Returning to its strengths, Citroen is back in the lower-medium sector with a quirky higher-riding hatch touting comfort as its key selling point
On the road
On the road
Citroen certainly cannot be accused of following the crowds with its new lower-medium competitor, either above or below the surface.
That’s because the new C4 is not just a visually interesting hatchback-cum-crossover mix, sitting slightly higher than a regular hatch such as the Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf. It’s also the first Citroen to be offered with a choice of petrol, diesel or electric powertrains.
1. Unlike some recent Citroen models, the C4 has separate controls for the climate system, rather than running them through the touchscreen
2. There are plenty of stowage spots up front, and the bottle holders in the door pockets are a very decent size. Rear passengers aren't quite so well catered for, because there is no central armrest
3. The cabin has some neat design touches, such as the protruding vents at either end of the dash
Below the surface, the “ploughing our own furrow” continues, with a focus on ride quality and comfort running through the car as a priority.
The C4, which comes only in five-door hatchback form, has what Citroen describes as an “elevated and assertive stance”, combining, it says, the elegance and dynamism of a hatchback and SUV traits for “added strength and character”.
There’s certainly plenty to take in with the styling, from the double headlight design, foglights with choice of four colours for the housing and the way the angled LED daytime running lights lead into the chrome grille, to the swooping almost coupe-like roofline and the curves of the rear end, with its V-shaped light combination.
The side of the car also gets a small boxy styling detail the same colour as the foglight housing down the cladding that’s designed to emphasise the car’s SUV-style raised height.
Petrol is, in the short term at least, likely to be the dominant fuel choice over electric or diesel. The 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine is available with 100hp (from the summer), 130hp and 155hp output, and we’ve driven the middle of the trio. Transmission-wise, it’s manual, manual or automatic, and auto-only respectively.
Diesel options will rise to two when the 110hp manual arrives in the summer, joining the 130hp auto, although experience of the latter says the petrol is much better than the diesel for refinement, while the cheaper P11D of the petrol will negate the diesel’s two-band BiK advantage for anyone that isn’t doing a big enough mileage to capatilise on the diesel’s 9.1mpg advantage.
Then there’s the electric version, part of Citroen’s new plug-in assault alongside the e-Spacetourer large MPV and its Dispatch van sibling, and the plug-in hybrid C5 Aircross.
The EV powertrain will be available in all bar the entry of the four trim levels, and has already been seen across a variety of EVs from sister brands Peugeot and Vauxhall. It’s a 100kW electric motor mated to a 50kWh battery, which offers an official range figure of 217 miles. But with that car initially predicted to take around 20% of C4 sales, we’ll focus on the petrol that will still be the dominant factor in the model’s volume.
Inside, the cabin isn’t quite as outgoing from a design perspective as the exterior, but it’s a neat layout punctuated with little flourishes of flair such as the protruding vents at each end of the dashboard. There’s plenty of stowage space around the cabin, including a clever little two-layered spot in the centre and a decent-sized bottle holder in the door bins. Also worthy of note is the welcome feature of actual temperature-control switchgear, rather than the less convenient set-up of climate control running through the touchscreen, which has been the approach on some recent Citroen products.
The biggest problem with the cabin layout, and one that will obviously only affect the manual, is the small gap between the clutch pedal and the footrest. When dipping the clutch, drivers of a clumpier disposition (and this is coming from someone with size nine feet) will easily catch the edge of the foot because there’s not enough of a gap between them. It’s not an uncommon problem with Peugeot and Citroen products, and worth noting.
Moving backwards, there is a slight compromise in rear headroom thanks to the coupe-aping roofline, but legroom is reasonable. For those regularly having the rear seats occupied, only the top-spec Shine Plus model gets a folding armrest with cupholders and a through-load hatch. Other useful kit only offered with the top-spec model includes heated front seats (only available as an £800 option on the Shine trim as part of the leather seat upgrade) and wireless phone charging, which is a £300 option on Shine spec and not available below that. The useful ConnectedCam Citroen – the factory-fit dashcam system, is a £300 option on the top two trim levels, while all bar the entry Sense trim get the clever fitting for attaching a tablet to the dashboard in front of the passenger. But it does need the £100 optional extra mount that supports either an Apple iPad Air 2 or Samsung Galaxy A 10.5-inch.
More impressively, a head-up display system is standard on all bar the entry car.
The 380-litre boot is a decent size, and is certainly comparable with regular hatchbacks, such as the Seat Leon and Volkswagen Golf. It’s also 39 litres larger than the load area in a Ford Focus and 67 bigger than Toyota’s hybrid Corolla hatch can muster. The split-level boot floor is handy, although it’s a shame that there’s no catch to keep the higher piece in place while you fish about beneath it.
To drive, the first thing of note is that the 130hp petrol engine is really rather punchy for the output, with an impressive power delivery, although you do have to be willing to shift gears frequently to keep it on song. The good news is that doing so is just fine, because the gearchange is a pleasant one.
The ride is interesting. Citroen calls it a ‘magic carpet’ ride quality, and the obsession with comfort has created an experience unlike that of any other car, where it almost feels like there’s no connection between what the four corners are doing at any one time. It’s not unpleasant, and the bump absorption is impressive, but it feels like it’s moving around on the chassis the entire time – like a hard thing has been put on top of a soft thing.
The electric version is better, presumably because the extra weight settles things down. However, it’s not a behavioural trait that will necessarily annoy, it’s just one that takes some getting used to.
The C4 is not a car built for pressing on either, thanks to that total focus on comfort, and it feels like it really doesn’t want to be pushed hard through roundabouts or bends. There’s more grip than there feels like there might be as the car shifts its weight around, but steady pace is where it’s most at home.
There’s definitely a place for that in a marketplace where bigger wheels and desire for top-notch handling precision has pushed several vehicles in the opposite direction. And the comfort level is despite the C4 running on larger (18-inch) alloys than most rivals as standard across the range.
The seats have also been very much designed for comfort, being broader and softer than those in other cars, and the C4 is also available with up to 20 safety systems, depending on trim level, while the brand says it has also considered driver comfort and wellbeing in the light and airy cabin.
The C4 is a refreshing continuation of Citroen going its own way, in terms of styling and how the car drives. The diesel’s refinement doesn’t do it any favours, while the petrol is a better bet once you get over the unique sensation of the car’s ride quality, something the electric version does better than either internal-combustion engine siblings.
Overall, the C4 isn’t a car for everyone – those that prioritise fine-handling hatches should look elsewhere for starters, but it’s doing something that isn’t being done elsewhere in an interesting-looking, practical and clever package.
The new C4 is a different beast from the previous cars to have worn the nameplate, the first of which was launched in 2004 as a replacement for the Xsara.
That first car was available in two very distinct forms, the rounder five-door and the sharper coupe-like three-door (pictured). It was an innovator of a car, deploying the ‘fixed hub’ steering wheel where the central section stayed in position and the outer wheel rotated around it. The benefits were supposed to be improved safety as the airbag could be optimised in one position, and improved visibility of the dash because it was never blocked by the steering wheel spokes.
The car was also an early exponent of lane departure-warning technology
The second-generation C4 was launched in 2010, this time only in five-door form, but the car’s popularity was slightly on the wane and it was dropped towards the end of the last decade, with the more basic C4 Cactus filling the gap until this all-new car came along.
The C4 Cactus, which lives on for now, premiered much of the latest Citroen design language now seen on more models, including the stylish slender daytime running lights above the headlights.
What they said
What They Said
“New Citroen C4 and e-C4 make compelling choices for fleet managers and drivers.
“Their smooth ride, refinement, and comfortable, spacious interior make even the longest journeys a pleasure, while the low CO2 emissions, impressive efficiency and fair pricing give them a real edge."
“Citroen offers an unrivalled choice of powertrains in the C-segment – either efficient petrol and diesel engines, or the new e-C4 with zero tailpipe CO2 emissions, standard support for rapid charging up to 100kW, and a WLTP range up to 217 miles.”
Scott Westerby, fleet director, Peugeot, Citroen, DS
Need to know
Three things we like...
The daytime running lights are a distinctive styling feature
There’s some neat cabin stowage, including a split-level compartment
The tablet holder for the passenger is clever, but the fitting is a £100 option
...And one we don't
Rear visibility is very compromised by the spoiler and the lack of a rear wiper
The C4 isn’t the car for anyone looking for behind-the-wheel excitement, with comfort very much the overriding quality.
The petrol is the pick of the range at just 2g/km behind the diesel in most efficient form, and it compares adequately with rivals.
Citroen claims best-in-class rear passenger space, although headroom is a little bit of an issue. Boot space is good.
Some equipment is standard-fit lower down the range than might be expected, such as head-up display in all bar the entry car; that’s an option at best on rivals.
There’s certainly a lot going on, but it’s a characterful car that stands out for its styling as much as its high-riding stance against more bland hatchback rivals.
Comfort and refinement 9/10
Comfort is generally excellent, although there is an odd wobble to the ride quality that takes some getting used to. Diesel refinement is less good.
Plenty of stowage space and the quality is pretty good, while there are some nice design touches.
Generally simple and clear, although it can take a moment to boot up on entry to the car.
Whole life costs 8/10
Residuals are good for Citroen, although some competitors have lower SMR and insurance costs.
CCT opinion 8/10
It’s refreshing to see Citroen back carving its own path, and pushing the comfort element that fleet drivers will appreciate.
A striking and distinctive new take on the regular lower medium hatchback, the C4 is comfortable and practical, as well as offering a good range of powertrains.