For decades the manufacturer produced cars like the 2CV, DS, BX and even the Xantia, that stood out and let owners say something about themselves to the outside world: eclectic, discerning, unconventional and continental. That was lost to a large extent from the mid-1990s with the conservative Saxo, Xsara and C5. It also meant that Citroen lost out in the user-chooser market to more striking-looking cars from the volume manufacturers, and its focus over the past few years has instead been on attracting retail buyers by being upfront about the amount of discount it gives.
But with the new C4, the firm seems to have a car that can take on the lower-medium fleet giants Ford, Vauxhall, Renault and Peugeot.
A wide choice of engines from launch, technology not yet seen in this sector, a more invigorating drive and unconventional styling inside and out: the C4 shows Citroen proud to be pushing the boundaries again. Steve Moody reports.
The C4 follows the recent trend for producing two differing bodystyles according to the number of doors, that also have different personalities, which in turn is supposed to attract different types of driver.
The five-door is obviously the more practical and its roofline is a long, high curve, not unlike the C3, while the three-door is much more radical, with its long rear side windows and snubby back screen. It is not unlike a Honda Insight.
So what will company car drivers make of the three-door C4’s odd rear? Some will hate it, but in an odd way that’s a good thing. This is everything a good Citroen ought to be: challenging and avant-garde. It has just enough sporty attitude to prevent it from veering into weird and it also looks great.
The door mirrors, with their integrated indicators, have the smooth feel and well-proportioned size of objects that have spent a lot of time in the hands of designers. The cars are based on the fluid lines of the C-Airdream and C-Airlounge concepts, and have very slippery aero-dynamics – the coupe’s 0.28 is the same as the new Porsche 911. The end result of this is improved fuel consumption.
At the front, both get the new Citroen signature boomerang lights and double- chevron grille, which is bold and confident and stands out. Most of the frontal area of the car is made of plastic.
Only the bonnet is metal – aluminium for pedestrian protection – and this should mean lower repair costs. The wings are made of the sort of plastic that, when pushed in, pops straight back out again, which should minimise silly dings and dents.
Inside is the same mix of running-cost pragmatism and amusing invention. This is immediately apparent to anyone sitting in the driver’s seat.
It might seem like an unnecessary dalliance to fix the centre steering hub and have the wheel spin around it, but Citroen claims it brings an important safety benefit. Because an airbag in a normal steering wheel could go off at any point in the turn, it has to be round. In the C4, the fixed hub means it is always ideally positioned and so the airbag is oval shaped, covering more of the driver’s head and body.
A number of controls are incorporated into the central hub, separated into four areas: radio, multifunction screen including navigation, speed limiter/cruise control and vehicle options. It also means more functions can be grouped around the driver and taken away or added, depending on model level.
Immediately in front of the driver is a rev counter which turns red as you hit the limit, while all the other information, such as temperature, mileage and speed, is displayed digitally at the top centre of the dash in a digital strip.
This is a translucent display and uses light coming in through the windscreen to illuminate it. It also means it changes colour as the light changes. How this works outside of the unremitting glare of a studio and its bright lights, we don’t yet know, but it shows Citroen’s desire to take received practices and reinvent them.
Recent Citroens, such as the C2 and particularly the C3, have been criticised for poor build quality and the firm claims it has worked hard on this. After all, the exacting build standards of the new Astra and new and old Ford Focus have set a high level for the others to follow.
As a result, the C4 uses better quality plastics, although on these pre-production versions it was difficult to gauge final tolerances. That will have to wait for the official launch.
There are some other nice touches. All cars come with a choice of air freshener, which plugs directly into the air conditioning system, and customers get a kit with three fragrances when they take delivery. The question is, will those smelling of ylang and bamboo get better predicted RVs than those with a mint and musk aroma? There will also be a choice of seating, which again demonstrates the two-pronged approach to attracting buyers. There is a choice between ‘comfort’ and ‘vitality’ seating, which is pretty self-explanatory.
From the outside, the three-door looks very cramped but there’s a surprising amount of headroom, although legroom is no more than average for the sector. But that’s the beauty of this horses-for-courses approach – the five-door has much more space. In the boot, volume is again average, but there is a very handy foldaway partition that pulls out of the sill and divides half the boot floor into three.
The C4 will be equipped with a number of standard and optional features that Citroen claims will be firsts in this sector. These include the lane departure warning system, laminated side glass, a speed limiter, Bluetooth hands-free system, Xenon directional headlamps, front and rear parking assistance and low tyre pressure warning system. From launch there will be a choice of eight engines – five petrol and three diesel.
Unusually, the C4 will immediately come with a top-of-range sporting variant in the 180bhp unit. It’s the first time Citroen has used this motor, suggesting it will be looking for more of the high-end, performance-based business it does so well on the
C2 and Saxo and did so poorly on the Xsara.
The diesel engines will be the main stalwarts for fleet business though, and in the 110bhp and 138bhp (with a six-speed gearbox) HDi motors it has two of the best. In the new C5, they are as quiet as any installation across the PSA and Ford empires they are used in, so it will be interesting to see if that good form is continued in the smaller car. Both should be Euro IV from launch.
Engines available at launch
1.4i 16v 90bhp
1.6i 16v 110bhp
2.0i 16v 138bhp
2.0i 16v 143bhp auto
2.0i 16v 180bhp
1.6 HDi 16v 92bhp
1.6 HDi 110bhp
2.0 HDi 138