra.
But back to the facia… Mounted at the base of the windshield, in the centre, is a large digital display with a translucent strip that shows vehicle speed (in very large numerals), temperature, fuel levels etc. The display adjusts instantly to ambient light conditions to remain easily readable. At the top of the hangdown section is another digital display, this time for the radio. And finally, in front of the driver, mounted on the steering wheel, is another digital readout, this time for the rev counter. So, as you can imagine, its not always quick and easy to find the information you’re looking for. However, with time one will no doubt adapt.
But now for the C4’s party trick! The centre of the steering wheel remains in a fixed position when the driver turns the rim. It is an odd sensation at first – one passenger said she might get seasick! – but once the novelty has worn off it rarely even catches the eye. Citroën says the design isn’t merely gimmicky. The fixed position actually allows for the deployment of a “shape-optimised” airbag, which improves driver safety in the event of a crash. Citroën also used the design of the fixed boss to add controls to the nonmoving centre. This allows for the quick and easy changing of radio volume, stations etc.
Actually, the positioning of these controls comes as a bit of a blessing, because the main radio and ventilation controls are mounted quite low on the hangdown section.
The steering wheel is adjustable for height and reach, and the driver’s seat can also be adjusted for height. Usually, with so much adjustment possible, one would expect to easily find a comfortable driving position, but in the C4 this is not the case. The problem is that the pedals are mounted too high, necessitating a seat to steering wheel interface that may not be ideal. It seems to mostly affect people who are either relatively short, or relatively tall. The seats themselves are, however, very comfortable, although the slippery and shiny material may not be to everyone’s taste.
Where the C4 really knocks its rivals for six, is with its standard features list. Besides the expected power steering, electric windows, air-conditioning etc, the C4 also has rain sensing wipers, automatic headlights, heated door mirrors, maintenance indicator, electronic headlamp levelling, cruise control, remote keyless entry, and a frontloading CD player. It even comes with a fragrance dispenser mounted next to the ventilation outlets at the top of the hangdown section.
French motor manufacturers have recently become leaders in automotive safety systems. The C4 certainly comes with just about every conceivable active and passive safety feature; six airbags, ESP with ASR (anti-spin regulator), ABS with EBD (electronic brake-force distribution) and EBA (electronic brake assist). It has side impact protection bars, a collapsible steering column, and hazard lights that automatically switch on under hard braking.
Under the bonnet is PSA’s latest common-rail 1,6-litre turbodiesel, featuring piezoelectric-type injectors and a variable-geometry turbocharger. The engine delivers an impressive 83 kW at 4 000 r/min and 240 N.m at a low 1 750. A further 20 N.m is available as overboost in the three highest gears, to give that extra bit of overtaking punch. This is achieved by increasing the fuel injection rate. Our performance testing verified our immediate positive impression of the engine. With a zero to 100 km/h time of 11,4 seconds, and a 189 km/h top speed, the C4 is among the nippiest cars in its segment. But even more outstanding is this powerplant’s frugality – our fuel index worked out at 5,8 litres/100 km, or just over 17 km per litre! With a generous 60-litre tank, this should allow for a range of over 1 000 km.
We were also very impressed with the engine’s refinement. Power delivery remains smooth and punchy throughout the rev range. The engine is coupled with a five-speed manual transmission that sends power to the front wheels. Gearshifts are generally a bit rubbery, and on winter mornings the metal-topped gearknob is icy cold to the touch.
The C4 rides on MacPherson strut front suspension with a trailing arm and torsion beam arrangement at the rear. Compared with other Citroëns, the C4 initially feels surprisingly firmly sprung, but the ride is certainly composed and well-damped… if you’re seated in front. Rear seat passengers were not impressed, saying that too many bumps could be felt in the back, and that they wouldn’t like to spend a long trip on the rear seat.
Still, the relatively firm suspension does have an upshot in that body roll during cornering is well contained. And the steering is sharp and accurate, making the C4 an entertaining car to drive swiftly. But, considering the target market, perhaps the focus for this type of car should be on comfort and not absolute dynamics.
The C4 has ventilated disc brakes in front and solid discs at the rear. There can be no complaints about the car’s braking performance, with the C4 averaging a 3,02-second stopping time in our emergency braking test. In normal city driving, however, the brakes do take some getting used to, because they are tricky to modulate and initially feel too sharp. But as with most other quirks on this car, you’ll quickly adjust.
As hard as it is, ignore this car’s wacky styling for a moment. The C4 is more than just a styling exercise. It has, in the case of this model, a very impressive engine that gives outstanding economy and good performance. And the value for money factor is also high, because of the high specification levels. But it’s not perfect; the driving position is problematic, the ergonomics a bit messy, and rear passengers complain about a bumpy ride.
However, its rivals are hardly faultless either, and the C4 brings a significant dose of flair to a segment that rarely sees true individualism.
Original article from Car